Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Pangloss is less a well-rounded, realistic character than a symbol of a certain kind of philosopher. His optimism and logical fallacies are meant to represent the thought of G.W. von Leibniz and other Enlightenment thinkers. He is an open symbol of the folly both of blind optimism and of excessive abstract speculation.
At the end of the novel, Candide and his companions find happiness in raising vegetables in their garden. The symbolic resonance of the garden is rich and multifaceted. As Pangloss points out, it is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, in which Adam and Eve enjoyed perfect bliss before their fall from God’s grace. However, in Candide the garden marks the end of the characters’ trials, while for Adam and Eve it is the place where their troubles begin. Moreover, in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve enjoyed the fruits of nature without having to work, whereas the main virtue of Candide’s garden is that it forces the characters to do hard, simple labor. In the world outside the garden, people suffer and are rewarded for no discernible cause. In the garden, however, cause and effect are easy to determine—careful planting and cultivation yield good produce. Finally, the garden represents the cultivation and propagation of life, which, despite all their misery, the characters choose to embrace.
The Lisbon Earthquake
The earthquake in Candide is based on a real earthquake that leveled the city of Lisbon in 1755. Before writing Candide, Voltaire wrote a long poem about that event, which he interpreted as a sign of God’s indifference or even cruelty toward humanity. The earthquake represents all devastating natural events for which no reasonable justification can be found, though thinkers like Pangloss might do their best to fabricate flimsy justifications in order to maintain a philosophical approach to life.