Voltaire’s Use of Satire in ‘Candide’

The purpose of Candide according to Voltaire was to “bring amusement to a small number of men of wit”. (Aldridge 1975, p. 251–254) Voltaire’s biographer, Ian Davidson, describes Candide as “short, light, rapid and humorous”. (Davidson 2005, p. 54 52) Voltaire is positioned with Jonathan Swift as one of the best literary satirists because of Candide which was written chiefly to target the theory of Optimism, with the doctrine repeatedly voiced by Pangloss “the best of all possible worlds.” Candide is a humorous, far-fetched tale by Voltaire satirizing the optimism promoted by the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. It is the story of a young man’s adventures of the world, where throughout his travels, he adheres to the teachings of his tutor, Pangloss, believing that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds,” (Voltaire 4). The attack on this claim is apparent throughout the entire novel where satirical references to this theme contrast with natural disaster and human wrongdoing. When Candide once again meets the ailing and dying Pangloss, who had contracted syphilis, Candide questions him whether the Devil is at fault. Pangloss replies saying that “the disease was a necessity in this ‘the best of all possible worlds, for it was brought to Europe by Columbus’ men, who also brought chocolate and cochineal, two greater goods that well offset any negative effects of the disease,” (Voltaire 17). However the massive number of catastrophes, which Candide faces, proves instrumental in his rejection of optimism. When asked the implication of optimism by Cacambo, Candide replies, “Alas…It is a mania for saying things are well when one is in hell,” (Voltaire 130). Candide finally comprehends the despondency of Pangloss’ belief. As a satirist, Voltaire lets all his threads lose in Candide, his principal target being Leibniz, a German philosopher of his time, who firmly believed that in the creation of the present world God had taken into consideration the prospects of all possible worlds, and had selected the best of them. Voltaire ridiculed this notion, and nastily deconstructs the same throughout Candide. Voltaire leaves no stone unturned in the harsh portrayal of the Church, nobility, Jews, soldiers, and especially intellectuals. Religion suffers as one of the primary targets of Voltaire’s bitterness. The Jews are depicted as slavers. In Holland, men who propagate charity and sympathy attack, Candide, for not announcing the Pope as Antichrist. The Jesuits are obliquely presented as such huge opponents of the Americas that Candide is released by the cannibals merely for not being a Jesuit himself. Through the novel, Voltaire ridicules the behavior of people in medieval times by the amplification of the brutality of man in an amusing manner. Candide is an outrageously comical, fanciful account by Voltaire satirizing the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment, which refers to an extensive range of thoughts and progress in the domains of philosophy, science, and medicine. In Candide, Voltaire employs Pangloss’s repetitions to represent an often hilarious depiction of the characteristic optimist and ultimately Candide does begin to recognize the uselessness of Pangloss’s philosophy. Voltaire, a philosopher of the Enlightenment himself, effectively exploits Candide as a platform to condemn the absolute hopefulness of his associates. He uses satire all through the story as a means of drawing attention to unfairness, unkindness, and prejudice, thus exhibiting his serious intention at the back of the hilarity in Candide. Voltaire wraps up Candide by facilitating him to discover the Turk’s truth to life that “Work keeps us from three great evils, boredom, vice and need,” (Voltaire 148) consequently instigating Candide and his band of followers to reflect on the words and firmly resolve to “cultivate their garden.”

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Aldridge (1975) Bell, Ian A. “Candide: Overview.” Reference Guide to World Literature 2nd ed. (1995).

Davidson 2005. GaleNet. Literature Resource Center.

Mason, Hayden. “Voltaire: Overview.” Reference Guide to World Literature 2nd ed. (1995).

Voltaire. Candide. A Bantam Book, New York, 1981.

Voltaire. Candide. 1759. Ed. Stanley Appelbaum. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1991.

Wade, Ira O. “Voltaire’s Quarrel with Science.” Bucknell Review VIII.4 (1959): 287.

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