Written by: David Taniyo-Ching
Writers often use satire in the literature they write to attack a specific idea or person that influences the writer’s time. Voltaire’s Candide is considered a comedy, but what is the target of Voltaire’s satire? Candide is naïve and optimistic. Does that make Candide a likable character quickly sympathized, or are his misfortunes laughable? In Candide, Voltaire offers satirical characters that ridicule the blind abuse of philosophical optimism; he also provides the readers with some ridiculous names, but the satire’s message is still evident.
One of the main ideas satirized in Candide is the “artificial order posited by philosophic optimists” (Lawall 375). One of Voltaire’s leading philosophical optimists’ time was Gottfried Leibniz, and Voltaire in Candide often targets him. One of Leibniz’s philosophical principles is rooted in the idea that everything exists for a specific reason, and that this is the best of all possible worlds (Look). Voltaire attacks not the concept of philosophical optimism as a whole but the blind abuse that comes with this type of thinking and actions.
Voltaire shows his ridicule of philosophical optimism by writing the satirical character Pangloss. Pangloss, no matter how bad the situation, always claims it is for the best. Pangloss often remarks with this is the best of all possible worlds. Pangloss faced many precarious problems in Candide that included an unsuccessful hanging and regular beatings in the gallows. Yet, his optimistic views never wavered: “I am still of my first opinion, replied Pangloss, for, after all, I am a philosopher, and it would not be right for me to recant since Leibniz could not possibly be wrong” (Voltaire 434).
Voltaire’s character Candide drives another point behind the satire. Candide is an overly optimistic and naïve character. Candide taught in the same school of thought as Pangloss, so naturally, he was confident that the Bulgars meant well. The blind optimism of Candide landed him in the Bulgars army, where he experienced a beating into submission. Voltaire again attacks the faults behind the ideas of philosophical optimism with the character Candide.
Voltaire makes excellent points with his characters on how the philosophical optimism is flawed. With his over the top names, Voltaire shows the ridiculousness of blind optimism. Pangloss continued to believe that everything he endured was for the best, while Candide stays optimistic that the world is much like Westphalia, where nothing wrong happens. Candide’s optimism worked against him throughout the story until the end when he realizes the truth.
Candide’s naïve and optimistic nature makes it easy to have sympathy at first when reading Candide. It becomes harder to sympathize, however, when Candide’s optimism means he keeps making apparent mistakes. When trying to charter a ship to Venice, Candide thinks only to reach his lovely Cunegonde. A Dutch merchant swindles everything he can from Candide and then robs him (Voltaire 410-411).
It was evident that the merchant had evil plans towards Candide; it is after he loses more money to a judge for hearing his story that he realizes his mistake. At that point in the story, Candide had paid for another error. Candide makes these types of mistakes throughout the story, making it easier to laugh at his misfortune.
Candide is Voltaire’s satirical black comedy that attacks the ideas behind Leibniz’s philosophical optimism. It is easy to say that Voltaire rejects Leibniz’s belief that everything happens for a specific reason. If you analyze the story, it seems more probable that Voltaire denies the idea of blindly being optimistic in every situation. Any evils in the world would gladly take advantage of this optimism (as Voltaire shows in Candide.)
Lawall, Sarah. The Norton Anthology Western Literature. Vol 2. 8th ed. WW Norton & Company. 2006, Print. January 8, 2014.
Look, Brandon C. “Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2013 Edition). 22 Dec. 2007. Web. 9 Jan. 2014.
Voltaire, Francois-Marie Arouet. Lawall, Sarah. “Candide.” The Norton Anthology Western Literature. Vol 2. 8th ed. WW Norton & Company. 2006, Print. January 8, 2014.