“Candide” is an extremely humorous, fantastic story by Voltaire who decided to write a tale which would satirize the optimism promoted by the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. The tale depicts a young man who experiences many adventures across the world, where he becomes a witness of many disastrous and evil situations. During his travels, the hero refers to the teachings of Pangloss, his tutor, thinking that "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." “Candide” has become Voltaire's answer to what he considered a completely absurd belief offered by the Optimists who believed they found an easy way to reduce suffering and evil. Voltaire definitely cannot be called a pessimist, however, he refused to accept that whatever happens even the death of close people, for example, would always turn for the best.
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The Enlightenment epoch was marked by a wide variety of advances and ideas in the fields of medicine, science, and philosophy. The initial feature of the Enlightenment philosophy is an astonishing confidence that people can energetically work n order to create a better world. Social reforms defined the political ideology of the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. Besides being heavily characterized by the primary ideas of the Enlightenment, “Candide” also roughly criticizes certain trends of the movement. It ridicules the belief that optimism, which possibly contains any rational thought, may hinder the evils that enrooted in the human beings. The writer could not imagine how the power of reason can overcome social conditions of that time.
Voltaire uses ramblings of Pangloss in “Candide” to stress on frequently humorous depiction of the "typical" optimist. He writes about Pangloss, "He proved admirably that there cannot possibly be an effect without a cause and that in the best of all possible worlds the Baron's castle was the best of all castles and his wife the best of all possible Baronesses." The rejection of the main claim of the Enlightenment that this is "the best of all possible worlds" filters through the entire tale. Voltaire aptly combines satirical attacks to this theme with contrasting human wrongdoings and natural catastrophes.
The attacks are determined to reach not only the philosophers of the Enlightenment who propagated absurd ideas, in his opinion, but also the Church. Voltaire argues that those ‘enlightened’ did not propose any new ideas which were unknown before. However, they stressed on the abilities of the human mind which are not possible to reach, therefore, feeding people with empty, false hopes.
Voltaire’s proof of lack of enlightenment in the ideas of those multiple philosophers is his depiction of women in “Candide” who are not educated practically at all. Such argument is quite strong especially because Voltaire had always argued for the equal rights for women and men. Nevertheless, he uses prostitutes, disease-spreaders, women that marry only for money, and also women who are victims of various violence, particularly domestic, to stress on the blindness of the proponents of the Enlightenment. “The enlightened” talked about the revolutionary values the new era brought, but Voltaire saw nothing revolutionary there. The French Revolution promoted the rights of women, however, in the novel we see a completely different story: Weak, poor women are far from confident, educated ladies who can make an impact on the society, being more than an eloquent example of the inefficiency of the ideas of the Age of Enlightenment.
When referring to the religious issues outlined in the tale, Voltaire concentrates all his attention on the high level of hypocrisy which infected each step of the Church. The Inquisition was still rampant, and the Inquisitor felt free to execute any citizen who had different philosophical views, accusing him of heresy. All church officials in the tale are depicted as the most sinful people possible: Having lovers, homosexual relationships, and acting as the thieves of jewellery. Probably, the worst sin that exemplifies the clergy’s hypocrisy is the fact that the highest of them, the Pope, has a child, despite all his vows of celibacy.
Such acute satire saturates the entire work, showing Voltaire’s contempt to the system which he has a bad luck to be ruled by. He stresses that revolutionary words and actions are actually just useless words which are not supported by any serious deeds but rampant speculations on unimportant things. What Voltaire really tries to do, as many scholars think, is to help the society to discern between the empty and ineffective teachings, and real philosophical principles. He attempts to protect his people with the help of harsh words and ironic jokes.
Voltaire did not work upon creating some revolutionary sentiments, however, he wanted to point out at the abundance of flaws in the society. It is also important to note that “Candide” is not deprived of those biased stereotypes and flaws which Voltaire criticizes so energetically: The only depiction of women outlines a large gap between the true ideals of the period as well as writer’s personal philosophical beliefs. It is true that the philosophers of that time preferred to work through already established forms, accepting the Church as well as the monarchy that proved their erroneous perception of the progress. This idea Voltaire attacked the most blaming the leading top together with those philosophers that until they do not leave the oppressive system, no significant progress will be observed in the society.
Probably, Voltaire was not as progressive as he believed himself to be, especially if to take into consideration the fact that he was mainly working from the inside of that system to generate his critiques. The values of the Enlightenment had quite a lot of common sense in them if to look at the situation from the long-term perspective. Voltaire’s sharp denial of it can be somewhat unjustified.
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