Candide is a humorous, far-fetched story satirizing the optimism promoted by the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. Voltaire uses satire as a means of pointing out injustice, cruelty and bigotry that is commonly found in the human society. Although the tale seems light and comical, Voltaire has more serious intentions behind the laughable plot line. Candide can therefore be classified as a satire because it combines humor and wit to bring about a change in society’s view on matters such as religion, war, and the level of optimism one must contain.
Throughout the book, Candide, the main character, is introduced to a number of religious characters including the Protestant minister, the Grand Inquisitor, and the Jesuit Baron. Voltaire uses these characters to relay the absurdities displayed by many religions. The Jesuit Baron, whom strikes Candide across the face with the back of a sword, exhibits the arrogant attitudes some religions contain. The violent action of the Baron is not because Candide steals the virginity on the Baron’s sister, but due to the fact that Candide belongs to a lower social class than they.
This action clashes with the pious character the Baron is supposed to encompass as a priest. Another character Voltaire uses is the Protestant minister who is introduced in to the book preaching about the need to help others. However, when Candide asks for help in the form of food, the minister shows him no kindness based on their varying views on certain religious aspects. The hypocrisy in which the religious institution is presented in this example is perhaps the most blatant example in the entire book.
However, yet another situation is presented after Candide plays witness to an earthquake in Lisbon. After the earthquake, the Grand Inquisitor orders for an auto-da-fe, or act of faith, to prevent any more natural disasters from happening. Voltaire uses this “act of faith”, in which innocent people are sacrificed, to show the injustice and sadistic happenings of the Church and its treatment of the people it was supposed to look after.
To further satirize the Inquisitor’s support of the ridiculous auto-da-fe, Voltaire writes about another earthquake that happens right after the killing of the innocent people. Although Voltaire constantly uses satire to emphasize the hypocrisy and goings-on of the Catholic Church, he does not condemn the follower of the religion but those who seek power through the institution of religion. War is another evil in which Voltaire satirizes in Candide. He uses the cruelty of the Bulgarian army as a basis.
For instance, Candide is captured by the Bulgarians and shown brutal violence when given the choice “to be beaten thirty-six times by the whole regiments, or receive twelve lead bullets at once in his brain” (19). Another example of brutality the Bulgarians display is when they burn the Abarian village, killing men and raping, disemboweling, and dismembering innocent women and children. Voltaire uses these examples to demonstrate the inhumane vulgarity of many belligerent groups during times of war.
Although in the book the violent actions are backed up with statements such as “it is in accordance with the rules of international law” (20), Voltaire drenches them in satire, making it clear he thinks this torture is cruel and unjustified. Even though religion and war are subjects Voltaire satirizes, they are merely components that make up the big picture which is the views of Leibniz’s philosophy: All is for the best. Voltaire, highly disagreeing with this philosophy, creates Candide, his answer to what he sees as an absurd belief proposed by the optimists.
He produces the character Dr. Pangloss, Candide’s mentor, to represent the illogical beliefs of Leibniz and his followers. Dr. Pangloss teaches Candide that they are living in the “best of all possible worlds” and “there is no effect without a cause”. Candide, very naive and impressionable in his youth, regards Pangloss as the greatest philosopher in the world, similar to the way many of Leibniz’s followers may have acted. Voltaire then creates the character Martin, a pessimist, to accentuate the flaws in this ridiculous philosophy.
Martin tries to convince Candide that there is little virtue, morality, and happiness in the world. Candide begins to believe this after encountering one terrible disaster after another, such as the brutalities of war and the injustice of religious groups. One way Voltaire illustrates the irrationality of Pangloss’ philosophy is when Candide is reunited with the diseased and dying Pangloss, who had contacted syphilis. Candide asks if the Devil is at fault.
Pangloss simply responds that “the disease was a necessary in this ‘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” (17). Candide begins to realize the ludicrousness of what Dr. Pangloss is saying and eventually abandons his belief in optimism. At the end of the book, when asked what is optimism, Candide replies, “Alas…it is a mania for saying things are well when one is in hell,” (130).
Although the novella Candide was written partially for entertainment purposes, it was primarily to satirize the views of Leibniz’s philosophy and change people’s views on the world. Voltaire looked at the world with the idea that there could be something done about all the evil in it instead of accepting it for the best. He achieved his goal of satirizing Leibniz by tearing apart Pangloss’ philosophy and presenting the destructions Candide observed, thereby proving that all is in fact, not for the best.