StudyBoss » Age of Enlightenment » Use Of Satire In Candide Essay

Use Of Satire In Candide Essay

As depicted in his novel Candide, a French satire written in the eighteenth-century, Voltaire stood as an indisputably witty writer. Throughout Candide, Voltaire targeted philosophical optimism, war, and religion: what he considered to be the ills of the world. His primary purpose in writing Candide was to oppose the philosophical theory of optimism. This anger towards optimism primarily arose as a consequence of the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon. He felt a deep compassion for the thousands of victims of the earthquake and did not believe the optimists’ explanation that “everything happens for the best of all possible worlds” was sufficient.

In addition, he began to seriously question the idea of an all-good, all-powerful God who allowed his children to live in a world full of suffering. Through the use of satire, irony, and exaggeration, Voltaire strategically and successfully challenged optimism, war, and religion: issues that affect all of mankind. Francois-Marie d’Arouet, more commonly referred to as Voltaire, was born in Paris, France in 1694. When he was a mere seven years of age, his mother passed away.

Following her death, he formed a close relationship with his godfather and enrolled in a Jesuit secondary school where he began showing serious potential as a writer. He was arrested and exiled several times due to different reports of mockery, libelous poetry, and arguments. The loss of his mother at such a young age and his numerous incarcerations and banishments left Voltaire well acquainted with the concept of personal suffering. During his lifetime, he was a French writer who played an important role in defining the Enlightenment, an eighteenth-century movement.

The Enlightenment renowned itself as a time of drastic change in which people began questioning their original beliefs. People began to challenge politics, religion, and education and began relying on reason, experimentation, and observation instead. The Enlightenment was marked by a clear transition towards a more secular, individualistic, realistic, and materialistic perspective. Enlightenment thinkers, including Voltaire, refused to trust anything that could not be supported by firm, solid, indubitable evidence.

As a result, authors such as Voltaire began creating writings that opposed many assumptions that lacked reason and solid evidence. One of his most popular philosophic works was his famous satire Candide which was originally published in 1759. In Candide, Voltaire critiqued the religion and philosophy of his contemporary society and suggested people take action to change their present situations rather than simply believing everything happens for the best possible reason Voltaire lived in a time known for its “optimistic philosophy… philosophy associated with the names of Leibniz, Shaftesbury, and Christian Wolff, and popularized both in France and England by Pope’s Essay on Man” (Voltaire 8). According to these optimistic philosophers, “all partial evil [is] universal good” (Pope 53). Voltaire found himself unable to accept this exceptionally passive and optimistic view that everything is for the best of all possible worlds, especially considering the wars and natural disasters he lived through. In 1746, Lima, Peru suffered from a devastating earthquake that was followed by a tsunami.

This disaster caused the deaths of several thousand people. A mere nine years later, in 1755, Lisbon, Portugal’s largest city at the time, was also struck by an earthquake followed by a tsunami. Buildings collapsed, fires broke out, homes were destroyed, and valuables were wiped away. Overall, the death toll from Lisbon’s disaster was estimated to be between 10,000 and 50,000. Each of these natural disasters influenced Voltaire and his views of the world significantly. He felt great sympathy for the victims of the earthquakes and refused to accept that their sufferings were for the best of all possible worlds.

In Voltaire’s work Candide, the folly of optimism stood as the primary theme. Voltaire used humorous characterizations of the “typical” optimist, or in the case of Candide, a man named Pangloss, to argue that optimism served as a ridiculously passive and inaccurate approach to life. The very name Pangloss symbolized a person who, despite the circumstances, remained naive and optimistic. Pangloss had a tendency to disregard all the bad things that happened in the world and he never strove to find a further explanation than it being for the “best of all possible worlds”.

The idea of the “best of all possible worlds” presented itself numerous times only to be refuted by Voltaire through satire and exaggeration. For example, Voltaire described a war scene in which there were people… “crippled with wounds, watch(ing) helplessly the death-throes of their butchered women-folk, who still clasped their children to their bloodstained breasts. Girls who has satisfied the appetites of several heroes lay disemboweled in their last agonies. Others, whose bodies were badly scorched, begged to be put out of their misery.

Whichever way he looked, the ground was strewn with the legs, arms, and brains of dead villagers. ” (Voltaire 26) Pangloss states that although this may have seemed like a misfortune, “private misfortunes contribute to the general good, so that the more private misfortunes there are, the more we find that all is well” (Voltaire 31). Voltaire used satire to depict the extreme ignorance and passiveness of optimists like Pangloss who simply claimed everything was for the best instead of questioning the misfortunes and tortures of the world around us.

According to Voltaire, “the cruelty of such a [statement]… Offering hope for the future, is only an insult added to the miseries we endure” (Voltaire 10). Voltaire again used grim humor and satire as Candide and Cacambo were “surrounded by some fifty naked Oreillons, armed with arrows, clubs, and stone axes: some of them were heating a large cauldron, while others were preparing skewers, and the whole mob was crying, ‘He’s a Jesuit! He’s a Jesuit!

We shall have our revenge and enjoy a good meal'” (Voltaire 70). Despite being in a position where he was about to be eaten alive, Candide stated “no doubt all is for the best, but I must say it is very cruel… to be skewered by the Oreillons” (Voltaire 71). In this case, Voltaire not only proved Candide’s optimism to be useless, but also destructive. It prevented him from making a realistic assessment of the world, therefore preventing him from taking action to alter his circumstance.

Throughout the entire novella, Voltaire continuously presented different representations of moral and physical evils. He provided the reader with many examples of the cruelty of war and immortality within religion in hopes of destroying the folly of optimism. In fact, while describing one’s traumatic experiences, he stated “such experiences are so common that they are not worth the trouble of describing” (Voltaire 51). Despite this statement, he continued to describe these experiences purely to prove just how common they are.

Ultimately, Voltaire used satire to make his point that not everything that happens in the world is for the best of all possible worlds. He believed the philosophy of optimism was exceptionally passive and useless, and often even destructive. Voltaire believed optimists were absurd and thought they should question and challenge the world around them rather than simply accepting and believing that everything happens for a reason. The terrible misfortunes and sufferings of the world led Voltaire to question the “moral and physical evil(s)” of the world (Voltaire 91).

After becoming increasingly aware of murder, deceit, war, famine, natural disasters, and man’s evil nature, Voltaire turned his attention towards God, a supposedly all-good, all-powerful being. If the creator is good and allpowerful, as we are told he is, could he not have made a better world? If he could, what prevented him? If he could not, can we still believe that he is good and all-powerful? Can we indeed believe in him at all? Or if we do, can we believe that he is at all concerned with men and their sufferings? Voltaire 7) This doubt caused Voltaire to turn entirely away from optimism and instead redirect his focus on natural matters that can be observed and proved. Such questionings of religious matters became more widespread and urgent throughout the eighteenth-century enlightenment. In a world where evils such as murder, rape, theft, abuse, deceit, and war are far from unfamiliar concepts, people like Voltaire began to view the world as “a senseless and detestable piece of work” (Voltaire 110).

People like Voltaire began to question the idea of an all-good, omniscient God who claimed to love his children yet dealt evils so freely. Why, they wondered, would an all-good, omniscient God not put an end to human suffering? In addition, corruption within the Catholic Church caused many people to want to reform. The popes appeared more concerned with finances and economic changes than providing effective spiritual leadership and churches were beginning to hire individuals who did not qualify for the positions they were being given.

People such as the Northern Humanists had realized what was once a simple religion had become complicated and distorted over time. Voltaire took advantage of this doubt that was beginning to emerge; he attempted to shift people’s attention away from their original ideas and towards a more secular, rational, realistic perspective. This breaking away from previous ideas and methods to focus on the scientific and realistic ultimately defines the eighteenthcentury Enlightenment.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.