The beginning of the 17th century marked many changes for Europe. These changes were both physical and philosophical in nature. Common citizens were tired of being abused, mistreated and most of all labeled as peasants and commoners by the aristocracy. They were fed up with the hypocrisy of the church and the abuse of power by its leaders in the name of God. One man stood tall above the rest. Francois Marie Arouet was born November 21, 1694 to a middle class family in Paris. At that time, Louis the XIV was king of France and the overwhelming majority lived in harsh conditions.
The aristocracy of France ruled with an iron fist and poverty was widespread throughout the land. Francois attended the College Louis le Grand, where he got his Jesuit education. His deep-rooted satirical views were prevalent even as a child. After college, Francois worked as a secretary for the French Ambassador to Holland, but left that position to pursue his writing career. Francois writings soon became famous in France. His quick tongue and fast pen soon got him into trouble with the French government and he got exiled to Sully. Using his fame, Voltaire quickly got those in power to allow him back into France.
Shortly after he returned he was blamed for a piece of writing that opposed the government, which sent him to prison. While in prison, Francois assumed the pen name Voltaire and wrote his first play, Oedipe. Shortly after is release, the 24-year-old Voltaires Oedipe was produced in Paris and became an instant success. After being exiled to England, Voltaire became familiar with the English language and in 1979, published Candide. Candide was by far his most famous work. In it he satirizes and criticizes Leibnizian optimism, aristocratic snobbery, the Protestant and Catholic Church and human nature.
Leibniz, a German philosopher and mathematician of Voltaire’s time, developed the idea that the world they were living in at that time was “the best of all possible worlds. ” Leibnizs optimism displays the philosophical system that believed everything already was for the best, no matter how terrible the circumstances seemed. Through Candide, Voltaire showed the world full of natural disasters and brutality. Voltaire also used contrast in the personalities of the characters to convey the message that Leibniz’s philosophy was incorrect.
Leibnizs philosophies were based on the idea that everything in the world was determined by fate, theorized that God, having the ability to pick from an infinite number of worlds, chose this world, “the best of all possible worlds. ” Although Voltaire chose that simple quality of Leibniz’s philosophy to satirize, Leibniz meant a little more than just that. His philosophy stated that God chose “the best of all possible worlds,” he also meant that God, being the perfection He is, chose the best world available to him, unfortunately it was a world containing evil.
Voltaire satirized this literal meaning of Leibnizs philosophy by creating the character Dr. Pangloss, an unconditional follower of Leibniz’s philosophy. Voltaire shows this early in the novel by stating, “He proved admirably that there is no effect without a cause and that, in this best of all possible worlds…. (16)” Pangloss goes on to say that everything had its purpose and things were made for the best. For example, the nose was created for the purpose of wearing spectacles (Voltaire 16).
Because of his “great knowledge,” Candide, at this point a very naive and impressionable youth, regards Pangloss as the greatest philosopher in the world, a reverence that will soon be contradicted by contact with reality. The name Pangloss is translated as “all tongue” and “windbag. ” The colloquialism “windbag” implies that a person is all talk, and he takes no action. The upper class in Europe at the time of Voltaire was infused with the idea that they were divinely superior to common people. Voltaire attacks this belief in stating in Candide that birth is an accident and every man is the same.
In Candide, Voltaire attacks this school of thought using the baron, Cunegunds brother as an example. When Cacambo and Candide flee Buenos Ayres, they come to join the rebellion. The Baron and Candide are joyfully reunited, but when Candide announces his intention to marry Cunegund the Baron becomes furious and attacks him. He refuses to see his sister marry below her station. The Baron remembers not that Candide saved his life. He tries to kill him at the very mention of marrying his sister based solely on the fact that she has 72 lineages and Candide has only 71.
Voltaire criticizes the nobilitys belief in its natural superiority over common people. The history of the Catholic Church in Europe has been laced with corruption and misuse of power for hundreds of years. Church members use the name of God to enforce laws and oftentimes were more feared and respected than kings. Voltaires view of the church and how it was operated is demonstrated through two characters in Candide. Voltaire uses Father Giroflee in Candide to demonstrate what is wrong with the Catholic Church.
His parents force him into the monastery in order to increase his brothers fortune. At the time of Voltaire, a lot of parents forced their children into the church system oftentimes against their will. Father Giroflee pays a prostitute named Pacquette for her services, thus totally going against all church values and restrictions. Another example of whats wrong with the church is the Grand Inquisitor. He orders that Don Issachar, the Jew share Cunegund with him and when he refuses; the Grand Inquisitor threatens the use of auto-de-fe, which means, act of faith.
When Pangloss expressed his views about the church, the Grand Inquisitor orders that he be hanged and Candide whipped because he agreed with Panglosses views. These events show barbarism and superstition of the Inquisition. After the earthquake, the Inquisitor ordered that a few people be hanged and burned believing that it would prevent future earthquakes. A few days later another earthquake ripped through the city proving that burning the innocent people was in vain. Voltaire had a way of directly attacking every act of any individual that he chose to satirize in an obvious way.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the officials of the Inquisition systematically tortured and murdered tens of thousands of people on the barest accusations of heresy against orthodox Christian doctrine. Jews, witches, and Muslims were victims of this organized campaign of violence. Religious bigotry was widespread throughout this time. Women have been oppressed since the beginning of time and it wasnt until the Enlightenment period that people began to see and speak about this mistreatment. Industrialized nations like the US didnt even recognize women as equals until the civil rights act in the early 20th century.
Even today, men are paid more than women are for the same jobs in the same industries. In Candide, Cunegund represents the oppressed women of the time. The Bulgarian army murdered her family and she was raped and passed from one man to another like livestock. Sometimes two men shared her at once. She sometimes used her beauty to manipulate her men to set her free. Don Fernando, the governor of Buenos Aires, after Candide tells him that he and her are engaged Don arranges to be alone with her and asks for her hand in marriage.
It is unclear if she loves Candide or not but the fact that she considers his proposal adds complexity to her character. Perhaps Voltaire wanted to portray her as not only a victim of society at that time but also a person who knew how to use what she had to get what she wanted. Her beauty was her only weapon against the normal mistreatment of women and she used it to the best of her ability. Throughout the novel Candide, Voltaire satirizes religion, social inequality and especially human nature. During Candides journeys, he and Cacambo accidentally find the hidden city when they set off for Cayenne and get lost.
When they first arrive there, they see children playing with rubies, diamonds and emeralds and immediately believe that they are children of kings. They gather the precious stones and proceed to the village, which upon arrival looks like a European palace. After they are treated to a delicious feast, they try to pay for it with the stones they found but the king tells them that those stones are common there and that they are of no value. Candide and Cacambo load 102 sheep with the jewels and proceed to leave the city. During their rough journey, the 102 sheep are reduced to two.
They meet a partially assembled beggar and end up buying his freedom with the two remaining sheep, leaving them only enough money to board a ship to Venice. The hidden kingdom is a utopia and represents nothing that the outside world can offer. There is no organized or forced religion. None of the inhabitants attempt to force religion on one another and there are no religious arguments. Also, there are no petty squabbles and no lawsuits because everyone lives in perfect harmony. No one bows in the presence of the king and there are no prisons because no one commits crime there.
Visitors greet the king as his equals and they are not looked down upon. The kingdom has an advanced educational system that teaches science and philosophy, and poverty is non-existent. This world is clearly the best of the worlds represented in Candide. Candide has traveled through Europe, Asia, and the New World, and has found the same misery and suffering everywhere. This city is the sole exception. Throughout Candide, Voltaire’s deep pessimism about human nature is strongly evident through the portrait of the harmonious, utopian society. This world is almost completely inaccessible from the outside.
Candide and Cacambo are extremely lucky to ever have found it at all. The utopian kingdom is a world that cannot be found; yet Candide wants to return immediately to the immensely flawed world outside. He wants to gather the “common pebbles” of the utopian kingdom so that he can return a “hero. ” Candide and Cacambo succumb to the selfish greed of their own society. They choose a chance at power and influence over others rather than a chance to live in a perfect society. Voltaire demonstrates that achieving a good society requires overcoming the drawbacks in human nature and that one must give up certain things in order to achieve happiness.
The European world was in a state of philosophical and moral darkness for hundreds of years until a few brave visionaries spoke their mind and thus the Enlightenment period was born. It was philosophers like Voltaire who were not afraid to speak their minds that caused people to question how things were done and how norms were changed. The Catholic Church was considered the highest establishment in Europe at the time and Voltaire ridiculed its leaders and beliefs with no fear of being imprisoned and possibly killed.
It was his unique satirical style that got peoples attention. He was speaking on very controversial topics such as innate human nature, religious practices and aristocratic bigotry among others that many were afraid and ignorant at the same time to speak of. He used Candide to ridicule and teach at the same time. Every character, event and tragedy that happened in the novel Candide had significant relevance to his views and the mockery that it portrayed was what made him famous and hated at the same time.