Thursday, 16 June 2011

Satire in Voltaire's Candide

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In Candide, Voltaire uses satire to reject the theory of optimism. Although optimism is the main target of Voltaire’s criticisms, he also takes aim at religion, war and violence, and aristocratic pride. Candide is filled with a great deal of criticism for much of Voltaires contemporary society. Voltaires experiences led him to dismiss the idea that this is the best of all possible worlds. Examining the death and destruction, both man-made and natural (including the Lisbon earthquake) Voltaire concluded that everything was not for the best.

Candide, the illegitimate son of a Barons sister, was sent to live with the Baron at his beautiful castle in Westphalia There, Pangloss, the greatest philosopher of the province and therefore of the whole world, taught Candide that he lived in the best of all possible worlds. His theory was that since everything is made for an end, everything is necessarily for the best end. Pangloss taught that noses were made to wear spectacles; and so we have spectacles. Legs were visibly instituted to be breeched, and we have breeches ... Voltaire is clearly using satire to portray the absurdity of Pangloss’s teachings. A reasonable person would say that spectacles were made to wear on noses instead of the other way around. However, despite the irrationality of these teachings, Candide, as well as the other occupants of the castle, adopt Panglosss optimism.

The attack on the claim that this is the best of all possible worlds permeates the entire novel. When Candide is reunited with the diseased and dying Pangloss who has contracted Syphilis, Candide asks if the Devil is at fault. Pangloss simply responds that the disease was a necessity in this best of all possible worlds, for it was brought to Europe by Columbuss men, who also brought chocolate and cochineal, two greater goods that well offset any negative effects of the disease. Once again, Voltaire is revealing the ridiculous nature of Pangloss’s beliefs.

Only after countless misfortunes and encounters with thieves, hypocrites, and liars, Candide finally begins to recognize the futility in his beloved Panglosss philosophy. Voltaire concludes Candide by having Candide discover the content of a Turk farmer who claims that simple work keeps him from the three greatest evils boredom, vice, and poverty (74). Candide deeply considers these words, and decides that they must cultivate their garden. Candide even stops Pangloss mid-sentence to reiterate the fact. I know also, said Candide, that we must cultivate our garden (74). When Pangloss attempts to agree with a dose of philosophical commentary, Martin responds Let us work without speculating; its the only way of rendering life bearable (75). Even when the entire group has accepted the pastoral lifestyle, and has found content, Pangloss the Optimist attempts to prove how all their prior misfortunes were part of the necessary chain of events for them to reach happiness. Voltaire paints Pangloss as the true dolt of optimism, never realizing the errors in his own logic. How does Candide respond, in closing, to his friend the Optimist? That is very well put, said Candide, but we must cultivate our garden

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Voltaire was a known Deist, and he abhorred superstition and orthodoxy. Correspondingly, religions attacks abound in nearly every chapter. He especially calls attention to the Jesuit order, even creating a tribe that eats Jesuits, and frequently uses them as corrupt and immoral characters. Candide, shortly after a battle, asks many religious individuals for money, but all of them, including one who had just lectured on charity, refused to aid him. Finally, Jacques the Anabaptist takes pity on him, a featherless biped possessing a soul.” Voltaire makes his point quite simply the extremely pious and the clergy are willing to turn their back on their fellow man, but those who have not even been baptized are willing to be charitable. Panglosss disease, which he acquired from Paquette, could apparently be traced back to a Franciscan and, prior to that, a Jesuit. This lack of celibacy was quite scandalous, and Voltaire was essentially stating that such practices were commonplace.

Ironically, Cunegonde serves both the Grand Inquisitor and the Jewish Don Issachar in a sort of strange sexual time-share scheme. Hence we have two religious individuals behaving in a very non-religious manner, leading towards Voltaire pointing out the hypocrisy in religion. Cunegonde’s jewels are even stolen by a Franciscan Friar. Even the Old Woman is the illegitimate child of Pope Urban X. Although a Pope Urban X never existed, Voltaire was simply calling greater attention to his main point the fallibility of the pope. Thus, Voltaire uses many occurrences unveiling his contempt for religion.

The role which war and violence play in Candide is twofold. It again proves that this indeed is not the best of all possible worlds, while allowing Voltaire to point out his pacifism and his belief in the futility of bloodshed. The war between the Bulgars and Abarians (Representing the seven-years war between the Prussians and the French) appalled Voltaire, and accordingly, most of chapters two and three are dedicated to it. Total casualties might well amount to thirty thousand men or so. Candide, who as trembling like a philosopher, hid himself as best he could while this heroic butchery was going on.” Satire is used here because Voltaire calls the war, “heroic” butchery, and presents it with such a matter-of-factness attitude that the reader is given a glimpse into the tragedy of war and the general indifference with which it is treated. Voltaire adds to the irony by having both sides retire to their camp after the battle, claiming victory, and sing to the graces of God. Voltaire also shows disgust for the auto-da-fe and the needless murder of two Jewish people who were convicted of not eating bacon. Voltaire clearly admires the Utopia of Eldorado for its lack of war and violence, claiming it to be perfect.

Voltaire also satirizes aristocratic pride. Being a member of the bourgeois didnt prevent Voltaire from criticizing the aristocratic excesses. In a particular humorous passage describing the home of the Baron he states, “The Baroness weighed about three hundred and fifty pounds, was therefore greatly respected, and did the honors of the house with a dignity which rendered her still more respectable.” Voltaire is stating that the Baroness’s respect stems from her weight. He questions why this should be a good reason, but such things went on in Voltaire’s society. He also particularly attacks excessive aristocratic arrogance and conceit in ones lineage. The Baron of Westphalia refuses to allow Cunegonde to marry a suitor because he has only seventy-one quarterlings, a type of genealogical division. Cunegonde herself had seventy-two quarterlings, amounting to a 1.4% difference in nobility. The Baron, nonetheless, prevents the marriage. The Baron’s son also vehemently opposes the marriage of Candide, who has an unknown background, and Cunegonde. Voltaire further shows his disdain for the aristocracy with the governor of Buenos Aires, Don Fernando dIbarra y Figueroa y Mascarenes y Lampourdos y Souza. He had the pride appropriate to a man with so many names. He addressed everyone with the most aristocratic disdain, pointing his nose so loftily, raising his voice so mercilessly, lording it so splendidly, and assuming so arrogant a pose, that everyone who met him wanted to kick him.

Voltaire does not agree with optimism, but he does not endorse a pessimistic ideology either. When, at the end of Candide, Pangloss asks the dervish as to why man exists, the dervish responds What does it matter whether theres good or evil? When his highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he worry whether the mice on board are comfortable or not? To Voltaire, men were the mice, and his highness was not concerned in the least with their day to day existence.

Through the constant misfortunes of Candide, Voltaire poses meaningful questions about the nature of suffering. Pangloss philosophy is eagerly and enthusiastically accepted by Candide in the beginning of the novel. But toward the end of his life he refutes this Utopian theory, concluding that diligence in labor is the only answers to a life constantly riddled with bad luck. Voltaire also intends to explain that religion, class condescension, violence, and the baggage that comes with them are needless. Voltaire teaches that man is incapable of understanding the evil in the world, and concludes that the fundamental aim in life is not happiness, but survival.

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