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03:59pm Sun, Jun 21, 2009
This was double spaced and blah blah full on MLA style. I think I got like 70 for organisation and 90 for content?
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Voltaire is well known for his suggestive satirical work, especially his masterpiece Candide. Candide is a timeless piece still relevant today, that was written to warn the public about the consequences of radical optimism (Online-Literature 1). The main character, Candide, is a naïve and trusting young man who is banished from his home. Despite his life being filled with a series of bizarre disasters, Candide holds fast to his optimism – which serves as an example to readers. Voltaire emphasizes the dangers of radical optimism by incorporating tone, themes and utilizing satire in Candide.
Naturally, tone is incorporated into any written piece. Voltaire uses utilizes this tool to emphasize his attitudes towards those who are radically optimistic, as well as the concept of radical optimism, creating a dual attitude system. This helps him prove his point by forcing the reader to see from his point of view. For instance, in the beginning Voltaire openly mocks the audience and anyone who’s radically optimistic with the names of his two main characters; Candide and Pangloss. Candide literally means “naïve and childlike honesty”, while Pangloss is Greek for “all tongue” (Sime 537). This suggests that Pangloss has no real meaning or substance to his teachings, and ignorant Candide is mislead by his teachers words. To emphasize Candide’s devotion to Pangloss’ teachings, he refuses to stray from them easily – even after he hears of the death of his love (Candide 4), witnesses Pangloss’ hanging, and is whipped for his association with Pangloss (6), among other horrible occurrences. This interpretation would make Candide, and anyone else who believes in the philosophy of optimism blindly, an idiot.
Voltaire’s real life experiences are incorporated into Candide, and although hidden, these explain Voltaire’s attitude towards radical optimism. The two main events incorporated into the story are the Seven Years' War and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake (Novel Guide 1; Porterfield 83). During these times society was taken by the philosophy that everything was for the best (via religion), and Voltaire felt that this was dangerous and ignorant because it stifled peoples ability to think for themselves (Porterfield 83). His attitude is portrayed throughout the story in the narration style; the matter of fact and detached commentary makes the story more of a mocking “lesson” than a learning experience for a reader. By mocking the believers of radical optimism Voltaire has lowered their intelligence and dignity in the eyes of the audience, causing readers to think twice before adopting any philosophy without thinking for themselves first.
As might be expected, Voltaire incorporates many different themes into his masterpiece Candide, embracing each one individually to help explain the dangers of radical optimism. The two main themes from the story are childlike belief and naïveté, as well as destructive (radical) optimism, which are embodied in the characters of the story. Candide embodies both themes because his childlike naivety and belief in Pangloss’ teachings causes him to suffer through many different disasters until he is willing to adopt another philosophy; his inability to construct his own only further illustrates his naivety and inexperience with the world. This ignorance is the root of the dangers behind radical optimism as it prevents informed, logical, and rational thinking about the world. Even after being enlisted in the army that destroys his old home, and apparently rapes and slaughters his love Cunegonde (Candide 4), Candide remains naïve and trusting. Candide’s constant loop of disasters happens only because of his naivety, and the repetition emphasizes that warning that Voltaire is trying to present to his audience.
Pangloss personifies radical optimism as he is the driving force behind Candide’s belief and trust in the subject. By his own philosophy Pangloss later contracts Syphilis, which eats away at his body until he is unrecognizable, and is hung for practicing against Christianity (Candide 6). Although he suffers these two near death experiences he still preaches his optimism philosophy. This emphasizes his stance and helps to reinforce Candide’s belief, effectively making Pangloss a sort of prophet for Candide. Because of his preaching and apparent authority over the subject, the audience comes to recognize him as a symbol for radical optimism. As a result of his symbol status and his experiences the audience begins to doubt his integrity, and therefore the integrity behind radical optimism.
Finally, for emphasis, exaggeration, and blatant honesty, Voltaire uses a mild form of Juvenalian Satire to attack and warn the public about radical optimism (Juvenalian satire). Voltaire masterfully utilizes the strongest tool at his disposal, which integrates with tone in a mocking, condescending way in order to belittle the theme. His constant barrage of attacks helps to shame any potential believers into rethinking their ideals through Candide’s disasters and his reactions to them. Each disaster is countered by a smaller miracle, making each twist of the tale a direct attack against Candide’s naivety, and therefore his belief in radical optimism. At each miracle Candide’s faith in Pangloss’ teachings seems to be strengthened, effectively making Candide a fool of sorts. He blindly wanders into the same situations expecting a different result each time. This loop stems from his optimism –this is the best of all worlds and everything is going to be alright (Candide 1).
Each disaster should rationally weaken Candide’s belief and trust in the philosophy, or cause him to challenge it; however, each disaster seems to strengthen his commitment. In one instance Candide doubted the theory stating that, “If this is the best of all possible worlds, then what must the others be like?” (Candide 6), however, he readily pushed those doubts aside when he got lucky. This not only makes Candide look pathetic and naïve, but it shows a blatant truth to people already in Candide’s position: especially those following religion blindly. In reality, disasters can strengthen beliefs, but they are more likely to destroy or weaken them because the subject begins to question the theory. A good example of this is the Jews following the Holocaust (Signer 118). Because of their ill treatment, many strayed from Judaism and stopped believing in God (19). Candide seems oblivious to the faults in his optimism because each time he doubts it something good happens. This irony is used repeatedly, causing the audience to think of Candide, and other naïve and blind followers, as fools.
To further satirize Candide’s inability to think for himself, when he later decides that Pangloss’ theory is inadequate he adopts a farmer’s theory instead; substituting hard labor with no time to think about “philosophies” for radical optimism. This would seem to be an improvement in Candide, but it proves his naïveté even more, as he is still blindly following a philosophy. Voltaire’s message is embodied in Candide’s actions, especially his simple mindedness and naïveté. Candide’s willingness to be swayed from one philosophy to another, and to blindly be committed to follow that philosophy despite evidence of its falsehoods, is a direct attack on people who fail to think for themselves (Porterfield 86). Candide is a tool created to mock anyone who follows anything without rationalizing it first for themselves, as Candide failed to do.
Pangloss, on the other hand, is a blatant example of those leading the people to blindly follow them. Pangloss could be compared to a priest in this instance, gaining followers and swearing by his beliefs, and stooping as low as adding his downfalls with the philosophy as testimonies to its worth. Pangloss tries to rationalize how his philosophy fits into Christianity (Candide 5), and even when this almost causes his death he remains adamant that his way is the right way. He later admits that he doesn’t really believe it, however, he continues enthusiastically teaching it; just like a priest with no belief left in Jesus, who still gets up at the altar and excites his followers with his sermon. This is not only hypocritical, but points the finger to all “prophets” of philosophies who are trying to sway people to wholly believe their theories. Pangloss seems to be a tool created to attack religious leaders because they are leading people to believe that God will make everything perfect.
Voltaire’s main use of satire is the critical analysis of the narrator (Juvenalian satire). The matter of fact tone throughout the piece makes the issues more serious, while the hilarity of the events seems to mock not only the seriousness, but the characters as well. The tone of the tale seems to call on the audience to judge each character and theme subconsciously (Juvenalian satire). This allows the audience to decide for themselves if they will heed the warning or not.
In essence, Voltaire’s masterful use of the literary tools at his disposal helps bring Candide to life. His use of tone helps us form our own attitudes about the themes of the story, while the satirical elements help us enjoy the story while still receiving the message. This satire was intended to be boarder than just radical optimism, however, and can thus be relevantly applied to many different topics today.
Works Cited (Lost formatting)
"Juvenalian satire." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 26 Apr. 2009 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/308986/Juvenalian-satire>.
"Candide". Jalic Inc.. 20 April 2009 <http://www.online-literature.com/voltaire/candide/>.
NovelGuide, "Candide". NovelGuide.com. 25 April 2009 <http://www.novelguide.com/candide/>.
Signer, Michael Alan. Humanity at the Limit. Bloomington Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2000.
Portrfield, Jason. Voltaire: Champion of the French Enlightenment. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc, 2006.
SIME, RICHARD, ed. Elements of Literature. sixth ed. Orlando, Florida: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1997.