Candide

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Voltaire
Through Candide’s perplexing adventures and enlightening encounters, Voltaire illuminates the numerous diverse cultures of which Europeans consider themselves superior. Yet rather than supporting the foreign practices of cannibalism, bestiality, and the abolishment of priests, Voltaire is ridiculing the Europeans’ own methods of torture in an abusive social hierarchy. Therefore, while freedom of expression and a consensus of the majority constitute faucets of good behavior, the European practice of elitist rule and inequitable punishments is revealed as unjust. This criticism suggests the need for reform by deriving authority from somewhere other than the traditional roles of the royalty, clergy, and nobility, a rather radical move at the time.

Voltaire at first reveals the fault of Europeans through his description of the savage land of Oreillon. Upon their dissent from Paraguay, Candide and Cacambo come across two women, completely nude, who cry out and “spryly” run away from two monkeys who snap “at their buttocks” (73). Instantly sympathetic, Candide shoots his musket and kills the monkeys, thinking that he has redeemed himself from earlier sins by saving these distressed women. However, to his surprise he discovers that he has just killed the ladies’ lovers. Without questioning the practices of this foreign society, Candide reacts based on his own perceptions of right and wrong. His actions reflect the naivety of Europeans concerning what is thought to be normal based on their own “superior” culture. As punishment for Candide’s rash actions, the Oreillons attempt to roast the travelers over a spit to eat, justifying this through the proclamations that Candide and Cacambo are Jesuits and thus deserve to die. This behavior is explained by Cacambo as being “appropriate” because “if we Europeans do not exercise our right to eat others, it is because we have other ingredients for a good meal” (pg. 74). He recognizes that each society contains its own equally valid practices which cannot be altered or condemned by those who think they are predominant. In addition, Voltaire is not justifying that bestiality and cannibalism constitute a righteous society, but rather satirically commenting on the Europeans own practices, for it would be hypocritical to condemn these practices without evaluating whether the European’s own forms of punishment are just.

As the innocent Candide ventures to Eldorado, he is once again introduced to a land unlike that found in contemporary Europe. Upon their arrival, the travelers bewilderingly walk upon pavement made up of rubies, emeralds, and gold and rapture in the delights of a free feast at a common inn. The generous, humble citizens then guide them to an old man and, later, even the approachable king, in order to answer their many questions. Through these communicators they come to realize that the most striking aspects of the village do not constitute its physical features, but rather its ideology. They are told that all men are free, and thus there is no need for the establishment of courts, trials, or prisons. While Candide is quite baffled by these assertions which completely contrast the structured social organization of Europe, he is even more confused by the lack of priests or an enforced religion, upon which he exclaims, “What! You have no monks who lecture, debate, govern, conspire, and burn people who don’t agree with them?” (79). These seemingly sarcastic remark is a reflection of the binary thinking in which the Europeans have taught their citizens to believe. Candide had always considered the church as an institution which interjects in every aspect of life and constantly ridicules and punishes others while denying the fact that there are other practices and religions besides the order of the church and Catholicism. Voltaire is not suggesting the elimination of priests, which would be a radical idea at the time, but is rather demonstrating a deeper criticism of...
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