Candide: a Satire on the Enlightenment

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Candide: a Satire on the Enlightenment

By | October 1999
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Candide is an outlandishly humorous, far-fetched tale by Voltaire satirizing the optimism espoused by the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. It is the story of a young man's adventures throughout the world, where he witnesses much evil and disaster. Throughout his travels, he adheres to the teachings of his tutor, Pangloss, believing that "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds." Candide is Voltaire's answer to what he saw as an absurd belief proposed by the Optimists - an easy way to rationalize evil and suffering. Though he was by no means a pessimist, Voltaire refused to believe that what happens is always for the best.The Age of Enlightenment is a term applied to a wide variety of ideas and advances in the fields of philosophy, science, and medicine. The primary feature of Enlightenment philosophy is the belief that people can actively work to create a better world. A spirit of social reform characterized the political ideology of Enlightenment philosophers. While Voltaire's Candide is heavily characterized by the primary concerns of the Enlightenment, it also criticizes certain aspects of the movement. It attacks the idea that optimism, which holds that rational thought can inhibit the evils perpetrated by human beings. Voltaire did not believe in the power of reason to overcome contemporary social conditions.In Candide, Voltaire uses Pangloss and his ramblings to represent an often humorous characterization of the "typical" optimist. Of Pangloss, Voltaire writes, "He proved admirably that there cannot possibly be an effect without a cause and that in the best of all possible worlds the Baron's castle was the best of all castles and his wife the best of all possible Baronesses." (522) The attack on the claim that this is "the best of all possible worlds" permeates the entire novel. Throughout the story, satirical references to this theme contrast with natural catastrophes and human wrongdoing. When reunited with...