Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Ending Apathy?

One of the most notable aspects of the novel Candide lies in its somewhat anticlimactic ending. Obviously Voltaire fully intended to subvert the general trend of heroic novels and stories while writing in the style of one. This evidenced by the various cliches associated with such a story, which are often twisted on their head, such as the case with character deaths being seemingly used for motivation or suspense, only for that character to effectively come back to life, with little or no ramifications for their absence.

In particular the ending seems to speak to the practicality of the philosophy discussed and described within the novel itself. Candide is often cited for its depiction of various philosophies, as well as often hyperbolic, but essentially accurate, description of life and interactions of people throughout the world, such as in an Inquisitorial Spain, or semi-cannibalistic South America.

Throughout the novel, Candide and his companions discuss and react to the events they witness and the ideas they interpret. From the Inquisition, to the colonies, to the Vatican leadership, the novel is rich with perspective on the issues of the time period, interpretations of which many believe still hold some relevance in today's world.

But at the end of the novel, Pangloss remarks on all of the many coincidences and fortunate events that led them to their final quaint existence, and how easily they could have met a very different fate. Candide merely responds that their primary priority is to tend to the garden. While this may simply be a subversion of what one may expect out of the ending of a heroic characters quest, or a fitting conclusion to a beaten down optimist, who finally got what he wanted after enduring great misfortune, it would seem that Voltaire may be speaking to a much larger idea. Prior to this point it is mentioned that Candide and Pangloss continue to discuss philosophy and politics on occasion, but the remark is thrown out as if it were an afterthought.

Considering the novel is often revered for its interpretations of philosophy, it would seem odd that the final chapter takes an almost apathetic approach to the concept that has been so prevalent throughout the entire story. But Voltaire may be reminding the humble reader that while philosophy may play a great role in politics and in the lives of many a citizen, its immediate practical impact is often negligible. As the previous chapters have proven, philosophy influences many decisions, and may shape a person's life, but Voltaire seeks to put it in perspective. Arguing or debating philosophy will not make taming the ground or harvesting the crops any easier, at least from a physical perspective. It is entirely possible that the ending speaks to how Candide's preoccupation with philosophy was prevalent for most of the adventure, but did not ultimately help him from a practical perspective. Voltaire may simply make the point that readers of the novel should not get too ahead of themselves in trying to apply its 'wisdom'; that for some, the impact of the novel should not be too overstated. Considering that determining how novels relate to the real world has been a persistent theme within the class, it does seem as if Voltaire offers a counterpoint, potentially arguing that one should not overthink or overestimate the importance of the knowledge contained within a book, even a controversial one. Knowledge may be power, but that does not mean it is applicable power.

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