Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The (Voltaire) Right Way to Look at the World

            Candide is a tale of the tragedies and misfortunes that befall a naive young man who initially sees only the good in the world. Voltaire was born in France in a time where extreme poverty was perpetuated by the dominant aristocracy and was writing in the time of the Enlightenment ideas of equality and freedom of thought. To an eye not attuned to Voltaire's sharp wit and sarcasm, although it would be extremely hard not to pick up on, this story could be seen as innocent, but it is one of the most critical and caustic works of satire in history. Voltaire attacks the nobility and the church for their corruption and also condemns Enlightenment philosophers' optimism about rational thought as a catalyst for real social change. Candide and Pangloss believe that "everything is for the best", or that everything that happens in the world is for the greater good and serves a purpose. Throughout their journey, the two naive "scholars" witness horrible, senseless deeds. Pangloss' reactions to these deeds contribute to much of the sarcasm and humor in the tale as his justification make absolutely no sense. This is Voltaire's way of pointing out the flaws in Enlightenment "optimism" as it allows for horrible deeds to be perpetuated and lets social injustice slip through the cracks. Pangloss is eventually forced to admit that he was wrong in his beliefs. In addition, he critiques that lack of actual action on the part of philosophers as they speculate about what is right and wrong all day, but don't actually do anything about it. This is reflected in Candide's eventual rejection of Pangloss's philosophies for actual, tangible work.
             The attack on religion and aristocrats in Candide is much easier to spot. It is embodied in the corrupt and hypocritical leaders who Candide encounters, including a thieving friar and a pope with a daughter. These ridiculous example of the wrongdoings of church officials are contrasted with a more positive portrayal of the everyday religious man, someone like Jacques. In addition, the correlation between wealth and happiness is attacked as Candide is shown to be more miserable when he does have money after El Dorado than before. In this tale Voltaire shows us the development of a naive boy into a less naive man. Candide's optimistic and innocent outlook on the world is ripped to shreds by Voltaire's harsh words and attempts to show people of the Enlightenment and revolutionary France that Voltaire's way of viewing the world is the best way.

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