Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"Voltaire, hair. I would personally like to learn about Voltaire"

Immediately when I saw that we would have the opportunity to read Candide, I thought about the quote from The Princess Diaries and so coming up with a title was quite simple. Aside from my frequent film references, I appreciated the chance to learn about Voltaire's satirical style and ability to inform and criticize, while simultaneously entertain. Voltaire casts religion, politics, and philosophy in an extremely unflattering light and the result is a very candid observation about the folly of human nature.

First, there is the direct criticism on the ridiculousness of optimism. Voltaire is mocking the idea prevalent during the Enlightenment era that there exists a perfect God, and that if someone sees imperfections in the world, it is because he or she cannot and does not understand God's greater plan. The basic notion of the Enlightenment is that God is perfect in every way and He has thought out everything that will occur in the world. The irony is that Pangloss and Candide witness multiple mutilations throughout the novel, including floggings, rape, disease, an earthquake, and unwarranted executions. By the book's end, Candide and Pangloss are forced to come to the conclusion that maybe a perfect God does not exist. To carry that idea even further, maybe there is no God at all.

The next area of study that Voltaire mercilessly criticizes is philosophy, and the utter uselessness of philosophical speculation. In this chaotic world where one character drowns, and another lies trapped under a pile of rubble following the earthquake, Pangloss decides to meditate on the reasons for the catastrophes, rather than take affirmative action. Jacques could have easily been rescued, but Pangloss chooses to think about the justification for the drowning and event, as opposed to simply pulling him out of the water. This is ironic given Voltaire's reputation as a noted philosopher. However, this novel clearly points out that sitting around and idly thinking is useless; action is what matters.

Finally, religion is obviously skewered in this novel as we see its blatant hypocrisy presented through multiple characters. The Pope, who is supposed to remain celibate, has a daughter, a Catholic Inquisitor keeps a mistress, and numerous religious leaders carry out oppressive and inhumane campaigns against those considered "non-believers." Basically, Voltaire chose the perfect name for this novel; he is candid in every respect and almost nothing escapes his satirical gaze.

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