Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Voltaire's crafty use of symbolism in names

Being an English major, it’s almost impossible not to seek symbolism or deeper meaning in literature. Taking into account that Candide is a satirical text, I became interested in what “candide” signifies or alludes to. Sometimes, names are representative of particular characteristics or symbols. Other times, they are references to historical figures. I sought the significance of “candide,” expanding upon Voltaire’s comment that the character combined “true judgment with simplicity of spirit” (1). I found that “candide” comes from the Latin “candidus,” which translates to “white,” suggesting purity (a lack of corruption) and fair-mindedness (wikispaces.com).The meaning of his name gives additional insight (particularly to the observer) into what kind of character Candide is.
I also found that Pangloss translates to “all-tongue,” another fitting title for, supposedly, the wisest philosopher in the world. And of course the young and beautiful “Cunegonde” is suspected to arise from Latin and French terms for genitalia. Others have speculated that it derives from the Persian translation for “big butt” (“cun” meaning anus and “gonde” meaning big or huge), which would make sense since Voltaire describes her as “plump and desirable” on page 1 (reddit.com). Other than the Count Pococurante, meaning, “caring little” in Italian, the other names of the text do not seem to bear much significance (Merriam-webster.com).
For the characters whose names do bear significance though, it is worthwhile to note their origins. Furthermore, by playing on the names, it is easy to see as readers what Voltaire seems to be commenting on or criticizing in terms of philosophy, philanthropy, religion, innocence, romance and the human condition. I have noticed that this text is largely about loss – either of things that once existed or were never acknowledged (i.e. Candide’s innocence, Cunegonde’s looks, or Pococurante’s lack of empathy). And while the cultivation of own Candide’s garden may be trite or perhaps a copout to end the novel, it does bring a bit of light into an incredibly dark group of individuals, many of whom have entirely lost faith in their sense of humanity.

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