Candide Book Critique

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Candide is a book published in 1759, written by Voltaire, a famous philosopher and writer of the time period. The book was published widely across Europe. “Originally, Voltaire’s ‘Candide’ was banned by the Greater Council of Geneva and Paris outright upon its publication. Nevertheless, 30,000 copies were sold and many believe the book helped define the era.”1 Therefore, the banning of the book might have made it even more popular to people. Everywhere you went, this book was a topic of discussion and made Voltaire widely popular and sought after. “Voltaire was popular in England, and in the course of 1759, no fewer than three different English translations of Candide were published in London.”2 This just shows how people were grasping to read this and that everyone want to be a part of it.

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This book has so many meanings behind every word written in it, covered up by a layer of satire. This lets the reader get a grasp of the time period of the book takes place in and demonstrates the tragedies and the backwards logic of the time, making it a perfect read to see everything in the world. It also includes actual events from the time period with “the execution of Admiral Byng for cowardice in the face of the (French) enemy at the battle of Minorca. This had taken place on 14 March 1757, just over a year before Voltaire started writing his novel.”3 This further proves how Voltaire was writing about the current times of his era.

All of this makes it understandable for teachers to want their students to read this book. It’s perfect to make sure a kid is paying attention and being attentive in order to understand everything occurring, it gives context for different parts of the world and the events taking place at the time of publishing. It also gives you a sense of why this man, Voltaire, grew to such popularity and what would appeal to people. It also makes it so the teachers can provide a guiding hand, but the students themselves feel like they are learning about this book by themselves and that they get to interpret the book in their own way. “Satire takes as its object the frame—the limit or perspective—of each reader.”4 Since Candide is written in the satirical form, it is not a leap to say that there are many ways to view any single event in this book, so the students who read it will be able to discuss, share ideas, or even debate about certain events of the book and no one would be necessarily wrong.

Candide is a book meant for everyone, but to make fun of everyone at the same time. It’s goal to to make you understand the wrongs in the way of thinking which was primarily optimism. Throughout this book, Voltaire constantly makes fun of people and the hypocriticalness of the way they thought and acted in situations thinking that god made everything so everything happens for a good reason. “This philosophical tale may be described as an attack on Leibnitzian optimism – and, more broadly, on all prepackaged systems of thought and belief – a satire on churches and churchmen, and a pessimistic rumination on human nature and the problem of free will.”5 all off this demonstrates of how Voltaire wanted to point out the flaws in the system and way off life that people accepted widely for truth, meaning that the book was for everyone to read, and for everyone to grow from.

The messages of this book, as stated before, are attacks on Leibnitzian optimism. Leibnitzian optimism was created by Leibniz. He thought, “if there were no best possible world, then God would not have had a sufficient reason to create one world rather than another, and so he would not have created any world at all. But he did create a world, the existing one, which therefore must be the best possible.”6 The beliefs that everything was perfect and that we were chosen by god spread rapidly and Voltaire took offense to this. So in the book, he has Candide go through all of these horrible things/events just for a girl he ends up not really loving. While Candide is on this trip, he slowly comes to the realization that no one is really happy except for the people of El Dorado, but in the real world El Dorado doesn’t exist. All of this means that happiness doesn’t really exist and all of these horrible acts are common place around the world, so, why would we be the best of all possible worlds.

To understand this book, one needs to understand Voltaire. Voltaire was born on November 21, 1694 with the name François-Marie Arouet. His family was prosperous in Paris, France where he was the youngest of five children born to François Arouet and Marie Marguerite d’Aumart. When Voltaire was 7, his mother died. After this tragedy, he grew quite close to his godfather. His godfather was a free and open minded thinker making, by association, Voltaire one too.7
In 1704, Voltaire went to secondary school at Coll©ge Louis-le-Grand where he learned and developed his writing skill with a classical education. This is where he started his skepticism and mockery through pressure by his father who wanted him to become a lawyer. He saw the horrors of religious persecution, the failing of the military in 1709, and even the last years of Louis XIV. These periods would stick with him and help shape his views of the world.8
He decided against the idea of being a lawyer and became a full time writer. He was widely quoted with his comments but after poking fun at the duc d’Orl©ans, he was banished from Paris and sent to the Bastille for a year. This further reinforced his views and made him even more devoted, due to every tragedy he faced and every event in his life made him more devoted to his views and want to speak out. This is why he wrote this and why everything is included. It shows every event, every minute detail that he included, had a deeper meaning behind it, and it is waiting for someone to find it.

This novel had so many aspects and themes in it that are all well drawn out and explored. One main and constant theme that goes on throughout the whole book, is that blind optimism is a fools gold. This is shown constantly throughout the character of Pangloss which even directly translates to optimism. One key example of this was when Pangloss and Candide are reunited after Candide finds him on the side of the road dying of syphilis, but Pangloss cheerly replies to this observation by saying that without Christopher Columbus traveling over to the Americas, they would not have chocolate and Candide accepts this. This just speaks to the idea of how Voltaire was disproving the concept of Leibnitzian optimism in this book. Other examples of this theme were, Pangloss not letting Candide save James from drowning, saying James was meant to die and that it was for the best. Another is, Pangloss realizing at the end of the book that everything is not good in the world after being hung, losing his ear and eye from syphilis, being sold into slavery, and more. Lastly, everywhere they went, there was murder and death, poverty and sadness, and filth and gore, but when they go to El Dorado, they are in paradise, but El dorado doesn’t exist and they aren’t supposed to be there. That is the most direct message to the idea that nothing is perfect and that we aren’t great.

A second theme that is constant in this book is, that no one is truly happy. This was mainly demonstrated through the bet Martin(a pessimist) and Candide had if anyone was truly happy. They asked countless people including a couple that seemed perfect, but behind that they were in slavery and were forced together. It becomes even more evident when they visit lord Pococurante, a rich noble who has anything he ever could desire, but he doesn’t care for it and even with anything he ever could desire, is just unhappy. One main event that cemented this theme was the ending, where Candide realized, “AT THE BOTTOM of his heart Candide had no wish to marry Cunegonde.” This means after all the terrible events he went through and giving up literal heaven/paradise on earth, he decides he really doesn’t love her. In the ending no one is left feeling nothing more then contempt and no one is really happy.

After reading Candide several times, my reaction to the book was that it was a book that was extreme in every action that occurs making it a very interesting and intriguing read, and that is what is significant about it and made it so popular. By taking actions that would be crazy and frightful enough to supply a lifetime and having them all occur in the span of a book less than 100 pages(mine was 87 pages) it just shows that he wanted to make it extreme and to fit as many things into it as possible. It is an enjoying the book because it gives context to real life events but with a layer of comedy over the whole thing, giving it a cartoonish feel, making it so all of the atrocities happening seem kind’ve funny. One example is, when Candide and Cacambo are running away after killing Cunegonde’s brother the jesuit, they are being baked alive by natives because Candide is dressed like a jesuit. Cacambo gets them out but they don’t give any context to why this happened and act like this is somewhat of the norm.

As mentioned before Voltaire has well drawn out themes and actions in the book, but it comes out feeling rushed and forced. And yes that is part of the point because it is a satire, but if he were able to say double the length and maybe expand more an certain issues and add more it would have worked much better. For example, when Candide and Martin visit England all they talk about is the death of the admiral and leave, which happens in just more than a page. If say they may be talked more about the 7 years war slightly more and how that was an unneeded it would have been a much better loose thread that would have been tied up.
With all the info and context about the world in Candide, it is a great way to get insight into the 18th century. “But it was no fable inhabiting some make-believe or symbolic location; rather, it was a report on the current state of the world, deliberately set among the headlines of the day.”10 By giving constant references and ways that the world was conducted, such as the Auto da fe after the earthquake that killed 30,000 people, it draws you in and will show the “weird” and “nonsensical” ways that people acted and thought. This book also strengthens a student’s ability to have complex understanding. By having to look underneath all of the info and being able to pull out so many different themes, it makes it so a student has to look deep to find answers.

This book is worth giving to other people because they can find multitudes of things in the book that the lender might not have even thought of. It is also just a funny read that you could take at face value and just get a good kick out of it. It also just gives understanding and a view of the time period. This should also be recommend because it helps under expand your perception of everything you will ever read because you have to look deep down to find the answers.

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Candide book critique. (2019, Dec 04). Retrieved February 5, 2023 , from
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