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A Comparison Of Satire In Voltaire's Candide And Gulliver's Travels

2248 words - 9 pages

A Comparison of the Satire of Candide and Gulliver's Travels

An impartial observer has the ability to make the most critical and objective observation on society and the behavior of man. This impartial observer would see the truth as it is. This same premise may be applied to literary works. A naive character or narrator may be used as an impartial observer, who reveals social truths to the audience through his or her naivete. As Maurois has noted, in writing about Candide, by Voltaire," It was novel of apprenticeship, that is, the shaping of an adolescent's ideas by rude contact with the universe" (101). Jonathan Swift also takes this approach in his work Gulliver's Travels, where Gulliver, the main character, provides a impartial point of reference.

The satires Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift, and Candide, by Voltaire, both make use of naivete to convey satirical attacks on society. In both works, litotes [understatements] are made of extremely absurd situations, which further illuminates the ridiculous nature of a situation. Characters in each novel are made vulnerable by their overly trusting natures. This is taken advantage of, and these characters are left exploited by corrupt people in society. Attacks are also made on authority figures of the world. This can be seen in the characters' reaction to authority. Finally, both works are travel tales, which expose the main characters to many perspectives. This allows the authors to satirize many aspects of society.

These two satirical works make litotes of preposterous situations, thus shedding light on the absurdity at hand. This is an especially effective technique, because a character or narrator is involved in a ridiculous situation. The reader, from an aesthetic distance, is then able to recognize the foolishness of the incident. After careful consideration, a satirical conclusion may be drawn. For example, Voltaire's narrator describes a brutal battle scene in a lighthearted manner:

Nothing could have been more splendid, brilliant, smart or orderly than the two armies . . . . then rifle fire removed from our best of worlds about nine or ten thousand scoundrels who had been infesting its surface. The bayonet was also the sufficient reason for the death of several thousand men. (22-23)

The diction in this passage is ironic. By referring to a battle as "splendid" (22) and "brilliant" (22), the narrator demonstrates how common the idea of warfare has become and how little the human life is valued. Also, the phrase, "Our best of worlds" (22-23) identifies optimism as a focus of this satirical attack (Maurois 100). In this way, the narrator nonchalantly discusses grave matters. Maurois cited both Voltaire and Swift as using this method when he states, "and from the Dean [Swift] he [Voltaire] had learned how to tell an absurd story in the most natural manner" (104). In this way, the foolish scenarios stand out in the context of "serious" discourse, and when taken...

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