Comparing Voltaire's Candide and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Voltaire's Candide and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein are classics of western literature, in large part, because they both speak about the situation of being human. However, they are also important because they are both representative of the respective cultural movements during which they were written - the Enlightenment and the Romantic Era. As a result of this inheritance, they have different tones and messages, just as the Enlightenment and Romanticism had different tones and messages. But, it is not enough to merely say that they are "different" because they are linked. The intellectual movement from which Frankenstein emerged had its origins in the intellectual movement from which Candide emerged. By examining each of these works from the context of these intellectual movements, the progression in tone from light-hearted optimism in Candide to a heavier brooding doom in Frankenstein can be explained as being an extension of the progression from the Enlightenment to the Era of Romanticism.
The Enlightenment had its roots in the scientific and philosophical movements of the 17th century. It was, in large part, a rejection of the faith-based medieval world view for a way of thought based on structured inquiry and scientific understanding. It stressed individualism, and it rejected the church's control of the secular activities of men. Among the movement's luminaries were Descartes, Newton, and Locke. They, among others, stressed the individual's use of reason to explain and understand the world about himself in all of its aspects. Important principles of the Enlightenment included the use of science to examine all aspects of life (this was labeled "reason"), the use of the scientific method to discover the laws of human society as well as those of nature, and the use of reason to effect continuous progress in human society.
Candide was very much a product of the Enlightenment. The tone of the work is one of optimism maintained despite frequent misfortune and continuous suffering. The optimism can exist because, in the context of the Enlightenment, the suffering represents the opportunity for human progress through the application of reason. If the miserable people of the middle ages lived for the promise of relief of suffering in the afterlife, the miserable people in the Enlightenment lived for promise of a better life through progress resulting from the application of reason to the human situation. Voltaire's message was this optimism (for that is the translation of the title of the work), but he made his point by satirically making fun of many of the elements of the Enlightenment, itself, including this philosophical optimism. He could do this, and laughingly get away with it, because the optimism he was poking fun at is the abuse of the Enlightenment as a popular movement. While the protagonist, Candide, blindly accepts the enlightened teachings of the supposed...