“Religion, Politics and Morals”
How did Voltaire exploit the pre-modern era through mockery and criticism of 18th century society?
Voltaire’s Candide can be understood in several ways by its audience. At a first glance it would appear to be simply a story blessed with outrageous creativity, but if you look deeper in to the novel, a more complicated and meaningful message is buried within. Voltaire uses the adventures of Candide as a representation of what he personally feels is wrong within in society. Written in the 18th century (1759), known commonly as the age of enlightenment, Voltaire forces his audience to consider the shift from tradition to freedom within society. He achieves this by exploring the reality of human suffering due to traditions which he mocks throughout Candide. In particular he focused on exploiting the corruption he felt was strongly and wrongfully present within three main aspects of society these being religion, politics and morals. Each chapter represents different ways in which Voltaire believes corruption exists providing the audience with the reality of society’s problems due to its fixation on tradition. As a philosopher of the Enlightenment, Voltaire advocated for freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the separation between church and state. Voltaire successfully presents these ideas within Candide by highlighting why they are a significant problem in 18th century Europe.
Each chapter of Candide is a part of the story which Voltaire carefully expresses his concerns and criticism of 18th century society. Chapter 11 “The History of the old women” in particular criticises the pre-modern era in regards to religion. The enlightenment period called for freedom of religion from many philosophers including Voltaire himself. During the 18th century, Europe was dominated by religion socially, politically and economically and the corruption of the church at the time affected all these aspects of daily life. In chapter 11 Voltaire uses the character of the old lady as a representation of the churches corruption and to exploit the Catholic Church in this particular example, “You must know that I am the daughter of Pope Urban X” (Candide, Chapter 11). A Pope, being the leader of the Catholic Church must take a vow of celibacy as a religious man and leader. The fact he has a daughter shows he has broken this scared vow of celibacy. Voltaire choses the most powerful religious figure at the time as an example of corruption to express the severity of the church’s problems. By bringing this idea to the reader’s attention, it supports his personal belief in freedom of religion, as people should not be forced to believe in something that is immoral. The church was extremely strict in the 18th century on the ordinary man but not strict on the leaders they followed, which Voltaire believed was completely and utterly wrong. Voltaire continues to criticise religion throughout Candide through the use of characters within the...