Use of Satire to Attack Optimism in Voltaire's Candide
In its time, satire was a powerful tool for political assault on Europe's corrupt and deteriorating society. Voltaire's Candide uses satire to vibrantly and sarcastically portray optimism, a philosophical view from the Enlightenment used to bury the horrors of 18th century life: superstition, sexually transmitted diseases, aristocracy, the church, tyrannical rulers, civil and religious wars, and the cruel punishment of the innocent.
Through the steady adversity faced by Candide, Voltaire brings up important questions about how the nature of optimism appears to commoners. Pangloss's philosophy of "the best of all possible worlds" - an example of the misleading optimistic theory advocated by the philosophers of the Enlightenment which Voltaire deems absurd, - is "listened to attentively and believed innocently" (2) by the young and naive Candide at the beginning of the novel. However, as the novel progresses Candide begins to balks at this optimist idea, in the end suggesting to his comrades to "cultivate our garden" (87). This, his own conclusion, can be interpreted as humble work is the only answer to a life continuously plagued with bad luck. Through the actions of his silly characters, Voltaire preaches that man is unable to understanding the evils in this world and concludes that the basic goal of life is not to seek pure and trivial happiness, rather it is to learn to survive.
"The Enlightenment" is used to characterize many new ideas and advancements in 18th century philosophy, science, and medicine. The principal trait of Enlightenment philosophy is the belief that people create a better environment in which to live. Pangloss, the ever optimistic, derives his ideas based on these thoughts. So while Voltaire's Candide strongly portrays this primary idea of the Enlightenment in a negative way, it also condemns certain characteristics of the movement. Mentioned above, Candide fervently attacks the idea that optimism, which says that rational thought can restrain the evils committed by humans. It can be concluded that Voltaire attacks optimism because he did not believe that the sole power of thought and reason could overcome modern social institutions with.
For example, Voltaire has Pangloss (a characterization of the "typical" optimist) "prove admirably that there is no effect without a cause, and that, in this best of all possible worlds, the Baron's castle was the most magnificent of castles, and his lady the best of all possible Baronesses" (1). This reasoning, along with the infamous "nose has been formed to bear spectacle" (2) conclusion are irrelevant trains of thought. These misconstrued ideas that everything was made to work perfectly together is not a cohesive explanation outside of Pangloss's mind. Voltaire proves, in paragraphs following the description of the "magnificent castle," that in reality things do not go as...