Successful Use of Satire in Voltaire's Candide
Voltaire's Candide is the story of how one man's adventures affect his philosophy on life. Candide begins his journey full of optimism that he lives in "the best of all possible worlds," but he learns that it is naïve to say that good will eventually come of any evil.
Voltaire successfully uses satire as a means of conveying his opinions about many aspects of European society in the eighteenth century. He criticizes religion, the evils found in every level of society, and a philosophy of optimism when faced with an intolerable world.
Candide portrays religious persecution as one of the most worst aspects of society. Voltaire rejects the superstitious beliefs that the church endorsed. After the great earthquake in Lisbon, the church seems to think that persecuting a few innocent civilians in an auto-da-fè will prevent another disaster. The church should be the most civilized aspect of a society, but Candide is flogged in time to a musical procession, Pangloss is hanged, and two others are burned. Voltaire illustrates the irony of the church as a source of violence with the warring churchmen that Candide finds in the Jesuit state in the New World.
The Spanish priests in the New World operate a government where "the Fathers have everything, the people nothing;...they wage war against the King of Spain and the King of Portugal...they kill Spaniards" (Voltaire 53). Ironically, the priests in Paraguay also hold offices in the army. The Baron, for example, holds the title of Reverend Father Colonel. Voltaire stresses the irony of a official of the church that preaches "Thou shalt not kill" to be an army officer who's job is to murder. The cruelty of Christianity is portrayed by the Negro that Candide meets outside of Surinam. The Negro says "the Dutch fetishes, who converted me, tell me every Sunday that we're all children of Adam, black and white alike...but...you must admit that no one could treat his relatives more horribly" (Voltaire 73). Christianity teaches that we are all God's children, but the Negro is a slave to a cruel master that has cut off his arm and leg. The old woman tells Candide a story of a supposed holy man that convinces the Janizaries not to kill the women for food, but only to slice off one of their buttocks to eat. This "pious and compassionate" Moslem priest convinced them that "heaven will be pleased by such a charitable action" (Voltaire 48).
Voltaire attacks the corruption within the church and its officials as well. The Grand Inquisitor, a significant clergyman, makes Cunegonde his mistress at a Mass service. Even more ironic is that he shares her with a Jew. It was a Franciscan priest that robbed Lady Cunegonde of her money and jewels. The old woman identifies herself as the bastard daughter of a pope, and the papacy is also identified as keeping soldiers for private use. When Candide is ill in France, a clergyman is one of the...