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Voltaire's Candide Exposes Extreme Optimism Essay

2530 words - 10 pages

Philosophy of Extreme Optimism in Candide


It is often said that a person's life is shaped when he or she is a child. This is very much so with Candide - Pangloss was his tutor in "metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology" (Voltaire 18) since Candide was a child, and instilled into Candide's mind his philosophy of extreme optimism. Pangloss belief that "all is for the best in this world" (24) somewhat stays with Candide throughout his travels and is more of a burden to him than anything else. By discussing the various events of fate that happened to Candide, his analysis of how the event was for the best, and how he incorporates Pangloss' philosophies into the choices he makes, this essay will show that his teachings only sometimes justified the events experienced by Candide, but most of the time he lived by that phrase. The teachings did however always justify Candide's actions, and delayed the naive Candide in achieving what he wanted more than anything - being with, and marrying, Cunégonde.

Candide's naivety is always his worst enemy throughout his adventures. The wit of Voltaire is present even with the naming of his characters, with Candide derived from the Latin candida, which translates to kind, innocent, and fair skinned. Voltaire describes how Candide is easily manipulated, not only by the teachings of Pangloss but the other characters in Candide who swindled Candide's money after he visited Eldorado and gained his wealth. As Candide grows wealthier and wiser, he begins to doubt the extreme optimism practiced by his presumably dead mentor Pangloss. He even explicitly states "And despite what Dr. Pangloss used to say, I often noticed that everything went rather badly in Westphalia" (65) when he visits the rich Utopian society in the isolated country Eldorado.

Candide is not unintelligent, but just cannot think and act for himself. In his subconscious, he realizes that sometimes Pangloss' teachings may not apply to all of the events in his life, but he will not act on that thought. The only thing that drives Candide is his desire for Cunégonde, and she is the reason that Candide took the first step to carrying out his own actions by finally questioning Pangloss' belief that he is in the best of all possible worlds, even if implicitly so.

When a total stranger, the Anabaptist, helped Candide after the orator berated him, Candide happily states "Dr. Pangloss was right when he told me that all is for the best in this world" (24). After that, he finally meets Dr. Pangloss again, who Candide thought was dead. However, after Pangloss states that Cunégonde has died, Candide figuratively executes an about-face and bursts out, "Oh best of all possible worlds, where are you?" (25) mildly refuting Pangloss' statement that this novel revolves around. This action alone shows how much Cunégonde affects him.

Following the earthquake, the hanging of Pangloss, and Candide himself is severely...

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