Candide, a young man educated by the optimist philosopher Pangloss, believes that he is living in
"the best of all possible worlds." This world is Westphalia- more specifically, the castle of the
Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh. (Voltaire here is making fun of the pompous names of many German petty nobles
of the time.) The other members of the baron's household are his wife, his son, and his beautiful daughter,
Cunegonde. Candide's happy world is disrupted when he is booted out the door for having the nerve to kiss
Alone, penniless, and hungry, Candide is aided by two strangers who proceed to enroll him in the Bulgar
army. After many troubles, Candide deserts and makes his way to Holland. Here, he is again aided, this time
sincerely, by an honest merchant named Jacques.
Walking through town one day, Candide meets his old teacher, Pangloss. Pangloss tells Candide that the
castle of Thunder-ten-tronckh has been destroyed and its inhabitants have been savagely murdered. The
philosopher himself is afflicted with the pox (syphilis) and has no money for a doctor. Jacques has Pangloss
cured and gives him and Candide jobs.
Two months later, Pangloss, Jacques, and Candide set sail for Lisbon on business. Unfortunately, they are
shipwrecked and Jacques is killed. Pangloss and Candide reach land just in time to experience the disastrous
Lisbon earthquake. At a dinner for the survivors, Pangloss is questioned about his philosophical beliefs. His
responses cause Pangloss and Candide to be arrested by the Inquisition. Pangloss's beliefs smack of heresy,
and it was the Inquisition's job to stamp out heresy.
The Inquisition has planned a public execution of heretics to prevent further earthquakes. Candide and
Pangloss are selected to be among the victims. Pangloss is hanged, but Candide, who only listened to heresy,
is merely beaten and set free. As he leaves, Candide is stopped by an old woman, who first heals his wounds
and then brings him to her mistress, Cunegonde.
Cunegonde tells the story of her escape from death and the adventures that brought her to Lisbon. Her tale
is interrupted by the arrival of one of her patrons, Don Issachar, a Jewish merchant. Don Issachar lunges at
Candide, who stabs and kills him. Barely has Candide had time to wipe his sword than Cunegonde's second
patron, the Grand Inquisitor, arrives. Candide kills him, too, and on the advice of the old woman he, she, and
Cunegonde take flight to Cadiz, Spain, where Candide is made a captain in the army being sent to fight the
Jesuits in Paraguay. All three depart for the New World.
During the long voyage to Buenos Aires, the old woman tells her story. Like Cunegonde, she had once
been a beautiful and desirable woman, betrothed to an Italian prince. After the murder of her fiance, she was
captured by pirates, raped, and passed from one man to another across northern Africa. Finally, as her beauty
faded, she became a servant, ending up in the household of Don Issachar.
When they arrive in Buenos Aires, the trio discover that they are being followed by the Spanish police,
who are searching for the murderer of the Grand Inquisitor. Candide and his servant, Cacambo, leave Buenos
Aires, hoping to find work as soldiers for the Jesuits this time. Cunegonde and the old woman remain in the
city with the governor, who has taken a fancy to Cunegonde.
At the Jesuit camp, Candide meets the commander of the Jesuits, who is none other than Cunegonde's
brother, the young baron. The happy reunion is ended when the baron refuses to allow Candide to marry his
sister. Candide promptly stabs him, puts on the Jesuit's robe, and again takes flight with his faithful servant.
As he travels across Paraguay, Candide's adventures multiply. He is nearly eaten by the local Biglug
Indians. Fortunately, however, as he has killed one of the Jesuits, the enemy of the Biglugs, he is set free and
allowed to continue on his journey.
The journey is interrupted when Candide and Cacambo set themselves adrift in a canoe on an unknown
river. The raging river carries them along. They crash on the shores of Eldorado, the golden country, where
even the mud is gold and the pebbles in the road are diamonds and emeralds.
In Eldorado, Candide and Cacambo enjoy the hospitality of the Eldoradans, a peaceful, kindly people.
After six weeks, the travelers are eager to leave. With the wealth they will be able to take back to Europe,
they can live like kings, while in Eldorado they are just like everyone else. The king of Eldorado does not
understand their reasoning, but he generously helps Candide and Cacambo to leave and presents them with a
hundred red sheep, each one loaded with gold, diamonds, and provisions for the journey.
On their way to Surinam, on the northern coast, where they hope to find a ship for Europe, Candide and
Cacambo lose all but two of the sheep. Once in Surinam, the two separate. Cacambo heads for Buenos Aires
to ransom Cunegonde, while Candide looks for a ship to take him to Venice. Once again, Candide falls on
hard times. He is swindled out of his last two sheep and is left with only the diamonds in his pockets. By now,
he is disillusioned and seriously questions Pangloss's optimist philosophy of life. He wants only to leave
South America and wait for Cunegonde in Venice. He picks a companion, Martin the scholar, from among the
most miserable souls in Surinam and leaves for Europe.
Martin and Candide philosophize on their way across the ocean. The ship docks in Bordeaux, whereupon
Candide, impelled by his curiosity, heads for Paris, a city he's heard much about. Again, the naive Candide is
swindled; moreover, Paris being Paris, he is unfaithful to Cunegonde. With his supply of diamonds shrinking
fast, he runs from Paris and sets sail for Venice.
In view of all his trials, Candide is feeling quite sorry for himself, but he clings to the hope of finding
Cunegonde. He lingers in Venice, meeting Paquette, Baroness Thunder-ten-tronckh's former maid, and
Paquette's lover, Brother Giroflee. Just as Candide is about to despair completely of ever hearing from his
beloved Cunegonde, Cacambo, now a slave, appears and informs him that she is in Turkey. Candide,
therefore, must be ready to sail immediately to Constantinople (Istanbul) with Cacambo and his new master.
But he must ransom Cacambo in Constantinople before they can go on to find Cunegonde.
After Candide has ransomed Cacambo, they set sail for the nearby shores of Propontis (Sea of Marmara)
to locate Cunegonde. Among the galley slaves are two familiar faces, Pangloss and the young baron. Both
have miraculously survived. To Constantinople they all go. Candide ransoms Pangloss and the young baron,
and then, many diamonds lighter, they sail on to Propontis and Cunegonde.
Cacambo reports that Cunegonde not only has become a servant but has grown hideously ugly. Candide
thereupon feels somewhat less enthusiastic about marrying her, but resolves to keep his promise. When they
arrive in Propontis, he finds that Cacambo's description is not exaggerated, but he ransoms Cunegonde and
the old woman nonetheless.
He then marries Cunegonde over the objections of her brother, whom he ships back to the galley. With
the last of his diamonds, he buys a farm. Paquette and Brother Giroflee join them there. Martin, Candide, and
Pangloss continue their endless philosophical arguments. All sink into intolerable boredom until an encounter
with a wise old man helps them to find contentment at last in work, in cultivating their "garden."
Many of the characters in Candide do not appear to be fully developed, complex characters. With the
exception of Candide, they change very little in the course of the tale. Only at the end, in Chapter 30, as each
one finds his niche on the farm, does the reader perceive a sense of change in most of the characters. But even
this change is related directly to the meaning of the conclusion. There is no gradual transformation developing
from an inner evolution of the character. The transformation is imposed from the outside, briefly stated by the
author to emphasize his conclusion.
The reader has little knowledge of the characters' thoughts and emotions. You do not "know"
the characters, you know only what they stand for and what their function in the story is.
Frequently, the characters, especially the minor ones, are "types": They are representative
characters, not individuals. They may represent an idea, like Pangloss, or a social class, like the young baron.
Voltaire is deliberate in his use of character types. He does not want you to be so involved with his characters
that you forget what they stand for. For the chief goal of satire is to communicate an idea, to make the link
between the fictional world and the real world very clear.
The use of character types does not necessarily imply that the author has created characters that are
uninteresting or oversimple. But the characters, except for Candide himself, are important only as they relate
to Candide and his education.
Candide (from the French, "pure, innocent, naive") is the focus of this tale. It is his story.
With the exception of a few chapters of flashbacks, where other characters bring him up to date with regard to
what has happened to them, he is present in every chapter. Other characters enter and leave the story. The
reader always follows Candide.
Candide's story is an adventure and a romance. Some readers have seen it as the story of a young man's
education, of his journey from naivete to maturity. He begins as a gullible, simple soul, with a naive faith in
his teacher Pangloss. This faith allows him to believe that all is for the best in the world. As Candide's eyes
are opened, he loses his belief in optimism. For a time, he has nothing to replace his former optimism, but in
the final chapter he finds a new belief- in work as a means to contentment.
Candide's character evolves in various ways. He becomes more realistic and less idealistic. Always a
questioner, he comes in time to modify his reactions to the answers he's given, in accordance with his newly
gained experiences. At the beginning of the tale, for example, he accepts the optimist's justification for the
evils he encounters. But as his journey continues, he questions how anything seen universally as evil can be
for the best. At the end of the story, he begins to evaluate events as he sees them and is able to reject the
answer "Everything is for the best."
Candide is a more independent man at the end of the story than he is at the beginning. In the early
chapters, he relies completely on Pangloss for his ideas about the world. He sees Westphalia and the castle of
the Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh as the center of the world. In the final chapter, he is able to disagree with his
master and to decide for himself what direction his life will take.
Not everything about Candide changes. Despite his excessive optimism as the story opens, he is portrayed
as also having positive characteristics: "an honest mind and great simplicity of heart." He is loyal
to his friends and to Cunegonde. He remains a kind man, generous, and honest in his dealings with others.
Some of his negative characteristics do not leave him completely, either. Although he is less naive as he settles
in Constantinople, he is still gullible enough to be swindled out of the last of his money in the final chapter.
You may well ask yourself, in fact, how much Candide has changed. Is it his character that changes or
merely his view of the world? Try to trace which aspects of Candide remain the same and which change.
Certain aspects may seem contradictory. He is said to be gentle, and yet he kills two men and thinks he
has killed another. He appears completely naive, and yet he has the good sense, as early as Chapter 3, to hide
during a battle and to leave the war zone as quickly as possible. Is Voltaire saying that nothing and no one are
quite what they seem? Or is he saying that circumstances force us to do things that might otherwise be against
our nature? Look for other instances in the story of seemingly contradictory behavior and see whether you
can discover why Voltaire has chosen to portray Candide in that way.
Candide's actions and observations, as those of all the other characters, are closely tied to his function in
the story. Voltaire, wishing to destroy the theory of philosophical optimism, which he finds impossible to
support in the face of reality, causes Candide to suffer a multiplicity of evil and tragic experiences. He does
not want to leave any room in the reader's mind for doubt- philosophical optimism is an impossible, even
evil, belief. Therefore, every conceivable evil must be either experienced or observed by Candide. Although he
is the most developed character in the story, Candide is always subordinate to the ideas of Voltaire's
philosophical tale. Keep this in mind as inconsistencies show in Candide's character and behavior when his
miseries pile up to an incredible level. Always ask yourself what Voltaire wants to say to you. What does he
want you to see?
While Candide is the most developed character in the story and the one that changes the most, Pangloss
is the character that changes the least. He is the optimist philosopher who remains the optimist philosopher,
even after he is hanged, sent to the galley as a prisoner, and caused to lose an eye and an ear. He is a foil for
Candide, as Candide first trusts and believes in him, then begins to doubt him and finally to disagree with
him. Although Pangloss is physically absent for much of the story, he is always present in spirit.
"What would Pangloss think? What would Pangloss say?" are constant concerns for Candide as
he travels about the world.
Readers have seen the origins of Pangloss in various historical figures, either in the optimist philosopher
Leibniz or in his disciple, Christian Wolff (1679-1754). Pangloss may also stand for more than just
philosophical optimism- he may stand for philosophy itself, for any attempt to reduce the world to a single
system of belief. (Support for this theory can be found in Chapter 30.) But, true to his name which in Greek
means "all tongue," Pangloss's main role is to state and restate his belief in optimism, despite all
the evidence to the contrary.
Pangloss is a deliberately ludicrous figure, since Voltaire is trying to expose the absurdity of the beliefs
he stands for. Only once does this mask slip. In Chapter 30, Voltaire gives us a brief indication that perhaps
even Pangloss has changed: "Pangloss asserted that he had always suffered horribly; but having once
declared that everything was marvelously well, he continued to repeat the opinion and didn't believe a word of
Like Pangloss, Cunegonde is often physically absent in Candide. She is introduced in Chapter 1 and then
disappears until Chapter 7. At that point she makes her longest appearance, staying with Candide until
Chapter 14, when they again part, in Buenos Aires. She does not reappear until the final two chapters, when
she and Candide are reunited in Turkey.
Also like Pangloss, Cunegonde is nearly always present in spirit. Candide is not only an adventure story
and the story of a young man's education, but also a romance. Candide's journey, especially after Eldorado, is
a journey to find Cunegonde and make her his bride. She is the beloved, the lovely Cunegonde whom he
struggles so long to find. As Candide's optimist philosophy crashes about him, Cunegonde is his ray of hope.
When all else fails, he believes that if he can find her he will be happy (see Chapters 25-27). The final irony
for Candide is that when he does find Cunegonde she is no longer the lovely young girl he remembered. She
has grown ugly, and, after their marriage, she turns into a shrew.
Until Chapter 8, you know very little about Cunegonde. In Chapter 1, you read that she is pretty and
desirable. She is said to be interested in science, but the "science" she observes and hopes to
practice is lovemaking. She gets many chances to fulfill her hopes as Candide proceeds.
By the time Cunegonde reappears in Chapter 8 she is a practical, adaptable woman who manages to make
her way in many difficult situations. Although she is a sensualist who takes what pleasure she can find
whether it's good food or love, she is much more of a realist than Candide. She expresses her disillusionment
with the easy optimism of Pangloss, but without the despair that Candide seems to feel at the loss of his
illusions. Her lack of devotion to ideas or ideals allows her to enjoy life despite its disasters. It also allows her
to love Candide but at the same time make do with others like the governor of Buenos Aires, the Grand
Inquisitor, and Don Issachar.
The portrayal of Cunegonde, like the other female characters in Candide, is ambiguous. She (as well as
the old woman and Paquette) is shown in a positive way to be a strong, practical individual who copes well in
Yet, in the portraits of Cunegonde and the others, you may see pitiful women at the mercy of men, passed
from hand to hand until their beauty fades and they become washerwomen. On the one hand, Cunegonde
seems a natural survivor; on the other, she is merely a victim. As you read along, see if you can determine
whether Voltaire's female characters deserve more pity than admiration.
- OLD WOMAN
The second major female character is the old woman. As with other major characters in the story, the old
woman is present for only part of the tale. You meet her at the end of Chapter 6, when she approaches
Candide after he is beaten by the Inquisition. From Chapter 7 on, the old woman appears only when
Cunegonde is present, since the two women travel together for the rest of the story.
The old woman serves as both a servant and an adviser to Cunegonde. Not only does she reunite
Cunegonde with Candide, she also advises Cunegonde on her conduct. It is the old woman who urges
Cunegonde to stay in Buenos Aires when Candide is again forced to run for his life.
The old woman also acts as a counselor to Candide, above all in practical matters. She arranges his escape
from Lisbon, and Candide consults her about the purchase of the farm in Turkey and what to do about the
What kind of counselor is she? She has good common sense. She is worldly-wise, and her advice is
sound in helping both Cunegonde and Candide out of some sticky situations. Like Cunegonde, she has a great
love for life and is able to land on her feet.
The old woman can be seen as a representation of common sense and practicality. She can also be
regarded as a cynical voice, worldly-wise in a more negative sense.
The old woman tells her own story in one of the longest sections of Candide, Chapters 11 and 12. Notice
how her tale parallels Cunegonde's and how the old woman's destiny foreshadows the younger woman's. Why
do you think Voltaire gives this particular character so great an opportunity to tell her story? Can you decide
whether she is portrayed negatively as a worldly-wise cynic or positively as a voice of common sense and
Another major character, whose function seems to overlap that of the old woman and Martin, is the
"faithful" Cacambo, Candide's servant, who enters the story in Buenos Aires. Cacambo joins
Candide in all his South American adventures and finally leads him from Venice to Cunegonde in Turkey.
Like the old woman and Martin, Cacambo is both servant and adviser. Without him Candide would have
been lost, either eaten by the Biglugs or executed by the Jesuits. It is Cacambo's resourcefulness that gets
Candide out of both situations.
Also like the old woman and Martin he is worldly-wise, never shocked by the strange situations that
astonish the naive Candide. When they meet the two girls whose lovers are monkeys, Candide is shocked,
while Cacambo is matter-of-fact about the scene. It is possible to see a trace of cynicism in his reactions to
events- for example, when he talks the Biglugs out of eating him and Candide.
Cacambo's other outstanding trait is his loyalty. He appears always to act in Candide's best interest. In
addition to being Candide's servant and adviser, he is also his friend.
Voltaire treats many serious subjects with irony- that is, he says one thing while expecting you to
understand that he means something quite different, often the direct opposite of what he says. (When Voltaire
calls Pangloss "the greatest philosopher in the province and consequently in the entire world" in
Chapter 1, he is being ironic.) As you study the character of Cacambo, see whether you can find any examples
of his loyalty or friendship being questioned or treated ironically. Cacambo never really tells his own story,
so you must judge him by his actions and by the author's comments on his actions.
The last of the major characters is the scholar Martin. Martin is Candide's companion as he journeys from
Surinam back to Europe. He accompanies Candide across Europe and settles with him on the farm in Turkey.
Some readers see Martin as a kind of counterweight to Pangloss. Where Pangloss is the advocate of
philosophical optimism, Martin is the spokesman for its opposite, a type of philosophical pessimism that
believes all is for the worst, or, at best, a cynicism that questions the good motives of others. Pangloss sees
everything as being for the best; he in effect denies the presence of evil. Martin, on the other hand, sees evil
running rampant in the world. When Candide says to him, in Chapter 20, "Still there is some
good," Martin responds, "That may be... but I don't know it."
Other readers see Martin as a spokesman for the more pessimistic side of Voltaire's own philosophy.
Voltaire was greatly concerned about the problem of evil in the world. His concern has sometimes been seen
as the central point in Candide rather than Voltaire's attempt to satirize the belief in optimism. The problem of
evil will be discussed in greater detail in the section on Themes and in the final chapter. For now, you need to
know only that the character of Martin is very important in helping you trace the theme of evil. Follow Martin-
see whether he changes as the story develops, and, if so, determine how much or how little.
Martin is more complex than most of the other characters in Candide. It is difficult to say whether he is,
in fact, a type character. He fills the role of friend and adviser, as do Cacambo and the old woman, but he is
also a commentator and evaluator, a confirmed cynic, and a loyal friend.
- YOUNG BARON
Cunegonde's brother is the representative of an overbearing, conceited, privileged aristocracy. He has few
personal traits to commend him. He is ungrateful to Candide and would deny his sister her happiness because
of Candide's lack of noble birth. Voltaire was opposed to a society that denied men the opportunity to rise in
accordance with their merits. The young baron personifies the society that is not receptive to men of talent
The third female character in Candide, Paquette begins as a servant and becomes a prostitute. Her fall is
even more disastrous than Cunegonde's and the old woman's. Paquette is a flirt, but she is also a sympathetic
character. When she tells her story, in Chapter 24, she is portrayed more as a victim than as a
"bad" woman. Paquette's life is redeemed when she finds her niche on the farm and has
productive work to do.
- BROTHER GIROFLEE
Brother Giroflee (also called Friar Giroflee in some translations) is Paquette's lover and companion.
Appearing at first as a negative character, a hypocritical monk, he, too, is later portrayed as a victim of a
system that forced young men into religious orders at an early age. Brother Giroflee is Voltaire's ironic
commentary on what happens to men in such circumstances. He is the main representative of the type of
hypocritical, immoral clergy that appears elsewhere in Candide. Like Paquette, he is redeemed when he
becomes an honest man through work.
Jacques (or "James" in some translations) is the representative of the "good
man." His benevolence- demonstrated when he helps Candide and Pangloss, clothes the naked, and
feeds the hungry- is in direct contrast to the hypocritical preacher of charity in Holland. Jacques practices the
Christian virtues that the preacher only talks about.
Pococurante (from the Italian, "caring little") is a one-sided man of exquisite taste and
refinement who derives no pleasure from his possessions. Caring little about anything, he despises everything.
He possesses "all the best" but his life is full of boredom and distaste for everything. He voices
many of Voltaire's opinions in art and literature, but this "professional critic" is a negative
- THE ABBE FROM PERIGORD
Another of the many immoral characters with a religious affiliation, the abbe is Candide's guide to the
"pleasures" of Paris. He is a swindler, a hypocrite, a flatterer- the archetype of the parasite, the
man who lives off others.
The thieving merchant, pirate and swindler, he forms a neat contrast to the honest merchant, Jacques. (He
is seen by some critics as a caricature of a Dutch publisher by the name of Van Duren with whom Voltaire
had experienced some difficulties.)
Since Candide is the story of a fantastic journey, the setting of the tale is constantly changing. Candide
opens in Westphalia, in Germany. The scene shifts to Holland, to Portugal, then to the New World and back.
Several chapters take place on shipboard.
Candide is full of place names, most of them real, a few imaginary. In general, however, the hero, Candide
travels across a landscape that is familiar, if only by reputation, to his readers. The South American locations
and the setting of the conclusion in Turkey add an exotic flair to the story. So, too, does the list of place
names in Africa recited by the old woman when she tells her story. This list, and others that are scattered in
the narrative, serve a second purpose. They contribute, by exaggeration, to Voltaire's parody of the popular
adventure travel stories of his time.
The setting of Candide varies for other reasons, too. Candide's travels serve as an indication of the great
diversity of experiences that he must go through before he can lose his faith in optimism. As he travels from
the Old World to the New and back, he is forced to face the universality of evil.
The location of the story also varies to suit Voltaire's satiric purpose. While the author is exposing the
general corruption of humanity, he also has very specific evils he wishes to assail. He brings Candide to these
places as an eyewitness to certain events- for example, the execution of the admiral in the harbor of
Portsmouth, in Chapter 23.
Settings in Candide, however exotic they may be, are not always described in detail. Very often, the place
name alone creates the setting. Sometimes there is a brief physical description. Voltaire seems to have little
interest in "local color." When he describes something in detail- as, for example, the Jesuit's
"leafy nook" in Chapter 14- he does so to make a point through the description. In this case, he
wants to contrast the wealth of the Jesuits with the poverty of the Indians. Eldorado is described in greater
detail than other settings in order to underscore the contrast between the real world and the desirable,
fictional world- utopia- of Eldorado. This ideal "golden land" is a place of harmony and peace, of
honesty and tolerance. It forms a sharp contrast with the unhappy world portrayed in the rest of the story. By
describing Eldorado in such detail, Voltaire makes his ideal world more concrete for the reader.
Voltaire's satire of philosophical optimism is one of the major issues of Candide. Throughout the story,
satirical references to "the best of all possible worlds" contrast with natural catastrophes and
human wrongdoing. A question that has been a great source of debate is what this destruction of optimism
implies. Does it imply the triumph of pessimism? Is the conclusion of Candide a pessimistic withdrawal from
a corrupt world? Or is its affirmation of work a modest, but nonetheless hopeful, commitment to life and
change? This idea was labeled "meliorism" by others, and its chief tenet was the belief that
people can actively work to create a better world. There is much evidence in Voltaire's life and later works
that he believed in "meliorism." But can such evidence be found in Candide? Much depends on
your interpretation of the conclusion in Chapter 30, and what you think Voltaire means by "cultivating
- THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
Some readers have seen the problem of evil as the central issue of Candide, more important than
Voltaire's satire of excessive optimism. Evil, in its many forms, is something that Candide must constantly
confront. It can take the form of a natural disaster, such as the Lisbon earthquake. More often, it is man-made:
the cruelty of slavery and the Spanish Inquisition, the savagery of war, even greed and dishonesty. Candide is
always questioning how and why such evils exist. A partial answer can be found in the words of the Turkish
philosopher, the dervish in the last chapter. Some answers to the problem of evil can be found in the ideal
world of Eldorado. An important question to ask yourself is whether Voltaire's answer to an imperfect world
is revolt or acceptance. In making up your mind, pay close attention to the character of Martin and to the
conclusion (Chapter 30).
- THE ROLE OF FATE OR PROVIDENCE
In Candide, Voltaire attacks not only the blanket optimism of Dr. Pangloss, but the religious notion of
providence, the idea that there is a divine will guiding earthly events. The fact that good and bad alike suffer
and die seems to be evidence that God is not in charge. Moreover, there seems little indication that any
intelligible, rational design can be found in life's progression from disaster to disaster. Things seem to happen
at random as Candide, Cunegonde, and the other characters are often pictured as victims of fate or
circumstances. In denying providence as a beneficent guiding principle, Voltaire appears to be saying that
either no rational pattern exists in the world, or, if it does, it is not readily evident to human beings. Some see
Candide's final decision to concentrate on doing useful work as Voltaire's rejection of attempts to answer the
question of why things happen in favor of simply acting to improve the world.
- FREE WILL
The idea of free will is closely tied to the theme of fate. Candide raises the question of an individual's
control over his own destiny. A long-standing debate among philosophers is whether man is predestined to a
certain fate, and, if he is, what happens to free will and moral choice? Does it matter whether a man chooses
to do good or evil if he is destined to act in a certain way, in any case? The characters in Candide seem to be
pawns of fate; yet, at the end of the tale, Candide chooses what he will do with his life. He hopes to find
contentment, and, in a certain measure, he does. There may be no absolute answers to the questions raised by
the issues of fate and free will. But they are important issues to keep in mind as you read. Pay attention to
moments when characters have choices and to moments when they apparently don't. What happens to them
when they do make choices?
- AN ATTACK ON RELIGION
The hypocrisy of religion, especially that of the Roman Catholic Church, is a recurrent theme in Candide.
But other religions- Protestantism, Judaism, Islam- also receive the sting of Voltaire's wit. Underlying the
satire of religious practices is Voltaire's outrage at all forms of fanaticism and intolerance. ("We are full
of weakness and errors; let us mutually pardon our follies," he pleads in his Philosophical Dictionary,
in the article on tolerance.) He relentlessly exposes the cruelties perpetrated in God's name. Some readers
have seen Voltaire's view of religion as too one-sided, emphasizing only the negative aspects of religion
without acknowledging its benefits. Others see Voltaire as exposing the abuses of religion without denying
the validity of religion per se. What evidence can you find to support either or both of these views?
- THE IMPORTANCE OF WORK
The theme of work and its beneficent effects is announced by the good old man of Chapter 30, who urges
work as the antidote to "boredom, vice, and poverty." Work is essential to attain the contentment
that the travelers find on their farm. Although this theme is brought up late, it is important for an
understanding of the conclusion of Candide. See whether you can discover what distinguishes the work done
on the farm at the end and what makes it a source of contentment. This theme will be touched upon more
extensively in the discussion of Chapter 30.
Many of the themes of Candide are closely intertwined with one another. Together, they form a picture of
Voltaire's view of the world and man's place in that world. To understand his view, follow these themes until
they converge in Chapter 30. The final chapter is both the climax of Candide and the source of most debates
on the meaning of Candide. Your interpretation of the story's conclusion will depend on how you interpret
the themes discussed here and how you relate them to one another.
The writing in Candide is an excellent example of a clear, flexible prose style that the author adapts to
suit his particular intention of the moment. Voltaire uses exaggeration, irony, and contrast with great ease to
convey the humor of a situation or the emptiness of an argument.
The rhythm of the narrative is varied by mixing simple, declarative sentences with longer, complex
sentences, marked by multiple clauses. Voltaire also uses an intermediate device; he connects two or more
declarative sentences with semicolons. These techniques serve to keep the prose lively and the narrative
When each character speaks, Voltaire matches his style to the character. Pangloss's sentences are
complicated, piling clause upon clause as he spins his justifications. The old woman's tale is full of adjectives,
colorful exaggerations, and dramatic touches when she describes her splendid past life in Italy.
The essential qualities of Voltaire's style are its clarity, its adaptability to different narrative moods, and
its consistent forward movement. Candide does not drag. The author may pause occasionally for reflection or
commentary, but the pace of the novel is generally lively.
There are many English translations of Candide in print. Among them, the ones most readily available in
paperback are Voltaire: Candide, Zadig and Selected Stories translated by Donald Frame (New American
Library), and Candide by Voltaire translated by Lowell Bair (Bantam Books). The version used in the
preparation of this book is the Robert A. Adams translation (Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces). Most
translations accurately reflect the tone of Voltaire's prose. Nonetheless, shades of meaning can differ and
certain expressions can be interpreted differently by individual translators. For example, a phrase used to
describe Candide in Chapter 1 has been translated in the following three ways:
[He] combined an honest mind with great simplicity of heart; and I think it was for
this reason that they called him Candide.
His judgment was rather sound and his mind of the simplest; this is the reason, I think, why he was
He combined rather sound judgment with great simplicity of mind; it was for this reason, I believe, that
he was given the name of Candide.
Each translation gives a slightly different view of Candide, but each captures the essential qualities of the
character, his good judgment and lack of sophistication.
Any translation must lose something of the original, since style is unique to each writer. In particular, the
fluidity of Voltaire's style seems sometimes difficult to capture. But, in general, most modern translations give
the English reader a good reflection of Voltaire's style.
Much of what happens in Candide may at first seem exaggerated or far-fetched. But exaggeration is one
of the techniques of satire. Satire is a means of ridiculing something or someone in order to discredit it. It is a
way of criticizing through humor. Therefore, the satirist, rather than calmly discussing or analyzing the faults
or weaknesses of his target, tries to make his target as ridiculous as possible. He emphasizes the absurdity of
a situation or an individual.
For that reason, satire may seem cruel- and sometimes is. You can defend yourself against criticism in a
calm discussion but it's much harder to defend yourself when you've been made to look ridiculous. Satire is a
literary technique with a long history. The plays of the Greek Aristophanes (448?-380? B.C.) lampooned the
foibles of the ancient Athenians. In Voltaire's time, the works of Jonathan Swift were powerful voices of
social criticism in Britain. Satire in Voltaire, and in other great masters of the technique, has a serious
purpose. It is a means of pointing out injustice, cruelty, or bigotry and making them seem intolerable to you.
There is always a serious intention behind the laughter in Candide.
POINT OF VIEW
Candide is told in the third person by an omniscient narrator. You learn through the narrator what the
characters do and say and how they react. The narrator permits you to read the characters' thoughts and
emotions. Because Candide is the central character- it is his story- the narrator follows him throughout. Much
more is revealed about Candide's thoughts and emotions than is revealed about the other characters.
Although the narrator is anonymous, he's not impartial. Ironic messages are conveyed by the author's
choice of descriptive adjectives and verbs and by the contrast between Candide's naivete and what the narrator
tells you is happening.
The function of the narrator in Candide is to make Voltaire's message absolutely clear. The reader is
guided, persuaded to accept Voltaire's viewpoint. In many novels, the attitude of the author toward his
characters and their stories is ambiguous. This is not so in Candide. All elements of the novel are used to
convey a specific message, to help you reach a definite conclusion.
FORM AND STRUCTURE
Candide can be divided into three parts, each consisting of ten chapters. The first part takes place in
Europe, with the travelers setting sail for the New World in Chapter 10. The second part consists of Candide's
voyage to and travels across South America. In Chapter 20, he again sets sail, this time for the return voyage to
Europe. The final chapters are again set in the Old World. Voltaire does not explicitly divide the book into
three parts, but the division is a natural one.
Candide has an irresistible forward motion. Various narrative devices- unexplained encounters,
mysterious reunions, cliff-hanging teasers- carry the reader quickly from one short chapter to the next. The
story moves consistently toward its conclusion, in Chapter 30. The debate over the "solution" of
Candide, whether it is optimistic or pessimistic, is not resolved until the final chapter when Candide makes
his decision about the direction his life will take.
The table of Candide's travels (below) will help you to keep track of the important things that happen to
him in the book's various locations.
- WESTPHALIA- Chapters 1-3. Candide is forced to leave Castle Thunder-Ten-
Tronckh and is enrolled in the Bulgar army.
- HOLLAND- Chapters 3-4. Candide meets the Anabaptist Jacques and finds his old tutor, Dr. Pangloss.
- LISBON- Chapters 5-9. Candide witnesses the Lisbon earthquake and is flogged by the Inquisition. He
meets his beloved Cunegonde whose two lovers he kills.
- CADIZ- Chapter 10. Candide flees Lisbon and travels to Cadiz, Spain. He joins the army and sails for
the New World.
- SOUTH AMERICA AND THE OCEAN VOYAGES
- ON THE ATLANTIC- Chapters 11-12. Candide hears the old woman's story as he and
Cunegonde sail to Buenos Aires.
- BUENOS AIRES- Chapter 13. Candide, pursued by the police, flees from Buenos Aires accompanied
- PARAGUAY- Chapters 14-15. Candide flees to the Jesuit encampment in Paraguay where he stabs the
- THE LAND OF THE BIGLUGS- Chapter 16. Candide kills two monkeys and is nearly eaten by the
Biglugs, called Oreillons in the original and in some translations.
- ELDORADO- Chapters 17-18. Candide travels to the fabled land of Eldorado, but decides to leave.
- SURINAM- Chapter 19. Candide and Cacambo separate and Candide finds a new companion, the
- ON THE ATLANTIC- Chapter 20. Candide and Martin discuss philosophy as they travel to France.
- EUROPE AND TURKEY
- OFF THE COAST OF FRANCE- Chapter 21. Candide and Martin continue their
discussion and debate whether or not to visit France.
- PARIS- Chapter 22. Candide and Martin travel to Paris via Bordeaux. Candide is introduced to the
pleasures and pitfalls of Parisian life.
- PORTSMOUTH HARBOR, ENGLAND- Chapter 23. Candide witnesses the execution of a British
- VENICE- Chapters 24-26. While awaiting Cunegonde, Candide meets Paquette and Brother Giroflee,
Lord Pococurante, the six kings, and is at last reunited with Cacambo.
- AT SEA/CONSTANTINOPLE- Chapters 27-28. Candide is reunited with Pangloss and the young baron
whom he ransoms in Constantinople, along with Cacambo.
- PROPONTIS (the Sea of Marmara, in what is today Turkey)- Chapters 29-30. Candide finds and marries
Cunegonde. They settle down on a farm with their friends to cultivate their "garden."
AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES
[Candide Contents] [The Study
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