I beg to differ

Candid Thoughts on Candide

on September 4, 2014

“Optimism,” said Cacambo, “What is that?”

“Alas!” replied Candide, “It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.”

Candide was my summer reading assignment for AP Literature and Composition. Here are some thoughts I had while reading it:

1) The most jarring quality about the descriptions in Candide is the use of black humor. Although it is meant to reflect Candide’s constant optimism, it leaves the reader feeling horrified and disgusted. It is especially effective in the description of war-torn towns and violated peoples.

“Candide resolved to go and reason elsewhere on effects and causes. He passed over heaps of dead and dying, and first reached a neighbouring village; it was in cinders, it was an Abare village which the Bulgarians had burnt according to the laws of war. Here, old men covered with wounds, beheld their wives, hugging their children to their bloody breasts, massacred before their faces; there, their daughters, disembowelled and breathing their last after having satisfied the natural wants of Bulgarian heroes; while others, half burnt in the flames, begged to be despatched. The earth was strewed with brains, arms, and legs.”

Although it is extremely difficult to elicit a physical expression on me while reading, I made a disgusted face when I read that.

2) Every time Candide says, “I wonder what would Pangloss say if he was here?” all I think of was – WWPD: What Would Pangloss Do. That would be a great alternative title to this book.

3) I mentioned to my friend how Martin was my favorite character because he made the most sense to me. “You know he’s the foil of Pangloss, right? Extreme pessimism.” Oops. (I’m not that pessimistic, I promise!)

4) El Dorado reminded me of Calypso’s island from Greek mythology. Getting there is a chance occurrence. You can stay forever, be happy with the prosperity and abundance of the land, but you won’t be with your loved ones. However, once you leave, you can never return. It’s the perfect life that can’t be, and it highlights all the terrors of normal life.

5) I loved how short and to the point this book was. Voltaire wastes no time on a boring introduction; by the end of Chapter 1, Candide is kicked out of the palace and the adventure begins. He embeds social commentary flawlessly throughout Candide’s experience. I won’t pretend I understood everything that happened, but I did appreciate all the wit and hilarity.


2 responses to “Candid Thoughts on Candide

  1. So what did you think of his argument against people feeling that this is the best of all possible worlds? How do YOU feel about a world that still engages in this type of behavior and yet this is a world created by a superior being or superior minds or at the very least the most current culmination of the human spirit and will?

    • Let me be honest, Mr. Theriault, the reason this reply came so late is because I didn’t know how to answer your tough questions…until I read this is English class this week:
      (wonder where I’ve seen that title before…)

      I think Voltaire’s argument against extreme optimists is justified; that doesn’t mean I agree with attacks on all types of optimism. Candide as a character was so naive and frankly, kind of dumb, that it frustrated me. This obviously isn’t the best of all possible worlds and not everything has a “sufficient reason”. However, we also shouldn’t look at the world so pessimistically, like Martin, that we believe the world is out “to make us mad.” There are good things and bad things in the world we need a balance of perspectives to see what’s actually going on. Turning a blind eye to wrong doings or expecting the best from everyone are some of the worst things that can bring a person’s (like Candide’s) downfall. On the other hand, not trusting anyone and only focusing on the bad aspects of life can make you a sad person to be around.

      I think (and this is something no one really pays attention to) Candide was so ignorant because he was raised in such a secluded, sheltered environment and didn’t make many efforts to learn more, because he thought the castle was the best of all places. When he was exposed to the horrors of reality, he applied the only philosophy he knew to make sense of it – extreme optimism. He didn’t challenge or question Pangloss until near the end of the book.

      Hope that answered your questions…

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