Welcome back to the What Are You Reading? Series! If you have no idea what’s going on feel free to take a look at the introductory post. If you just want to catch up, here is last month’s post! Don’t forget at the end of the post to let me know your own thoughts and interpretations of the book. [Please note that if you haven’t commented before I recommend reading the Commenting Guidelines.]
And today’s book is……. *Drum roll*
Genre: Satirical Fiction
Originally Published: 1759
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Candide follows the journey of a man who’s life is the epitome of the saying “S*** happens.” and it all starts when he is ejected from his home for getting a little too close to a woman who may or may not be his cousin. With the optimistic philosophy of “the best of all worlds” ingrained in his mind, the titular character goes through the many hardships of the time (ie. war, disease, the last century of the Inquisition, etc.) with only a few moments of light and the goal to be with Miss Cunegonde, the aforementioned “cousin” who started the journey for him. He is pushed to his limits and his hard held philosophy is challenged, maybe even changed.
This is the second time I have read this story. Back in college I absolutely loved it for the satirical nature Voltaire writes that we don’t really see now without having the writer to worry about being too ‘controversial’. It was witty and funny to me and later used the book for a focus in a couple of papers I had on the Enlightenment era.
First and foremost, Candide is a true satirical piece where the author pokes fun of not only the philosopher Leibniz and his philosophy but of also the fatalistic mindset that one of this philosophies encouraged rather than refuted. Here he creates a caricature of Leibniz through the character of Pangloss, who ends up caring more about enforcing his philosophy that the reality of a situation. Honestly, his character can be summarized by two quotes and really makes me want to hit this character.
It is demonstrable that things cannot be otherwise than they are; for all things have been created for some end, they must necessarily be created for the best end. . . And they who assert that everything is right, do not express themselves correctly; they should say that everything is best.
And then there was his justification for the multitude of deaths from an earthquake.
All this was indispensably necessary, for the private misfortune are public benefits; so that the more private misfortunes there are the greater the general good.
Candide on the other hand is an image of the fervent believer of something that is obviously flawed. He bounces often between doubt and belief. It resembles a cycle for him. The philosophy is strong and he fights against the opposition of others until a situation occurs (SHTF) and he is pushed to doubt. We go right back to square one once Candide reaches a new destination or someone presents him with kindness. Eventually he and Pangloss are pushed to the point where abandon the philosophy entirely.
Aside from the satirical message, Voltaire leaves little messages for us to find and interpret, as all stories do. For example, the backstory of the old woman tells us that there is always someone who may have struggled more on their path than you have. As well, Candide’s travels show us that the past always has a way of catching up with you as he continues to re-meet supposedly dead friends along the way.
Ultimately, I still love reading this, and know that I would do so again and again. It’s satire is refreshing compared to the extremes of satire we see today. It is neither overt to the point of being purposefully offensive to all people who see it, nor is it so subtle that you don’t know if because of the writer’s fear of controversy. Voltaire focused on one point and used a semi-realistic scene to show how flawed it is not just pointing it out as if you are an idiot for following this point. In his own way he made you think about this situation and come to your own conclusion, rather than drilling his idea into your head.
Want to check out some of the other books I’ve read? Go see my Ultimate Reading List for more posts and titles!
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