Candide candide

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Candide is Voltaire’s most famous work, said to have been written over a weekend. It was enormously popular and went through thirteen editions in its first year in print (1759). Through the fictional story of the travels of a naïve youth, Voltaire satirizes philosophical optimism and attacks religious intolerance and superstition. It was condemned by both Catholic and Protestant religious authorities. The excerpts you will read will give you a good “taste” of the literary works and style of the Enlightenment, and of Voltaire’s witty satire.
As you read the excerpts provided, answer the following questions in complete sentences, and in your own words. You may type your answers.

These questions are due on or before Friday December 20th


1. Based on his descriptions of the castle of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, what is Voltaire’s opinion of the nobility? Give specific evidence to support your answer.

2. Summarize the philosophy of Pangloss. (His views are known as philosophical optimism.)

3. What do you think is the significance of Candide’s experiences with the Bulgarians? What is the point Voltaire is trying to make in this episode?

4. How does Voltaire satirize war? Give specific examples.

5. In what ways does Voltaire criticize the Church, and religion in general? Give specific examples. (There are examples of this throughout the book – continue to come back to this question!)

6. What is the significance of the Anabaptist James? Why do you think Voltaire includes him in the story?

7. What is the significance of the auto-da-fe? Why does Voltaire include this in the story? (An auto-da-fe is a public burning of heretics to ward off evil acts/acts of the devil).

8. How does Voltaire mock Pangloss’ philosophy? Give specific examples.

9. What do you think is the significance of the Lisbon earthquake?

10. What is the significance of the Old Woman’s story?

11. What evidence is there that Voltaire criticizes other religions besides the Catholic Church and Christianity?

12. One of the characteristics of Enlightenment thought was a criticism of irrational traditions and customs. Where do you see evidence of this in Candide? Give examples.

13. Why does Pangloss refuse to recant (take back) his optimistic views, despite all that has happened to him?

14. What is significant about Candide and Cunegonde’s marriage?

15. How does the question posed by the Old Woman in the Conclusion relate to the theme of the entire story?

16. Explain the meaning of the Dervish’s reply to Candide when he asks why there is so much evil in the world:

“What does it matter, whether there is evil or good? When his highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he worry about the comfort or discomfort of the rats in the ship?” (Who is “his highness”? Who are the mice? What does this mean?)

17. The last sentence of this book is its most famous: “We must cultivate our garden.” What does this mean? How is it the final answer, or conclusion, to the central issues of the text?

18. Characterize Voltaire’s philosophy. Is he pessimistic or optimistic? Explain your answer.

19. In what ways does Voltaire’s writing reflect the ideas and values of the Enlightenment?

20. Are there some ways in which Voltaire seems to go against Enlightenment trends? Explain.

Big Picture Questions regarding the ‘Enlightenment’ – This answer should be longer than the rest of the questions.

21. “…that our children, by becoming more educated, may at the same time become more virtuous and happier…” How does this quote reflect the overall message of the book? Is it satirical a real message, or both?


I. Criticism of Philosophical Systems

  • Leibnitzian Optimism— Leibnitz (1646-1716) was a respected German philosopher whose theory based on optimism was popularized by some 18th century thinkers in simplistic formulas such as “all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”

1. Voltaire attacks simplistic versions, but not all of Leibnitz’s ideas, as seen through Pangloss.

2. He rejects fatalism or that all events are predetermined.

3. He does not think that every “cause” leads to an appropriate “effect” or that this cause has to be the best possible cause since undoubtedly it reflects God's will.

4. He does not accept things as they are like Pangloss teaches.

5. Voltaire teaches that a spirit of struggle and reform are needed to correct abuse.

6. Voltaire is a “deist;” He believed that God created the world, but

God does not get involved in daily affairs of the world.

7. By the end of the book Candide shares Voltaire’s ideas on God and thinks that “we must cultivate our own garden.”

  • Manicheanism Pessimism— a system that originated with Mani (Persian prophet, about A.D. 250), whose belief was that good and evil rule the universe and are in conflict.

1. The character of Martin, the pessimist, takes this doctrine to the extreme.

2. Martin maintains that God has abandoned earth, but not the universe, to the forces of evil (Satan and darkness)—evil is real, not an illusion.

3. Voltaire has a profound distrust for any doctrine. He rejects both Leibnitzian Optimism and Manichean Pessimism.

  • Empiricism— Voltaire believes that all knowledge comes from sense experience (an approach to knowledge that derived from John Locke’s

[1632-1704] “blank slate.”)

1. Voltaire thinks a statement, idea, or hypothesis is valid only if it is related to something physical and can be known and verified through human senses.

2. Cacambo helps Candide to gradually pay attention to practical matters and test all concepts and statements, whether those of optimism or pessimism, by experience.

II. Social Criticism

A. Voltaire attacks all aspects of society.

B. He believes that human nature has been negatively affected by civil institutions. For example, Candide finds liars, cheats, pimps, etc. in Paris.

C. The clergy, from Pope to priest, is corrupt, fanatical, oppressive, greedy, and hungry for power.

D. The medical profession practices fraud and quackery.

E. The law courts and police are of dubious integrity.

F. Class distinctions are based more on snobbery than on merit.

G. European prosperity rests on the misery of the people and the slave trade.

H. The superficial glory of war is contrasted with its horrible reality.

III. Utopia

A. Voltaire creates a number of “perfect places” in the book but all have flaws.

B. Finally, at the end of the book, Candide creates his own utopia, a farming/gardening community where all of Voltaire’s values are represented including hard work, open-mindedness, honesty, progressivism, and a community effort where each individual participates according to his or her own talents and strengths.

Special Thanks To Mr. Beach of Eastview High School for his assistance.

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