In the beginning of 17th century and the peak of 18th century, there was a movement known as “Enlightenment” which encompassed a wide variety of ideas and advances in the field of philosophy, science and medicine. Voltaire embodies the Enlightenment more than any other intellectual or writer. Enlightenment is also called the age of Voltaire. The followers of the movement had profound faith in the power of reason and rational thought. They believed that this philosophy would lead human beings to a better social structure. They attacked both the aristocracy and the church.
In ‘Candide’, Pangloss and his student Candied maintain that “everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds”. This idea is a simplified version of the philosophies of the enlightened thinkers, most notable are Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. These philosophers believed that God exist and since God is perfect, so the world he created must be perfect too. They argued that people recognize imperfections in the world only because they are not aware of God’s grand plan. Voltaire does not accept that a perfect God or any God exist.
Throughout the novel, he mocks the idea that the world is perfectly good and heaps merciless satires on this idea. The optimists Pangloss and Candide suffer and witness a wide variety of horrors- whipping, rapes, robberies, unjust execution, disease, earthquake, betrayal and crushing world-weariness. After Candide was thrown out of the castle of the baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, he was handcuffed and carried to the Bulgarian regiment. He witnessed the atrocities committed by the Bulgarians on the Abarian territories after winning the battle against King of Abres.
They burn down villages, ravish young virgins and kill men and women alike. While travelling on ship to Lisbon along with Pangloss and the Anabaptist James they face a tempest. In Lisbon, they faced a violent earthquake, which destroyed three-fourth of the city of Lisbon. At the advice of the sages of the country, Dr Pangloss and Candied are secured for burning them alive for the infallible prevention of earthquake. In Surinam, Candide is robbed of his wealth. The lady he is in love, Miss Cunegund suffers too. She is ravished by two Bulgarians and receives two deep wounds in her belly.
Her own castles are demolished and she witnesses the brutal murder of her parents and her brother. Though born a baroness, she is reduced to the station of a cook-wench. In the end she becomes the slave of Transylvanian prince and turns ugly and even Candide finds her repulsive. Pangloss the philosopher is reduced to a slave of a Turkish captain and Candide sets him free from slavery by ransom. These events only points to the cruelty and folly of humanity and indifference of the natural world and do not serve any good purpose.
Pangloss struggles to find justification for the terrible things in the world but his arguments turn out to be absurd. In the end of the novel, Pangloss admits that he does not believe any more in his own previous optimistic conclusions. This example of events showed how Voltaire established his opposition towards the Christian Doctrine. He imposed Enlightenment through Pangloss’ characterization – its struggles and sufferings despite of his faith and ideology towards Christianity. The most glaring flaw in Pangloss’s optimist is that it is based on abstract philosophical argument rather than real-world evidence.
In the chaotic world shown in the novel, philosophical speculations repeatedly prove useless and sometimes destructive. Again and again, it prevents characters from making realistic assessment of the world round them. It also stops them from taking positive action to change adverse situations. Pangloss is a character who is most vulnerable to this sort of folly. He checks Candide from saving the Anabaptist James from drowning during Tempest by demonstrating to him that the roadstead of Lisbon had been made on purpose for the Anabaptish to be drowned in there.
When Candide lies on the ground covered with stones after the violent earthquake in the city of Lisbon, Pangloss ignores him request for oil and wine and instead makes great effort to prove the causes of the earthquake. Throughout the novel, Candide’s confusion regarding the philosophies of Pangloss is very much evident. When Candide and Cacambo are held by the armed Oreilles and they cry out: “A Jesuit! a Jesuit! we shall be revenged; we shall have excellent cheer; let us eat this Jesuit; let us eat him up”. Candied cannot accept the philosophy of Pangloss that everything is right. Voltaire elaborated his stand towards the issue of Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment. He explained through his novel the arguments of enlightenment through the characterization of Candide and counter-arguments through the characterization of Pangloss. Voltaire did not only encompass the existence of his philosophy for his belief in Enlightenment but also the existence of science, religion, and society.
This criticism of philosophy that encompasses Candide is much more surprising and dramatic given Voltaire’s own status of a respected philosopher of the Enlightenment movement. Voltaire satirizes organized religion in his novel ‘Candide’. A series of corrupt, hypocrite religious leaders emerge throughout the story. The reader encounters the old women (who assist Candide and Miss Cunegund), daughter of a Pope. The pope, a man who as a catholic priest should be celibate, instead he is shown married in the story.
A Catholic Inquisitor hypocritically keeps a mistress. A Franciscan friar steals all the jewellery of Miss Cunegund. Despite the vow of poverty taken as a member of the Franciscan order, he operates as a jewel thief. Finally the author introduces a Jesuit colonel who has marked homosexual tendencies. In the story religious leaders are shown to tyrannize humanity. The baroness Miss Cunegund is reduced to the status of a wench by My Lord Inquisitor. Candide meets the Pope, an orator who sermonizes on the subject of charity.
The orator abuses and threatens him when he begs for food and his wife discharge a utensil full of water on him, thinking that he has accused him husband of being antichrist. Voltaire criticizes the superstitions of religious practice through the incident where sages of Lisbon decide that few men should be burnt alive to prevent further earthquakes. In the novel, the religious leaders also carry out inhuman religious oppressions against those who disagree with them on smallest theological matters. The Inquisitor persecutes Pangloss for expressing his ideas and Candide for simply listening to him.
Pangloss is hanged and Lord Inquisitor preaches and cruelly whips Candide. Voltaire presents several examples of hypocrisy and immorality of religious leaders but he does not condemn the everyday believer of religion. James is a member of a radical protestant sect called the Anabaptists. These scenarios proved the idea of Voltaire towards Christianity and Enlightenment. Even if he put these elements to show the rationality of his evidences and justifications, it still shows that Christianity does not fill the incompleteness of radical belief.
It also implies that Voltaire attacked the weak points of Christianity and give way to the strong points of Enlightenment. Throughout the whole novel, Voltaire made a distinct differentiation between Enlightenment and Christian Doctrine. However, it was seen that the arguments of Enlightenment brings positive evidences for its justification while Christian doctrine is obtained as negative integration of knowledge and conception. This criticism can be seen through the struggle, sufferings, and situation of Pangloss.
In the end of the novel, Pangloss made up his mind and went through the light of Enlightenment as he started not to believe from his old principles and convictions. This resolution also made its readers become attracted to the illumination of Enlightenment. As a whole, Voltaire’s novel ‘Candide’ not only censure Christine regimes of power and the arrogance of nobility, but it also condemns certain aspects of the philosophical movement of the Enlightenment. It attacks the theory of optimism that argues that rational thought can restrain the evils committed by human beings.