Throughout his novel Candide, Voltaire utilized satire, characterization, and techniques of exaggeration and contrast to attack Candide’s two-dimensional outlook on life and to disprove the overly optimistic philosophy that Candide and Pangloss represent. While the experiences of Candide and Pangloss conflict dramatically with this philosophy, both choose to maintain their beliefs in this regard. Voltaire uses Candide as a tool to accuse the various aspects of his zeitgeist.
Through his techniques, he attacks multiple points of view and even the Enlightenment he represented.
Candide is a story about the two dimensional character of Candide, who is taught from birth not to think for himself and to accept the ideals of others. He chooses to follow the local philosopher Pangloss, who preaches that everything is good, and that the world is the “best of all possible worlds”. Throughout the story, Voltaire dramatically disproves this philosophy over and over, but the protagonist sticks with this belief.
Each of the characters in Candide represents a different aspect of his zeitgeist, most of whom Voltaire brutally attacks with his satire.
After examining Candide in Western thought and movements, there is no doubt that the work is highly critical of many of the social institutions of the time. Still, while criticizing many of the societal aspects such as religion, the class system and the detested monarchy in France Candide is not free from the biases and “unenlightened” thoughts that the revolutionary movement in France was based upon.
The philosophers wanted to work through established forms, including the monarchy and even the Church” by doing so, there were not quite as revolutionary in their beliefs since they did not attempt to go outside of the system of oppression to draw their insights.
Even though Voltaire was known for verbally announce the equal rights of women, this emotion is not apparent in his fiction, especially considering the fact that the main female characters are prostitutes, women that marry for money, disease-spreaders, and most importantly victims.
In terms of religion, Candide explores the hypocrisy that was rampant in the Church. Consider for example, the inhumanity of the clergy, most notably the Inquisitor, in hanging and executing his fellow citizens over philosophical differences. Moreover, he orders the flogging of Candide for merely, “listening with an air of approval” thus proving himself somehow implicit in blasphemy.
Church officials in Candide are depicted as being among the most sinful of all citizens; having mistresses, engaging in homosexual affairs, and operating as jewel thieves. These three subjects—religious intolerance, greed, and denial of love are satirized and portrayed as wrong and harmful in Voltaire’s Candide. They are portrayed as dangerous tyrannies over the mind of men that serve only to counteract logic and damage the general welfare.