Human Nature in Candide by Voltaire and An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope

Categories: Man Alexander Pope

Characterizing Human Nature Voltaire’s Candide and Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man are pieces of literature that focus on how humans act. Published in 1734, An Essay on Man deals with mankind and its place on the Great Chain of Being and displays a key theme of “whatever is, is right.” In addition, this theme is ridiculed in Candide. Published in 1759, this story follows a man who is very optimistic and believes that “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

” Alexander Pope and Voltaire characterize human nature differently in their writing, both of them show the good, the bad, and how humans live with it.

Voltaire and Pope show that there is, to some extent, a positive side to human nature, but display this in different ways. For example, in Candide, the protagonist Candide has an optimistic view of the universe. His mentor, Pangloss tells him that they live in the “best of all possible worlds” (Voltaire 15), which is a place where happiness and peace coincide.

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One example is when Pangloss briefly discusses Christopher Columbus’s discoveries. He says “…if Columbus…hadn’t caught that disease which poisons the source of generation…we would now have neither chocolate nor cochineal” (Voltaire 24). Although this seems absurd, it does show a sense of optimism for “the best of all possible worlds.” However, this sense of optimism should be considered in a mocking attitude since the purpose of Candide is to ridicule the themes of An Essay on Man.

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Pope portrays humans with optimism, but to a lesser extent. He mentions that Man is striving towards something when he says “Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal; / ‘Tis but a part we see, and not a whole” (Pope II.43). Pope’s view is that happiness is something that is possible to achieve and humanity is a prime example on how to reach it. No matter the situation, we will always try our best to be happy. The wheel that Pope is discussing seems to show symbolism for Man’s goals. When touched, the wheel shall continuously spin and move forward, much like how Man will continuously strive for his goal and try to get ahead in life.

While Candide mocks optimism, An Essay on Man shows that we should never give up and always feel positive towards everything.

On the other hand, both pieces of literature show a great, vast negative side to human nature. This is what An Essay on Man mainly focuses on. Pope believes that humans have a tendency to blame others for their misfortune. He states that man will “Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gust, / Yet cry, if man’s unhappy, God’s unjust…” (Pope IV.46). When Man is off killing animals for whatever reason, he uses God as a scapegoat when there aren’t any animals left. Thus, Man is considered to be ignorant for not blaming it on himself. However, Voltaire shows a different negative side of human nature, one that is much more evil. He characterizes human nature as violent and selfish. A prime example of humans being inherently violent is when an admiral of an army is being executed “because he didn’t kill enough men” (Voltaire 87).

This seems senseless, why kill one man just because he could not get his people to kill enough? The point of an army is not to kill other people, it’s to defend your own. By marking a goal of how many people need to be killed, it shows a great sense of violence in humanity. Similarly, man is just as selfish as he is violent. Later in the book, the abbé tricks Candide into believing that she is his future wife, Cunégonde. In a dark room, she puts out her hand and “Candide bathed it with his tears for a long time, then filled it with diamonds…” (Voltaire 84). The abbé is clearly being selfish since she only cares about valuables rather than Candide’s feelings. A situation like this most likely places a great emotional toll on Candide and makes him have a less positive attitude towards life.

Despite all these aspects of human nature, man seems to be able to deal with himself. One of the best ways this is shown is in Candide at the very end of the book in which Pangloss says “All events are interconnected in this best of all possible worlds, for if you hadn’t been driven from a beautiful castle…you wouldn’t be here eating candied citrons and pistachio nuts” and Candide famously replies with “’Well said, but we must cultivate our garden’” (113). This shows that Candide does not care anymore about being in a perfect world, all he cares about is his own life and he will try to make the best of it. Since he wants to cultivate the gardens, he’s thinking about his future and he is preparing for it. At the very end of An Essay on Man, Pope says “Whatever is, is right” (Pope X.57). He simply states that there’s nothing we can do to change anything in our lives and we should just move on with it.

The way humans act is something that cannot be changed. We are forever stuck with being greedy, selfish, violent, etc. However, there are positive aspects to the way we act. We try to make the best with what we have and we (for the most part) never stop trying to pursue our goals. These up’s and down’s are things that humans have to deal with in their daily lives. It’s what has made the world what it is today. Our greediness and violence have started many wars while our high optimism keeps us going to end wars after we’ve seen the damage that we have caused. These negative and positive sides cannot live without each other and keep the world at balance. They are two sides of the same coin.

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Human Nature in Candide by Voltaire and An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope. (2022, Apr 20). Retrieved from

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