Voltaire: Candide (Summary & Analysis)

Candide – Analysis

Candide is Voltaire’s Masterpiece, the most read and commented work of the Age of Enlightenment around the world. How Candide is paradigmatic of the philosophy of the Enlightenment?

Candide is a vast work, which covers all the philosophical subjects of the time of Voltaire: religion and fanaticism, political freedom and tyranny, knowledge and obscurantism, happiness and fatality, freedom and slavery.

But the underlying theme of Candide is happiness “here and now” (hic et nunc in Latin), the ultimate objective of the Enlightenment, the other themes (knowledge, freedom, deism, etc.) serving as means to serve this objective. Against the philosophers of the renaissance, who promised happiness after death, in a classical Christian tradition, the work of the Enlightenment aims to provide the men of their time with the conditions for the possibility of immediate happiness: the Enlightenment developed the concept of the right to happiness.

It is ultimately this quest for happiness that recounts the adventures of Candide. Quest because happiness is built against the vagaries of fate, the madness of men and general unreason.

Voltaire and Optimism

Voltaire hates optimism and its creator, the German philosopher Leibniz, who is embodied and parodied through the character of Pangloss. Pangloss’ optimism is a philosophical position that can be summed up like this:

  • God is perfect
  • God created the world
  • A perfect being would create a perfect world, so the world is perfect.

Furthermore, a perfect being would create everything that could be created, therefore everything that could exist actually exists.
Therefore, this world is the best of all possible worlds and everything is for the best.

Voltaire shows Candide’s intellectual path, which is one of disillusionment: optimism, says Candide, is the habit of saying that things are good when you are in hell. Indeed, Candide learns that the amount of good is much less than that of evil.

It’s the famous Lisbon earthquake in 1755 that seems to be the cause of Voltaire’s rejection of optimism. Voltaire wonders if God is really good, or if he is really all-powerful. Candide will be the translation of this religious and metaphysical questioning.

Deism in Candide

The religion of Candide, and that of Voltaire, is deism, founded on the belief in a God creator of the universe. But this God does not intervene in world affairs, he acts like a watchmaker, an architect who creates but lets his creation live. It is therefore up to men to take control of their destiny and create good or evil: in any case, men are responsible for their world.

Politics and slavery in Candide

Politically, Candide is moderate. He satirizes all the corrupt governments in the world, except the Eldorado, without advocating the overthrow of those governments. Voltaire is not a revolutionary: he believes that any revolution establishes a worse political system than its predecessor.

The subject of slavery is approached via the meeting with the negro slave whose leg was torn off in a sugar factory: “This is the price to eat sugar”, says the black man to Candide. It is this meeting that will mark Candide and make him understand that optimism is an illusory theory. However, although Candide mourns the fate of the slave, he makes no attempt to free the slaves.

Eldorado and happiness

Through the Eldorado, Voltaire denounces utopia: a perfect world does not exist. It is realism that must prevail in the rational man, and not the belief in a harmonious society, which does not exist and cannot exist.

We must cultivate our garden

The theme of the garden is plural in Candide: there are several gardens in Candide including the garden of the baron of thunder-ten-tronckh in Westphalia, in the garden of the Eldorado, the garden of the old Turk, and the garden of Candide in the end. The garden is the symbol of culture, both material for the food it provides, and intellectual, seen as a metaphor for spiritual food. The garden is also a praise of the ordinary, the home, the normality, because failing to build a perfect world, one must be content, according to Voltaire, with the world as it is.

Finally, we can analyze the theme of the garden politically: Candide lives in a small community, withdrawn into itself, which testifies to the fact that the States are corrupt, it is therefore necessary to leave them to lead a withdrawn life, based on work.

Candide – Chapter by Chapter Full Summary

Chapter 1. The story takes place at the castle of the baron of thunder-ten-tronckh in Germany. Candide, a young man whose birth is suspicious, without wealth, is the pupil of the philosopher Pangloss, an unwavering optimist who believes in the perfection of the world. Candide falls in love with Cunégonde, the baron’s daughter, causing her eviction from the Castle.

Chapter 2. Candide is forced to join the Bulgarian army. He tries to escape and is flogged for desertion.

Chapter 3. War between the Bulgarians and the Arabs. Candide hides during the battle, then runs away. Helpless and hungry, he is forced to beg for food. Jacques, a good Anabaptist, feeds him, gives him accommodation and a job.

Chapter 4. Candide meets Pangloss, who suffers from syphilis and informs Candide that Cunégonde has been raped. Jacques pays for the healing of Pangloss. All three leave for Lisbon.

Chapter 5. Jacques falls into the sea during the voyage. Pangloss restrains Candide from helping Jacques, arguing that it is the will of God that he is drowning. They arrive in Portugal just after the great earthquake.

Chapter 6. Pangloss and Candide are arrested by the Inquisition. Pangloss is hanged and Candide is whipped in an auto-fire which is supposed to prevent future earthquakes.

Chapter 7. An old woman helps Candide find Cunégonde, who survived her rape.

Chapter 8. Cunégonde tells Candide her terrible story and the way it belongs to Don Issachar and the Grand Inquisitor.

Chapter 9. Candide kills Don Issachar and the Grand Inquisitor to avenge Cunégonde, then flees Portugal.

Chapter 10. Candide, Cunégonde and La Vieille flee to South America.

Chapters 11-12. The old woman tells her story to Candide and Cunégonde.

Chapter 13. The governor of Buenos Aires asks Cunégonde to marry him and orders the arrest of Candide.

Chapter 14-15. Candide and Cacambo, his servant, flee to Paraguay.

Chapter 16. Candide and Cacambo meet young indigenous girls.

Chapter 17. Candide and Cacambo arrive at the Eldorado.

Chapter 18. An old man presents Eldorado as a wonderful world to Candide, but he prefers to try to find Cunégonde.

Chapter 19. In Suriname, Candide meets Martin, a mutilated negro. Candide cries and gives up his optimism. Candide sends Cacambo to find Cunégonde. Martin wins the palm of misery.

Chapter 20. Candide and Martin leave for France. Martin is a total pessimist – he thinks that God has abandoned the world to absolute evil.

Chapter 21. Candide and Martin discuss the moral corruption of the French.

Chapter 22. In France, Candide is courted for his wealth (brought back from the Eldorado).

Chapter 23. Candide and Martin goes in England, and attend the execution of a soldier, accused of not killing a sufficient amount of enemies.

Chapter 24-25. In Venice, Candide meets Paquette (Pangloss’ mistress at the baron’s castle, responsible for the siphylis contracted by Pangloss) and Giroflée, her lover, a monk.

Chapter 26. Cacambo reappears – he is a slave now. Cacambo tells Candide that Cunégonde is in Constantinople.

Chapter 27. Candide frees Cacambo and leaves with him for Constantinople.

Chapter 28. Pangloss tells his unhappy story, but his optimism resists.

Chapter 29. Candide finds Cunégonde, now ugly. He frees Cunégonde and the old woman. But the baron still refuses to give Cunégonde’s hand to Candide.

Chapter 30. Candide gets rid of the baron then he marries Cunégonde. Then he meets a Turk who convinces him of the triviality of philosophy.

Cite this article as: Tim, "Voltaire: Candide (Summary & Analysis), April 13, 2020, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, April 13, 2020, https://www.the-philosophy.com/voltaire-candide.