Voltaire builds his characters primarily through depicting the ways in which they respond to the absurd and troubling events that transpire around them. In the midst of crisis, Martin, Cacambo, and the Old Woman tend to act quickly and calmly. Martin’s lack of surprise at the repeated tragedies reveals his pessimism and hopelessness. Cacambo and the Old Woman respond adeptly because of their extensive life experience. Candide and Pangloss stand out as unable to act in crisis. Pangloss responds with useless philosophy, and Candide’s naiveté paralyzed him entirely.
Voltaire additionally builds characters through descriptions of their physical appearance. The Old Woman’s missing buttock and generally haggard appearance is suggestive of her extensive life experience and suffering. Cunégonde’s transformation from young and beautiful to middle-aged and unattractive suggests her loss of innocence, and contrasts with Candide’s idealistic image of her as the embodiment of physical beauty. Much more is made of the physical appearance of women in Candide than of men, suggesting that double standards exist for men and women in Candide.
Voltaire uses clever names to make further commentary on his characters. You’ve got "Pangloss" meaning "all-tongue" for the blabbing philosopher, "Candide" from the Latin candidus ("white") for the pure and innocent protagonist, and "Pococurante" ("caring very little") for the apathetic rich man. Other characters’ names highlight to the reader that people are often defined by their qualities. The Old Woman, for example, is seen only as being old and a woman. James is never seen as James, but as James the Anabaptist. Minor characters such as the Inquisitor and the Abbé, further exemplify this tool.
Dr. Pangloss’s frequent long-winded monologues draw attention to his tendency to philosophize at inappropriate times. As Candide lies under a pile of trash after the Lisbon earthquake, begging for help, Pangloss speaks at length about the nature of earthquakes, even analyzing the philosophical ramifications of his geological observations. Not only does Pangloss talk a lot, but he rambles in an unfittingly lofty tone, using phrases such as "the concussion of the earth" when what the guy really means is earthquake (5.9).
Although Martin, like Pangloss, has an extreme worldview, he is succinct in his speech and talks less frequently than his friends. He tends to remain quiet unless directly addressed or unless his intervention is necessary to prevent catastrophe. His reserved speech reflects that he is level-headed and consistently unsurprised at the generally unnerving events around him.
Candide’s speech reveals his constant surprise at the events unfolding around him. He asks more questions than any other character and never fails to express disbelief. Like Pangloss, he is prone to distraction. As such, his speech tends to ramble into tangents, and is often unrelated to the current circumstance.
Both Cacambo and the Old Woman are experienced and knowledgeable; this is reflected in their speech. Cacambo and the Old Woman speak with authority. They lead those around them by instructing their companions, warding off danger, and offering advice. Cacambo’s ability to communicate in several languages is also significant in preventing additional disaster.