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Gardens and Gardening

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Answer: not with Optimism, you chumps.

Gardens appear in a few important passages in Candide. First, Candide’s uncle banishes him from the family’s country home and garden after he finds Candide kissing Cunégonde:

She met Candide on reaching the castle and blushed; Candide blushed also; she wished him good morrow in a faltering tone, and Candide spoke to her without knowing what he said. The next day after dinner, as they went from table, Cunégonde and Candide found themselves behind a screen; Cunégonde let fall her handkerchief, Candide picked it up, she took him innocently by the hand, the youth as innocently kissed the young lady's hand with particular vivacity, sensibility, and grace; their lips met, their eyes sparkled, their knees trembled, their hands strayed. Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh passed near the screen and beholding this cause and effect chased Candide from the castle with great kicks on the backside; Cunégonde fainted away; she was boxed on the ears by the Baroness, as soon as she came to herself; and all was consternation in this most magnificent and most agreeable of all possible castles. (1.8)

This expulsion from the garden parodies the Garden of Eden story—both Candide (who's standing in for Adam) and Cunégonde (who's an Eve figure) get booted out of paradise and have to enroll in the school of hard knocks. But, naturally, Candide is so infernally optimistic that he can't imagine that anything is terribly wrong.

In El Dorado, Candide encounters an incredible natural landscape that surpasses the beauty of the Baron’s home. Unfortunately, this setting is fantastical and transitory... it's basically too good to be true.

Finally, at the end of the novel, Candide purchases a farm and dedicates himself to working and cultivating a garden. In doing so, Candide swaps the complacency that resulted from his previous philosophizing for an active engagement in his surroundings—you have to work to make a farm produce:

Pangloss sometimes said to Candide:

"There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunégonde: if you had not been put into the Inquisition: if you had not walked over America: if you had not stabbéd the Baron: if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado: you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts."

"All that is very well," answered Candide, "but let us cultivate our garden." (30.29-31)

The shift from passivity and philosophizing to activity and work seems to provide some relief to Candide and his friends—they finally have a goal instead of just a nebulous philosophical stance. But the ultimate symbolism of Candide’s decision to start gardening is unclear.

One possible interpretation is that it reflects a change of character and a new start for Candide. In finally rejecting Pangloss’s philosophy and the philosopher’s way of life, Candide thinks for himself and builds something of his own.

An alternative view, however, is that Candide’s retreat to gardening is not an act of starting anew, but simply a replacement of the farmer’s philosophy for Pangloss’s. Although it might reveal an inclination to greater engagement in the world, the cultivation of a garden may also be seen as an escape or refuge from engagement in the greater world of suffering—the Voltaire equivalent of someone saying "I can't take it anymore! I'm going to go move to Hawaii and be a beachcomber." (Which, to be fair, sounds pretty awesome.)

In the context of the Garden of Eden analogy, Candide’s cultivation of a garden might also be understood as a futile attempt to restore the innocence and faith that he lost through his misfortunes and suffering. Aww, Candide. That seems like a case of "too little, too late," doesn't it?

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