NOTE: Voltaire not only satirizes philosophy, religion, and natural disasters, but he also pokes fun at the very form of the novel itself. You might have noticed this given the absurd chapter titles he uses. Given this, we’ve tried to point out the satirical nature of Voltaire’s plot whenever possible here in the Classic Plot Analysis.
These are the circumstances at the beginning of the novel. Candide leads a privileged life in his aunt and uncle’s home. He is tutored by Dr. Pangloss, an absurdly optimistic philosopher. He is romantically interested in the Baron’s daughter, Cunégonde.
With no worldly experience, and armed only with the highly questionable philosophy of Dr. Pangloss, the painfully innocent Candide is unleashed penniless into the world of suffering and misfortune. Having previously been sheltered from the outside world, his banishment is Candide’s first challenge and the novel’s first glimmer of conflict.
Nearly every calamity possible short of death follows: ship wrecks, executions, an earthquake, poverty, disease, rape, slavery, and several other terrible misfortunes befall the cast of characters. What was previously a comparatively minor conflict is complicated to an unimaginable degree as the plot begins to spiral out of control.
SATIRE: Voltaire satirizes the classic novel "complication" by having everything that could possibly go wrong happen to Candide. This is the mother of all complication stages, so absurd that it can’t possibly be without mockery.
Candide achieves his long anticipated objective of reuniting with Cunégonde. As the most intense and decisive moment in the text, this is the climax.
SATIRE: The climax becomes an anti-climax when we find out that Cunégonde is now haggard and Candide mostly loved her for her beauty.
The Baron, despite all that has transpired, still clings to traditional beliefs about lineage and ancestry and refuses to allow his sister to marry Candide, who is of a lower social rank. The series of conflicts that seemed resolved at the climax are again complicated, creating suspense.
SATIRE: The suspense here is absurd, as we already know that Candide has the power to return the Baron to slavery, or possibly to stab him in the guts again. Not to mention the fact that he doesn’t really want Cunégonde anymore.
Although it seems that the final obstacle to Candide’s happiness has been cleared, he is no longer enchanted with Cunégonde who has grown unattractive and irritable. Although the novel’s major conflict and suspense are resolved, the characters are unhappy – uncertainty remains as to whether they will continue living on the farm.
A farmer advises Candide and his friends that work is a cure for boredom, vice, and poverty. The characters seize his advice as a solution to their suffering. They find some solace in their work. This is the final resolution to the questions raised in the denouement and the last thing that happens in the novel.
SATIRE: This ending is certainly not a tragedy. It pretends to be a happy ending, but the characters’ satisfaction is dubious, to say the least. That makes this a satire of the happy conclusion. Also, Voltaire calls his last chapter "conclusion," which we think is rather tongue-in-cheek.