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Analysis: Tone

Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?

Ironic, Sarcastic, Understated

Candide is known for being absolutely hilarious—and not just by 17th-century standards. Part of what makes it so funny is the deadpan, understated nature of Voltaire’s prose. Like any good comedian, Voltaire makes his jokes and moves on. Check it out:

Half dead of that inconceivable anguish which the rolling of a ship produces, one-half of the passengers were not even sensible of the danger. The other half shrieked and prayed. The sheets were rent, the masts broken, the vessel gaped. Work who would, no one heard, no one commanded. The Anabaptist being upon deck bore a hand; when a brutish sailor struck him roughly and laid him sprawling; but with the violence of the blow he himself tumbled head foremost overboard, and stuck upon a piece of the broken mast. Honest James ran to his assistance, hauled him up, and from the effort he made was precipitated into the sea in sight of the sailor, who left him to perish, without deigning to look at him. Candide drew near and saw his benefactor, who rose above the water one moment and was then swallowed up for ever. He was just going to jump after him, but was prevented by the philosopher Pangloss, who demonstrated to him that the Bay of Lisbon had been made on purpose for the Anabaptist to be drowned. While he was proving this à priori, the ship foundered; all perished except Pangloss, Candide, and that brutal sailor who had drowned the good Anabaptist. The villain swam safely to the shore, while Pangloss and Candide were borne thither upon a plank. (5.1)

Buried in that hunk o' text is an instance of Pangloss Panglossing it up—yapping about the necessary tragedy of the shipwreck in such a way that it prevents Candide from saving the life of his mentor. But Voltaire doesn't let his jokes keep him from moving the plot along... the paragraph ends not with a joke, but with Pangloss and Candide hanging out on a raft.

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