Study Guide

Candide in Candide

By Voltaire


Smile, You're On Candide Camera

Candide is our novel’s main man. He is innocent, idealistic, and faithful to an extreme degree. Incredibly gullible, he blindly accepts Dr. Pangloss’s overly optimistic worldview as a young man and continues to cling to it through a barrage of earthquakes, executions, hangings, floggings, gauntlets, rapes, disembowelments, and poor theatrical productions. Seriously: this guy suffers more than all the Disney Princesses combined... and yet keeps a sunny worldview that would give even Cinderella a toothache:

"I have seen the worst," Candide replied. "But a wise man, who since has had the misfortune to be hanged, taught me that all is marvelously well; these are but the shadows on a beautiful picture."

"Your hanged man mocked the world," said Martin. "The shadows are horrible blots." (22.50)

But he doesn't keep his wide-eyed, chipper attitude. Candide’s idealistic dedication to Cunégonde drives him to extremes, but when they are finally reunited, she is unable to live up to his high expectations.

Candide is very dependent and essentially unable to think for himself. He doesn’t completely discard Pangloss’s philosophy until he adopts another one in the last pages of the book—the farmer’s belief in work as a cure-all:

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)

Rather than relying on one particular philosophy, Candide depends on philosophy as a crutch to avoid thinking for himself. Throughout the novel, Candide surrounds himself with quick-thinking, opinionated individuals. It is not by his own wits, but by the decisions of Cacambo, Martin, and the Old Woman that Candide survives to the end of the novel.

Nevertheless, despite his weaknesses, Candide is unflinchingly principled and kind. Unfortunately his naiveté leads him to expect honesty and generosity in a world that clearly lacks both. While we laugh at him for his ridiculous nature, it’s also endearing. Respect him or not, we readers have a soft spot for Candide. He's a super-generous and goodhearted dude:

Candide, yet more moved with compassion than with horror, gave to this shocking beggar the two florins which he had received from the honest Anabaptist James. (4.1)

Of course, Voltaire takes scathing advantage of this. Candide ends up serving as a symbolic critique of innocence and blind faith because he is taken advantage of time and again:

"Ay!" said the skipper to himself, "this man agrees to pay twenty thousand piastres with as much ease as ten." [...]

"Then you shall have thirty thousand," replied Candide.

"Oh! oh!" said the Dutch skipper once more to himself, "thirty thousand piastres are a trifle to this man; surely these sheep must be laden with an immense treasure; let us say no more about it. First of all, let him pay down the thirty thousand piastres; then we shall see." [...]

Candide followed in a little boat to join the vessel in the roads. The skipper seized his opportunity, set sail, and put out to sea, the wind favoring him. Candide, dismayed and stupefied, soon lost sight of the vessel. (19.24-28)

Voltaire uses this character to comment satirically on his times—times when, in his view, everyone ran around philosophizing pedantically... which was not only useless, but completely annoying.

To better make this point, the author ensures that Candide misunderstands the philosophy he tries to promote. "Optimism" as a philosophy requires followers to look at the world in totality. However, Candide and Pangloss both try to use Optimism to justify the miseries of only their personal lives. Ugh, guys. It just doesn’t work like that.