A good way to describe Candide might be the morality play by Voltaire without any morals. Throughout the entire play the worst things happen, people commit the most heinous acts, murder, rape, genocide, and torture, but they are described in a way that they almost seem normal, may be even right, that is if convention didn’t say otherwise. Candide is a man of seemingly strong moral character, he has strong belief in his philosophy and follows it, yet he is portrayed as one who lacks any understanding of the world around him or the human race as a whole. When he is exposed to the outside world, he finds that even he can’t remain sin-free. Most notably he kills three people (33 and 48). The entire story chronicles his travels across the world and his philosophical development. Along the way he meets some people of a most corrupt nature, yet somehow he maintains his naive optimism that it will all be fine in the end until the last few chapters of the book. In the end he loses his high-minded ways and decides to live at peace with the world around him.
Pangloss, Candide’s mentor and role model is an example of a corrupt person who operates under the guise of righteousness. What makes Pangloss worse is the fact that Candide looks up to him throughout the entire story. Pangloss is unwavering in his efforts to prove that his way of thinking is best and everything is meant to be how it is, so much so that even when everything is wrong all is well. At one point he stated clearly that this was his belief, “Private misfortunes make up the general good, so the more private misfortunes there are, the more all is well” (24). His reasons for everything in the world are so skewed as to be hilarious. Noses are made for spectacles (16), syphilis was brought over to Europe so that we could have chocolate (23) He even describes the disease as a “present”. Most important however, is Pangloss’s refusal to get anything done, unless that thing involves a member of the opposite sex. When Candide is lying near death from a he feels that this is the perfect time to start applying science. (26). When the Anabaptist drowns Pangloss purposefully stops Candide from saving him because “the Lisbon roads had been formed expressly for the Anabaptist to drown in” (25). However, when an attractive female is around, Pangloss is more than willing to take action. He contracted syphilis from Paquette. He became a slave on a galley because he had his hands on her bosom too long (96). Even after these offenses caused him immense harm, he still maintained that all is well. But even the unshakeable Pangloss is shaken in his philosophy by the end of the story. “Having once maintained that everything is well, he still maintained it and believed not a word of it” (99). It’s also pretty significant that throughout the entire story Pangloss usually gets the last word except for the last line. Pangloss tries to get the last word in by saying that if all the bad things didn’t happen, they wouldn’t have their garden, and Candide responds by telling him that they need to tend the garden. It’s like saying “I’ll accept that, but I don’t care whether or not it’s true.”
The world Candide lives in features many extremely corrupt people. This starts with the Bulgarian captains. During the war both sides burned down the other’s village without a second thought, raping the women and slaughtering all people they come across. Then he comes to a village where noone is willing to feed him. Even a man who talks for a full hour about the importance of charity turns Candide down when asked for some bread. Next there the Inquisitors hold an auto-de-fe, meant to prevent the earthquakes from happening again (they happen anyway) but one of the punishments is a burning for marrying their godchild’s godmother. Pangloss is himself hung for speaking, and Candide for listening. Cunegonde was plagued by a series of people who tried to take advantage of her. The Baron’s son attacked Candide when he said he intended to marry Cunegonde after just before being “unable to tire of hugging [him, calling him] his bother, his savior” (47). The Dutch captain steals his sheep. He is cheated out of most of his money by gamblers and Jews. Finally he is accused of a crime he didn’t commit because his philosopher asked the wrong questions. Basically they were trying to get a great philosopher to agree to their own philosophy and not trying to learn from him. Everywhere in the book are people either guilty of hypocrisy, or excess desire.
Speaking of desire, lust runs rampant throughout the world Candide lives in. Candide’s mentor Pangloss is a lecherous old man. Everywhere Candide turns he’s surrounded by rape or lust, and he’s not innocent of these crimes either. His obsession with Cunegonde, while it might seem pure at first is as depraved and shallow as anything else in the book. He speaks of his love which only got him one kiss and twenty kicks in the rear, and which gave Pangloss his disease, but when he finally finds Cunegonde and finds out she’s ugly, he doesn’t want her anymore. Never mind that she is the reason he kept on traveling and hoping for the future. He left Eldorado so he could be with her, but when he finally gets to her, he is unhappy with her.
All of Candide’s guides seem to have an exaggerated view of the world. The only exception to that seems to be Cacambo. Candide’s valet is the one stable point in the story. He is morally sound (at least compared to everyone else), keeping his promise to Candide to find Cunegonde, and saving Candide on many occasions. He has a realistic view of the world without becoming cynical like Martin. Martin, on the other hand is like the antithesis of Pangloss. Both are as unwavering in their views as one another and both seem to have an equal say in Candide’s personal beliefs. Both also seem to prefer pressing their own beliefs on others rather than listening to what other people have to say. The large difference between Martin and Pangloss is that Martin is as pessimistic as Pangloss is optimistic. The fact that Candide seems to take equal stock in both of their views, even though those views are the exact opposite from each other, shows just how confused he is before the end and just how confusing the world can be. Jacques, the Anabaptist is another person Candide shows a lot of respect for. Jacques seems to have a realistic moral view which makes it all the more tragic when he dies. This death is to show that any extreme can be bad, including extreme kindness. Jacques went out of his way to help people, but when he needed help himself, nobody helped back. It shows that you need to be able to help yourselves as well as others and recognize who should and should not be helped. It may seem slightly immoral, but it seems that Jacques gave too much without expecting anything in return. He provided for both Candide and Pangloss on his own expense, and the only thing they did for him was try to force their beliefs onto him, and he died helping a man who had just punched him in the face. Was anyone any better off for him doing that?
The misery in the world is almost universal, with the exception of Eldorado, which is hidden from the rest of the world and the good man at the end of the story. Everyone Candide asks on his journey has a tale of woe to give, even the six kings he dined with and the bored senator who had everything and took joy in nothing. By the end it seemed like Candide was trying to surround himself with misery. One of the more poignant moments was when he found a Black man on the side of the road. The man was missing an arm and a leg because he had messed up while working and had tried to run away from his masters. Even though he is only seen once, he has one of the most important lines of the entire work. “We are all children of Adam…If that’s the truth then we’re all second cousins. Now you must admit noone can treat their relatives in a more horrible way.” (61) This is one of the major points of Candide. Man shouldn’t be treating their fellow man this way. The man who causes the turnaround of all the major characters at the end, the man with two daughters and a comparatively happy life is Voltaire’s view of the ideal. He lives in moderation. He only has what he needs, nothing more and only wants what he needs, nothing more. He doesn’t try to think about or explain what he can’t understand, he excepts this world for what it is. The fact that everyone including Martin could follow his example, and be successful shows that Voltaire still has hope in the human race. No matter what has happened to you, you can still be good and happy. All it takes is a lot of hard work and a willingness to accept the world at face value.
Candide is a morality play in that it involves a character witnessing the very depths of sin but coming out on the other end much better than he started and ready to put his sins behind him. Everyone in the work is either disillusioned with the world or so possessed by religious fervor as to be blinded to all around them. Candide is in effect a parody of Everyman, and while he doesn’t find enlightenment or absolute happiness by the end, he does find what he wants. He just didn’t know he wanted it until then. Pangloss was right on one point. If Candide hadn’t been kicked out of home and experienced all he went through, he wouldn’t have the great appreciation of life that he did one the end. Candide, however, was also right when he said that all we need to do is cultivate our gardens.