Voltaire’s “Candide” in response to disaster: doomed to hope!


“If this is the best of the possible worlds, then when will the other worlds be?” Candide asks, the optimistic, hopeful figure in this disastrous world invented by the French writer Voltaire in a novel of the same name in order to respond to one of the Enlightenment thinkers at the time, Jean-Jacques Rousseau after many correspondence between them. In the novel Voltaire criticizes the philosophy of optimism, one of the symbols of which was the German philosopher Leibniz. He wrote the novel after the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which completely destroyed the city, and the earthquake was followed by tsunami and fires, and caused the death of 100,000 people. The earthquake also caused an existential crisis and an intense debate among Enlightenment philosophers about the dilemma of evil. Leibniz believed that our world is always moving towards the best despite all the evils and disasters that surround us, and this is what Voltaire strongly rejected in the novel.

Voltaire wrote the novel in order to respond to one of the Enlightenment thinkers at the time, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, after much correspondence between them.

But Voltaire was not completely pessimistic, as though he intellectually agreed with Antonio Gramsci in his famous sentence: “The pessimism of the mind, the optimism of the will”. Voltaire created in his novel two contradictory characters: Candide, who was taught by his teacher Pangloss the philosophy of optimism and seeing this world as the best possible worlds, and Martin the pessimist who believes that evil fills the world and that people are miserable and will remain so. And this philosophical dialogue between them created the length of the novel, as if what the optimist Candide needs is a pessimistic friend who makes his journey balance and ultimately settles at a common point that Voltaire makes the essence of his criticism of optimism.
Candide was expelled from the Baron’s palace because he was in love with his daughter Konigund, so he fled to a distant village, moved from one place to another and from one country to another, and misfortunes began to afflict him, starting with the Bulgarians’ extermination of the village to which he fled, passing through the Lisbon earthquake, up to the death of his friend Panglos. But Candide remains optimistic, and knows that Konigund is still alive, so he sets a goal for his life by marrying her, so that his journeys will continue until he wins it in the end.
This love story seems to be a key for Voltaire to open the door to philosophical dialogue on other questions, as Candide clings to Konegund as he clings to hope, and makes it a destination for him every time he is exposed to the horrors that Voltaire depicts in a sarcastic manner, so we feel as if the world is drowning in corpses that are separated and thrown together and humans who are divided in two Ships are sinking. But at the end of those disasters, everyone settles in one place because Voltaire does not see that evils continue forever, but they naturally exist, and mockery in itself is a pessimistic attitude that stands far away and reminds us of the darkness and catastrophic reality of reality.
Thus, the characters that help Candide overcome his crises appear each time in succession, from Pangloss, who taught him optimism, to Jack, to the old woman, and the stories of these characters are revealed, because storytelling is of the importance that makes the disaster lighter in Voltaire’s view, who mentions in the words of the old character that despite The tragedies she went through, but she listens to stories because that is what makes her relate to life more. The story accompanies the disaster in the novel, as was hope for Candide and his friends, who shared with him narrating their tragedies. But the dying characters come back again as a sign that they are symbolic figures coming back to life because their influence on Candide’s mind was as powerful as his mentor, Pangloss, who was killed and then met again, and Konegund, in which he finally meets Candide.
Candide arrives in an imagined country called El Dorado, which is similar to a utopian city, with no prisons, inspection courts, and injustice, only buildings, trees, springs of rose water and gold that fill the streets. Although Candide was confident that this was the best possible world that his teacher Pangloss was talking about, he felt that he was not the place he wanted to be, as he is nothing without his sweetheart Konigund. So, Voltaire’s invention of this place shows his sharp criticism of optimism that everything will go for the better. Even this beautiful place is not really beautiful because it is imperfect without love, and it is this imperfection that drives Candide to go forward.
Thus, the narrative line escalates in the novel until Candide gets to know the pessimistic Martin, who seems to be Candide’s companion, but the two do not agree. Even in culture, poetry and art, Candide expresses his admiration and respect for German poets. As for Martin, he used to criticize them and express the uselessness of art and poetry in the world. The two did not leave a topic except and argued about it, so the pace of dialogue rose in the end and reached one point, to become the thread that unites them all.
As for Candide and Martin’s friendship while traveling, it is similar to Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the journey is also similar in that it is a philosophical and intellectual journey and not only from one place to another, but from one area of ​​thought to another, where Candide begins with blind optimism to rational pessimism or to faith With the idea of ​​working in this world. The moment everyone meets and the old woman asks a question, the pace of discussion between them changes, and the question leads them to a meeting with an old man who cares for his garden, and there Candide finds his answer, as he also wants to take care of his garden. In the last dialogue, Pangloss tells him: All events are interconnected in the best possible worlds, if you were not expelled from a beautiful palace, and you were smacked on the back because of your love for Miss Konigund, and if you were not subject to investigation, and if you did not pass America on foot, and if you did not You stab the Baron, and if you did not lose your sheep, which you brought from the good country of Eldorado, you would not have eaten fruits and pistachios here.

Candide and Martin’s friendship is similar to Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the Gilgamesh epic

Candide says to him: It is true, but we must cultivate our garden. This idea got everyone started by acting as a way of life possible in the best or worst worlds. As Henri Cloure said in “The French Composition” about the novel: “Candide is the most complete and eloquent of Voltaire’s stories, as it represents an important development for the author.” At the beginning of the story, he was very optimistic, just as Voltaire was in his early days, and in the aftermath and after the Lisbon catastrophe, disappointment began with him. In the end, Voltaire’s philosophy is evident in the constructive, lively and critical pessimism of reality in order to unite efforts in the struggle to improve laws and improve human lives.
Time is absent in the novel, perhaps to suggest that Voltaire might take place at any time and anywhere, but it appears suddenly at the end when Candide mentions that Konegund has become an ugly old man. Voltaire makes a point to these disasters as he reminds us that optimism and pessimism are friends meeting at a time when we realize that everyone’s interest in his garden is the essence of breaking out of the impasse of the pessimistic time in which we wake up from every disaster and we are doomed to hope.

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