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A Series of Unfortunate Events in Voltaire's Candide Essay

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In Candide, a series of unfortunate events befall the main character—Candide—to demonstrate the absurdity of his mentor’s philosophy that he lives in the best possible world. The main tenet of Pangloss’ philosophy is that even from acts that appear evil, or sub-optimal, there is a positive aspect that produces the best of all possible results. In other words, there is no such thing as a sub-optimal outcome or a bad occurrence. Candide demonstrates the absurdity of this mindset when Pangloss contracts syphilis, and when Candide’s benefactor drowns and an earthquake erupts in Lisbon, concluding with Pangloss trying his best to justify both events through the lens of his philosophy.
Imagine contracting syphilis—would it be more appropriate to lament having such a disease, or express the benefits—the European discovery of cocoa and dyes—that followed Christopher Columbus introducing the disease to Europe? Pangloss, rather than feel sorry for himself, speaks of the aforementioned benefits, “…For if Columbus had not in an island of America caught this disease… we should have neither chocolate nor cochineal (Voltaire 15).” This quotation emphasizes how entangled Pangloss was with his own philosophy, that he could not see his own torment—his syphilis—was unnecessary. See, neither Pangloss nor anyone else had to suffer in order for anyone to receive chocolate or cochineal; in a better world, Christopher Columbus would not have brought syphilis back with him after discovering the New World. However, Pangloss cannot conceive of there being a better world because he is enamored with pointing out that, where there is evil, there is also good—which is what he does by pointing out how because Columbus went to the New World and contracted syphi...


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...reflected critically on the events of his life—even just the two examples used in this essay--, he would probably find that this is not the best of all possible worlds as it is rife with evil and suffering. With this novella, Voltaire made the point that some spend a lifetime justifying—not rationalizing—the events of the world because those same people are too busy attempting to prove one theory rather than develop others that may fit reality more. When Candide dismisses Pangloss at the end of the novella by saying, “Let us cultivate our garden,” he is rejecting Pangloss’ philosophy, turning over a new leaf, and taking charge of his own life and giving it its own meaning free of Pangloss’ influence. 



Works Cited

Voltaire. Candide. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1918. Project Gutenberg. Web. 11 January 2014. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19942/19942-h/19942-h.htm


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