The Nature of Unhappiness in Candide, by Voltaire
Length: 1316 words (3.8 double-spaced pages)
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Candide is well known for its critique of optimism by Voltaire. The title character, along with his companions, bears many hardships throughout the novel and philosophizes about the nature and necessity of good in the world. Whether there is truly any good in the world is debated between the characters, particularly between the very discouraged Martin and Candide, who carries with him the optimistic words of Dr. Pangloss, a believer in the good nature of the world. While the characters debate why man must carry such burdens, Voltaire shows us that it is dealing with the bad that makes us human. While discussing Cunegonde Martin says to Candide, "I wish" that she may one day make you happy. But I very much doubt she will. ‘You are a bit hard,’ said Candide. ‘That’s because I’ve lived,’ said Martin.
To live is to experience the good and bad. For our characters in Candide, their experiences are largely negative. As the novel progresses we see through the eyes of Candide that everyone suffers, as noted by the old woman, "Just for fun, why not get each passenger to tell you the story of his life, and if there is one single one of them who hasn’t often cursed the day he was born and hasn’t often said to the himself that he was the most unfortunate man alive, then you can throw me into the sea head first." As Candide goes on his journey throughout the novel in search of Cunegonde the words of the old woman are confirmed by the tales of the injured slave outside of Surinam, the crowd of applicants within the city, Martin, the man of learning in France, Paquette, Brother Biroflee and the six kings. The words of the old woman to Candide directly show the connection between suffering and how it is unique to life. "This ridiculous weakness for living is perhaps one of our most fatal tendencies. For can anything be sillier than to insist on carrying a burden one would continually much rather throw to the ground? Sillier than to feel disgust at one’s own existence and yet cling to it? Sillier, in short, than to clasp to our bosom the serpent that devours us until it has gnawed away our heart?" Bearing and holding on to that suffering is holding on to that which makes us human.
Each of the characters Candide meets tells him of the atrocious events that they themselves have lived through.
Although it may seem that each of their lives was filled with plenty of sorrow, each set back of the past helps make the character as they are in the present. As Pangloss points out to Candide at the end of the novel, "All events form a chain in the best of all possible worlds." As Pangloss recites all that has happened to Candide we can infer that it was these events that made him who he was. It is as Martin said, "That’s because I’ve lived".
In their discussion at the end of the novel, Pangloss and Candide also discuss how man worked in the Garden of Eden and therefore is meant for work. However, man did not suffer and experience hardships until leaving the garden. Were Adam and Eve truly human until they left the garden or simply a creation or augmentation of god still bound to him? As Martin’s words point out, one must suffer to have lived. The Garden of Eden, like heaven, is where man does not suffer and no longer lives.
In Candide we see a clear distinction between two worlds; one where man lives and bears great hardships in the real world, and one where he does not, which takes the physical form of Eldorado. When talking to Cacambo Candide asks, "What is this place" which is unknown to the rest of the world and where the whole nature of things is so different from ours? It’s probably the place where all goes well, for there absolutely must be such a place. Eldorado is made out to be physically impossible place to reach by Voltaire in order to help establish this distinction that it is other-worldly.
Although Candide leaves Eldorado, a decision he eventually regrets to Martin, his remarks allow us to imagine it as a heavenly place. When his gold is stolen by the Dutch Merchant, Candide exclaims, “that’s just the kind of dirty trick you’d expect from the old world.” While discussing God and the devil, Candide begins to think “God has abandoned [the world] to some malign being – apart from Eldorado, that is.” He shows a clear bridge between God and Eldorado. Whether or not God has completely separated himself from man is speculated by Candide, but the nature of Eldorado comes as conclusive to him; it is a place where nobody suffers, and therefore are not really human, as this seems to be the burden of men when compared to the afterlife.
When Candide discusses leaving Eldorado in order to find Cunegonde, he tells Cacambo that if they stay in Eldorado “we’ll simply be the same as everyone else...;” indicating that there is something missing from Eldorado that changes who they are as people. However, Candide called it a place where all goes well. What is missing? To Candide it is Cunegonde, someone who he feels brings him more joy than Eldorado can.
Why, would Candide leave a place that is perfect? If Eldorado resembles heaven, then Candide, being human, is not ready to live there. Being human, Candide still feels passion and desire, attributes that would be unecessary in a world where nothing goes wrong. His passion for Cunegonde and the riches of Eldorado appeal to Candide because he is still a man. The words of Pangloss at the end of the novel tell Candide that it is not just hardships that created* his life, but an accumulation of all the experiences he has endured. Life is not only unique to suffering but also passion; two experiences* that can be viewed as opposites, yet one in the same. The very word passion derives from the latin passionem, which means suffering or enduring.
The suffering of Candide and his companions seems primarily due to their circumstances throughout the novel. The question of their situational misery is questioned by Candide and he purposes to Martin that they visit Senator Pococurante, “a man who’s never had any troubles.” Upon visiting the Senator, Candide and Martin see that he hsas many passions, yet he still finds disappointment in his beautiful female company, luxurious paintings, music, famous literature and his garden. The idea of unhappiness finding itself in even the most unlikely of men is shown again by Voltaire when Candide and Martin have dinner with six kings who have nothing but sorrow to speak of. Although dreadful things have happened to these kings, we know their hardships are still nowhere in comparison to the characters of the book. Voltaire shows in these examples, particularly in the case of Pococurante, that it is human nature to experience unhappiness and grief, a lesson one can only learn by living, as Martin points out.
By the end of the novel, Candide finds himself at a loss with what he has been through. In true Voltaire irony, the words of Martin regarding Cunegonde were true, as she has lost all of her beauty and Candide does sees her as bad-tempered. Left with no passions and little suffering other than the bordem he faces with those around him, Candide ends* only with his work and tending to his garden. He has created in a sense, the closest thing he can to Eldorado, a place where he no longer desires riches or lusts for the love of Cunegonde.
Only reference: Candide by Voltaire.