Free Candide Essays: Impossibility Of The Happy Life


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Candide: The Impossibility Of The Happy Life 

 

This paper's focus is Voltaire's view of human happiness.  Specifically, it will argue that Voltaire, in Candide, says that human happiness is impossible. Voltaire believes this for three reasons. First, Voltaire presents mankind in the novel spending all its life worried about personal problems of the moment. When people in Candide have no problems, Voltaire indicates, they do not feel happy but become bored instead. Their emotional lives swing between worries and boredom with almost no periods of prolonged happiness. Secondly, Voltaire believes human happiness is impossible because the world as he presents it in Candide is full of selfish people whose actions spoil the well being of all their fellow human beings. Thirdly, Voltaire believes human happiness is impossible because governments are so violent and organized religion is so corrupt that they ruin the lives of millions through war and exploitation.

 

            These points may be amply demonstrated through an analysis of Candide itself and also through the views of important critics. To best appreciate this novel, however, some background concerning its origins and its relationship to the author's preoccupations should be mentioned.

 

            Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire lived from 1694-1778. He was an author and a philosopher whose philosophy stressed rationality, democracy and scientific inquiry. These interests can all be seen in Candide, for example, which has a philosopher for a main character and which satirizes the philosophy of Leibnitz throughout the text. The novel Candide was written in response to the earthquake of 1759 which hit Lisbon and resulted in the instantaneous and indiscriminate deaths of thousands. Appalled by the horrible deaths of so many innocent people, Voltaire was at this time also incensed by Leibnitz who wrote that given the worlds God might have created, by choosing to endow mankind with free will, "the world we live in is the best of all possible worlds." To Voltaire, this response to the earthquake amounted to an abominable moral complacency and indifference by philosophers such as Leibnitz, who Voltaire felt seemed to accept all the other normal suffering and injustice in the world. Hence in Candide, Voltaire relentlessly satirizes Leibnitz's formulation by shifting the stress to "this is the best of all possible worlds" and bringing up the line every time a character encounters a horrible calamity or atrocity. However, it should be added that Voltaire's hatred of injustices perpetrated by the aristocracy, the church and the state--all of which he satirizes in Candide--also grew out of his personal experiences.

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Voltaire, for example, was imprisoned in 1717 for 11 months in the Bastille for insults to an aristocrat. In 1726 a different young nobleman had Voltaire beaten and jailed for a remark Voltaire had made at the man's expense.

 

            In Candide Voltaire explores the obstacles to human happiness at great length. One  reason he cites is that human nature is incapable of ongoing happiness. Voltaire makes this point in several places. One for example, occurs at novel's end. The main characters are living in Turkey after having lived through many horrifying experiences. Safe and secure, however, none of them are content. The reason for this is not due to any lack of money or comfort. The characters have all they need. But having all they need, they are all completely bored. So much is this so, that Candide asks whether it is worse to be beaten, starved, have a buttocks cut off, walk a gauntlet, live through murders, earthquakes and have your goods stolen or, on the other hand, to live a life of boredom. The answer he gets is that it is a toss up (186). As critic Ish Kabibble points out, "this section shows that Voltaire like Schopenhauer believes that human happiness is not possible because human nature is not constituted to be able to handle it" (206).


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