Comparing Views on Life in Thoreau’s Walden and Voltaire's Candide

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Comparing Views on Life in Thoreau’s Walden and Voltaire's Candide

Is the glass half full or half empty? This clichéd measure of optimism versus pessimism describes our society's base understanding of possible outlooks on life. In Candide by Voltaire, ultimately Candide rejects both blind optimism and absolute pessimism. He goes on a quest to discover how to live well, which is the same thing Thoreau prescribes in Walden and Other Writings. For this paper, in accordance with Voltaire and Thoreau, "living well" means aligning one's actions with one's ideals in order to achieve satisfaction. Despite a distance in time of a century and in location of an ocean, Thoreau and Voltaire had incredibly similar views on life. A staunch individualism provided the framework for both men's thoughts. While they chose different lifestyles, the ultimate conclusion for the two men can be encompassed in the phrase that completes Voltaire's Candide, "we must cultivate our garden" (120).

Do not try to cultivate a garden with excessive surplus in order to barter for unnecessary goods or to store up for the future. "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity," Thoreau orders (173). Voltaire would agree that this is the essential key to living well. After traveling around the world and questioning every sort of person, Candide finally finds peace after seeing the simple life of the Turk on his modest farm with his children. "That good old man seems to have made himself a much better life than the six kings we had the honor of eating supper with," Candide remarks (119). At the end of his quest, Candide finally realizes that power, prestige, and all the other things most people seek indeed are not the answer to happiness. Thoreau wholeheartedly supports t...

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... (167). Of all the authors on the Modern Legacy reading list, Voltaire and Thoreau come closer to arriving at a truth by which human beings can live than any of them. The two men use very different styles. Thoreau projects his ideas pedagogically in essay format. Voltaire's ideas are shrouded by irony and embedded in a fictional story. Despite the different techniques, the messages ring clear: live simply, simply cultivating your garden, and you will live well. Granted the ideas sound somewhat impractical and idealistic, but both men clearly lived promoting change. Without idealism accompanied by a brave attempt to live those ideals, nothing would ever change.

Work Cited

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. 1862. Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau. Ed. Joseph Wood Krutch. New York: Bantam, 2001.

Voltaire. Candide. New York: Viking Publishers, 1998.

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