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Comparing the Social Criticism of Voltaire's Candide and Samuel Johnson's Rasselas

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Comparing the Social Criticism of Voltaire's Candide and Samuel Johnson's Rasselas

Samuel Johnson and Voltaire were both writers of enormous social conscience in the eighteenth century. It is not surprising then to discover that both men wrote short tales dealing primarily with criticism of the human condition. Ironically, these books were written and published within weeks of each other in 1759 (Enright 16). Johnson's Rasselas and Voltaire's Candide are strikingly similar in their use of the episodic and romantic picaresque motifs. The underlying purpose within each author's criticism, however, allows many differences in the two tales to surface. The author's intentions diverge beyond superficial similarities and each work develops a unique vantage point from which to observe humanity.

Neither work can be accused of being a realistic tale. These moral fables are set in a fantastic, utopian, and ludicrous world. The distance from the reader in each tale is quite different, however. Johnson places realistic characters in an unrealistic world. He remains on the same level with his characters, describing the situations and environment in which they find themselves. In this manner the reader can identify with and feel empathy for the characters in Rasselas. They are thinking, caring, fallible human beings equal to the reader and the author.

Voltaire creates a chasm between humanity and the world of Candide. The reader laughs not only at the situation or environment, for the characters are just as ludicrous as the world in which they live. It is possible that Voltaire wants his audience to assume a position of moral superiority when reading the tale. The reader cannot take characte...

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...liography

Enright, D.J. Introduction. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. By Samuel Johnson. London: Penguin Group, 1976. p.12,16.

Hill, G.B. Introduction. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. By Samuel Johnson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1887. p.17.

Johnson, Samuel. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. Ed. Enright, D.J. London: Penguin Group,1988. p.43,45,65,103

Johnson, Samuel. "The Rambler No.184." Rpt. in Enright, D.J. Introduction. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia.

By Samuel Johnson. London: Penguin Group, 1976. p.32.

Maurois, Andre. "The Sage of Ferney." Voltaire. New York: D. Appleton & Co, 1932. Rpt. in Candide. Trans. Bair, Lowell.

New York: Bantam Books, 1988. P.6-7.

Voltaire. Candide. Trans. Bair, Lowell. New York: Bantam Books, 1988. p.73,120.
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