Optimism in Candide
Voltaire's Candide uses anti-heroism as an object of mockery against the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Candide, the hero of the novel travels around the world where he encounters many difficulties. During his travels, he sticks to the teaching of his tutor, Doctor Pangloss, believing that "everything is for the best" (3). Voltaire points out the illogicality of this doctrine, "if Columbus had not caught, on an American island, this sickness which attacks the source of generation [...] we should have neither chocolate or cochineal" (8). The sheer stupidity of these illogical conclusions points out Voltaire's problem with most optimists: the illogical degree to which they would carry their doctrine. Voltaire would argue that noses were not designed for spectacles, but rather spectacles were designed for preexisting noses. Pangloss's interpretation of cause and effect is so ignorant as to be comical. While Candide tells an interesting story, it is more important as a satire. However, this does not prove Voltaire is a pessimist.
During the age of Enlightenment, the philosophes believed that reason could be used to explain everything. The philosophes believed that people could make the world a better place to live in. Voltaire is against such optimism. Ian Bell Says "The 'optimist' argument then, was complex and sophisticated, but like all ironists Voltaire chose to simplify it to the extent that it seemed complacent and absurd, and he went on to cast doubt on our chances of ever securing 'eternal happiness'"(1-2). According to Voltaire true happiness can only be experienced in an unreal world. The multitudes of disasters that Candide endures after leaving Eldorado culminate in his eventual abandonment of optimism. Candide loses four of his sheep laden with priceless jewels due to natural causes, and then sees his two remaining sheep stolen, and the local magistrate indifferent to the theft. "Certainly, [says Candide,] if everything goes well, it is in Eldorado and not in the rest of the world" (42). Candide goes a step further, "Oh Pangloss, cried Candide, you have no notion of these abominations! I'm through, I must give up your optimism after all. What's optimism? said Cacambo. Alas, said Candide, it is a mania for saying things are well when one is in hell" (40). Candide's enthusiastic view of life is contrasted with, and challenged by suffering that he endures throughout the book. Hence, Voltaire uses the book to satirize the foolishness of optimism.