The (Failed) Pursuit of Happiness

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Candide by French novelist Voltaire, a master of literary satire, portrays a young man by the name of Candide who goes from a lavish, sheltered lifestyle to the real world and experiences all the hardships life has to offer. Through the story, the title character tries to acquire money and get back to his girl because he believes that is the key to his eternal happiness. He’s searching for what could make him happy but nothing seems to be the answer. Candide has many important themes such as the folly of optimism, the uselessness of philosophical speculation, and the hypocritical nature of religions. While each theme helps develop the plotline and no one is more important than the others, the principal reoccurring theme I observed was the human desire to seek and obtain happiness and how often that fails catastrophically. At the beginning of the story, Candide lives in “the most beautiful and agreeable of all possible castles” (17) with baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, the baroness, their son, and their daughter, “Cunegonde, aged seventeen, . . . rosy-cheeked, fresh, plump, and alluring” (15). His tutor there, Pangloss, preaches the philosophy of optimism and that everything happens for a reason. Life at the castle is easy. They have plenty of servants and food all year round, but Candide wasn’t quite happy. Something was missing from his life and that thing was Lady Cunegonde, “for he found Lady Cunegonde extremely beautiful, although he was never bold enough to tell her so” (16). Candide is infatuated with the fair Cunegonde and believes it be one of the world’s greatest fortunes to get to see her every day. However, the object of his affections is removed from his reach when he tries to make a move but is caught by the baron. The bar... ... middle of paper ... ... flop. Time and time again, Candide has tried to regain what little contentment he had with his previous life and build upon it. Sadly, he fails utterly and miserably when taking a direct approach. In the final chapter, the main characters seek the advice of a wise dervish how tells them that it is not good to poke and pry, just let it be. “At these words the dervish slammed the door in their faces” (111). Pangloss tries to ponder the meaning of this, but Candide, fed up with up the repeated failures he endured throughout the story, simple responds, “That is very well put, but we must go and work our garden” (113). It is implied that the hard work leaves no time to question matters of the universe and, in turn, everyone will be happier. This final chapter perfectly sums up the theme of the novel, searching for happiness will ultimately lead to more discontentment.

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