Voltaire is correct in Candide, where he argues that life on earth is hell in many ways. Voltaire accurately describes how selfish people often are and how they inflict misery on others as a result. Voltaire also describes accurately common forms of cruelty in society. Although he may be mistaken that all wars are equally senseless and avoidable, Voltaire is correct in showing that war inevitably produces atrocities, which makes for hell on earth.
In support of these statements, let's examine Voltaire's accurate description of human selfishness. An example would be the behavior of the sailor who Pangloss and Candide met on their voyage to Lisbon. This sailor was rescued from drowning by Jacques the Anabaptist. Yet when Jacques fell into the sea himself, the sailor refused to risk his own life to save him. As a result of this selfishness, Jacques died. Later on, when the sailor reached shore, he ignored the sufferings of people horribly injured by a recent earthquake. Instead the sailor took money from them in order to get drunk and hire a prostitute. This sailor was wholly self-centered and uncaring about anyone else and by not helping anybody out he in effect inflicted misery on them. When the terrorists destroyed the World Trade Centers, and many police and firemen were killed, many people received money for relatives that did not die, and used the money for gambling, booze and whores. Human nature in this regard has not changed since the book was written. This being so, Voltaire's description of how human selfishness can often turn life on earth into a hell is accurate.
Voltaire's depiction of how common cruelty is in society is also well supported. For example, Voltaire describes how Candide en...
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... again as an example, there were many instances of people who risked their own lives to save others and as a result received citations and promotions as well as the admiration of their family and friends. This objection to my argument, however, does not take an important thrust of Candide into account. That is, that Voltaire felt that he had to use exaggeration and one-sided presentation to make sure his audience did not refuse to contemplate deeply just how much cruelty and selfishness exists at all times all around them and how much people suffer because of that.
Works Cited and Consulted:
Frautschi, R.L. Barron's Simplified Approach to Voltaire: Candide. New York: Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1998.
Lowers, James K, ed. "Cliff Notes on Voltaire's Candide". Lincoln: Cliff Notes, Inc. 1995.
Voltaire. Candide. New York: Viking Publishers, 1976.
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