“Religion, Politics and Morals”
How did Voltaire exploit the pre-modern era through mockery and criticism of 18th century society?
Voltaire’s Candide can be understood in several ways by its audience. At a first glance it would appear to be simply a story blessed with outrageous creativity, but if you look deeper in to the novel, a more complicated and meaningful message is buried within. Voltaire uses the adventures of Candide as a representation of what he personally feels is wrong within in society. Written in the 18th century (1759), known commonly as the age of enlightenment, Voltaire forces his audience to consider the shift from tradition to freedom within society. He achieves this by exploring the reality of human suffering due to traditions which he mocks throughout Candide. In particular he focused on exploiting the corruption he felt was strongly and wrongfully present within three main aspects of society these being religion, politics and morals. Each chapter represents different ways in which Voltaire believes corruption exists providing the audience with the reality of society’s problems due to its fixation on tradition. As a philosopher of the Enlightenment, Voltaire advocated for freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the separation between church and state. Voltaire successfully presents these ideas within Candide by highlighting why they are a significant problem in 18th century Europe.
Each chapter of Candide is a part of the story which Voltaire carefully expresses his concerns and criticism of 18th century society. Chapter 11 “The History of the old women” in particular criticises the pre-modern era in regards to religion. The enlightenment period called for freedom of religion from many philosophers ...
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...where he saw a gallery two thousand feet long, filled with the various apparatus in mathematics and natural philosophy.” (Candide, Chapter 18). This shows how Voltaire as enlightenment philosopher believed a movement needed to be made away from tradition and towards science for society to progress and all that is wrong can be corrected. El Dorado possesses aspects of a society Voltaire would like to see in the near future.
Overall Voltaire is successful in promoting his ideas and beliefs. It is clear he wants to see a drastic change in religion, politics and morals in the pre-modern period. Throughout his novel Candide he is able to criticise society with a light hearted mockery but also with a seriousness using extreme examples to address his points and concerns. It is arguable that his ambitions were far too high at a time of hope and debate in the 18th century.
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