Voltaire 's Candide As A Young Man On A Quest For Happiness And Spiritual Fulfillment

Voltaire 's Candide As A Young Man On A Quest For Happiness And Spiritual Fulfillment

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Autobiographer, essayist, playwright, poet, satirist, Enlightenment writer and philosopher – these are just a few of the hats worn by French born François-Marie Arouet, more famously known by the adopted pen name Voltaire. Beyond his written work Voltaire was an outspoken advocate for the freedom of religion, expression, and the separation of church and state. He used his versatile literary work as a tool to criticize the Catholic Church and overall intolerant French society. Voltaire’s cynical writing reached its highest potential in his rapid-fire satire Candide, or Optimism. In the novella, Voltaire told the story of Candide – a young man on a quest for happiness and spiritual fulfillment who encountered tragic setbacks that eventually led to bitter disillusionment. The purpose of Candide was to mock philosophers of the Enlightenment, but a deeper reading revealed multiple layers that criticized eighteenth century society – the most obvious being the mistreatment of women. Cunegonde and the Old Woman are the only two notable female characters in Candide. They both suffer through sexual exploitation regardless of their class or economic status. They are simple, static characters that serve no real importance in the story. Through his one-dimensional characterization of Cunegonde and the Old Woman, Voltaire challenged sexist beliefs in order to unmask true evils of the world that optimism could not see past.
Voltaire’s first attack on female inferiority came in the form of Cunegonde, a less than traditional romantic heroine. Cunegonde was the daughter of the German Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh with whom Candide lived. Her name itself is sexually suggestive being a pun on the French and Latin word for female genitals. She was nothing...


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...its emphasis on reason, analysis, and individual freedom. Voltaire personified that new way of thinking and exercised those ideals in Candide. Above his commentary on philosophy, religion, economics, and war, were his forthright declarations about the injustices forced upon eighteenth century women. Women were oppressed by misogynistic men that who claimed ownership over their bodies. They were sexually exploited in a world where a woman’s virtue was all that made her worthy. They were kept hidden in the private sphere of the home either as a wife or servant. Their survival was totally dependent on men. They were victims of war and sold as livestock. Voltaire, even if he did not believe that women were as precious as men, saw the cruelty in those practices and purposefully wrote two distinctly different female characters in Candide to illuminate their sexist reality.

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