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Candide (1759)



Language & Form


Main Issues

Study Questions



François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778)


Published in 1759

Language & Form

French original. Novel. Black Comedy. Satire. Bildungsroman. Written in 1758 in Geneva, Switzerland. Recommended translations: Robert M. Adams


Candide, a naive young man living in the castle of the Baron of Thunder-Ten-Tronckh in Westphalia, gets caught kissing the Baron's daughter, Cunégonde, and is exiled from the castle. Candide embarks on a series of exotic and often horrific adventures which take him around the world in a search for Cunégonde which eventually leads him to enlightenment and wisdom.

Main Issues
Criticism of supposed inevitability of evil, suffering, and vice. Evil shown to be of human doing and solvable by intelligent and purposeful human action. Invitation to activism, rationality, and hard work in the quest for human happiness.
Voltaire satirizes the philosophical optimism of Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, a very popular German philosopher. The novel mocks Leibniz's ideas in the form of Dr. Pangloss's ordeals and his optimistic belief that "everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds."

Vigorous criticisms of religious intolerance and superstition, war and violence, cruelty and greed, social inequalities and economic injustice, bigotry and prejudice, European colonialism/imperialism and nationalistic chauvinism

Study Questions

Why is Candide driven away from the Baron's castle? What is his fault? What is Voltaire satirizing through the issue of Candide's lack of nobility? Why is Cunégonde so attractive to Candide at the beginning of the novel? Are there biblical allusions in the description of Candide's actions and his expulsion from the castle? What might this mean for the rest of the story? Do those allusions occur elsewhere? What does Cunégonde represent at the beginning of the novel? How does Voltaire establish the world of the story in the first chapter? Are there any symbolic elements in those descriptions? What makes possible the good life inside of the castle? What goes on outside of it? Is there anything Candide later learns about the outside world which may explain the leisurely and pleasant life of aristocrats? (Hint: think about Surinam)

Does the novel have political or social significance? What historical period was Voltaire writing in? How might this have affected the ideologies of the novel? Religious issues are taken up several times in the novel; what was Voltaire's attitude toward religion in general? What is the significance of the figure of the preacher whom Candide asks for help in Holland? What does the figure of Jacques the Anabaptist suggest? What is an Anabaptist? What is significant about Jacques's character and actions? Does his death have any special meaning? Why doesn't he come back to life like the rest of the characters who are "killed" in the novel?

What is "determinism?" How does it contrast with the idea of "free will?" What does Voltaire believe in? In which system is reason essential? Either? Both? What does the Enlightenment make of reason? What does Voltaire think of reason?

In chapter 3, what does Voltaire mean when he says "volleys of musket fire removed from the best of worlds about nine or ten thousand rascals" and "the bayonet was a sufficient reason for the demise of several thousand others"? Is this ironic? How does this relate to Leibniz's philosophical optimism? What is Voltaire trying to say? How is the figure of Dr. Pangloss related to that of Leibniz? Who is responsible for the horrors which Candide witnesses in the course of his adventures?

What is an auto-da-fé? What would you guess Voltaire made of such practices? In Chapter 17, Cacambo says that the new world is no better than the old and suggests that he and Candide return to Europe; what is Voltaire trying to say here? What is Candide finding out in the course of his adventures? Who is the real enemy? What is the source of all the evil?

What causes Candide and Cunégonde to be reunited? What causes their separation? Is there an overall pattern of cause-and-effect connected to their separations and reunions? What is necessary before they can be finally together?

In Chapter 16, Candide believes he has saved the lives of two girls; is Candide's belief alone enough to justify his actions? What is Voltaire satirizing in that episode? What does Candide's perception of the girls' lovers as dangerous animals suggest? Do those perceptions correspond to historical attitudes of white Europeans toward others? Is there anything ironic in Candide's gratitude toward the Oreillons's own customs?

How does Eldorado compare to the rest of the world? What is the significance of Eldorado being hidden away and almost completely unreachable? What is the significance of people's attitude toward gold and jewels in Eldorado? What does Candide learn in Eldorado? Why does Candide leave Eldorado? What is his goal? What is happening to Candide? Is he making any kind of progress?

What would you suppose Voltaire thinks about Martin's pessimism? Would he agree? Disagree? What does Lord Pococurante represent? What is Voltaire criticizing in Pococurante's attitudes and opinions?

What are the characters' views at the end of the novel? What has Candide discovered? What about the others? What is the answer to the old woman's question, "is it better to have suffered what we have suffered, or to sit and do nothing?" What does the Old Turk represent? What does he mean when he says "the work keeps me from three great evils...bordeom, vice, and poverty"? What does Candide mean when he says we should "cultivate our gardens"? Is Candide better or worse off at the end of the novel than at the beginning when he lived in a castle?

Why does Candide marry Cunégonde? What is his first reaction when he finally sees her again at the end of the novel? What does that reaction indicate? What did Candide find attractive in her? How has she changed? Is she still attractive? Why or why not? How is her transformation relevant to the values which the story conveys? How is Candide's decision to marry her relevant to those values? Is it significant that their reunion takes place near Constantinople, the traditional gateway between East and West? Why?

How does the novel's use of black comedy contribute to Voltaire's story? Does it help him make his point? What if the novel were not comedic or morbid? What kind of effect would this have on the story? Would it be as effective in conveying its points?

Voltaire wrote Candide toward the end of the Enlightenment. Based on a reading of Candide, what do you think his attitude was regarding the values of the Enlightenment? How did he contribute to the construction or modification of those values? How does Voltaire assess the state of the social and intellectual world around him? Does he have any suggestions for its improvement?


Resources for the Study of Voltaire's Candide: http://humanities.uchicago.edu/homes/VSA/Candide/

Dr. Fajardo-Acosta gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Matthew C. Peckham in the creation of this page.


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