Candide: A Satire on European Hindering Development The Age of Enlightenment is a pivotal part of human history, it helped reshape Europe with its many ideas and those also shaped the United States of America. During this Age of Enlightenment member of society used reasoning to achieve a higher level of understanding of the world, how government should be controlled, and human nature. Voltaire was a French writer (as well as philosopher) who dealt first hand with Enlightenment thinking. He not only wrote his ideas down in the novel Candide, but was also exiled from his own country because of his ideas.
Voltaire uses Candide as a satire against the prominent things that hold Europe back from growing like the corruption of Christianity, the excessively harsh punishments inflicted upon members of society and the lack of freedom of expression by the government. It is safe to say that Voltaire is critical of organized religion as corrupt and that European countries use religion as a power tool against its people. While in Eldorado Candide makes a remark, “What! You have no monks instructing and disputing, and governing and intriguing, and having everyone burned alive who is not of their opinion? ” (Candide, p. 7), which clearly states how Voltaire feels about organized religion. He feels that religion is put in place and those who do not accept the “right” way of believe are to be put to death. A key theme of Enlightenment thinking is the belief in the essential goodness of human nature and Voltaire is critical of the fact that while Christianity preaches kindness and love they seem to be hypocritical of themselves because all they do is treat other human beings terribly like when the Grand Inquisitor was buried beautifully in a church but the Jewish man “was thrown on to the town refuse heap” (Candide, p. 3) because he didn’t have the same beliefs as the Church. He is continuously making remarks about how corrupt the idea of organized religion is but also about the people within the religion and how they are corrupt as well and not morally right. He makes light of popes having children like how the old woman in Candide is the daughter of Pope Urban X (Candide, p. 25) who is the leader of the Catholic Church and shouldn’t be having children since religious officials take a vow of celibacy. He also mentions Brother Girofleo who is in the company of a prostitute and has been for quite sometime as that is how she makes her living (Candide, p. 1). It seems that Voltaire is almost preaching the idea of freedom of religion, like that in Eldorado. In Eldorado there is no religion, a set of beliefs to follow, or religious officials there to tell people what to believe. He is making the point that the imposition of religion is not needed at all and by doing so European Christians are keeping themselves further and further away from this Eldorodean utopia. Even though religious intolerance is a large part of the novel Candide, a repeated apparent theme is also that of excessive harsh punishment.
One would be hard pressed to count the number of times any individual is punished in Candide, which is obviously the joke Voltaire is trying to make. He believes that in European society punishment is given frequently and oftentimes it does not fit the crime at hand. Candide finds himself in this position many times, within his own family, while in the army and also as a bystander. The Baron von Thunder-ten-tronckh “chased Candide out of the castle with great kicks to his backside” (Candide, p. 5) for kissing his daughter while he was still only a young boy.
Candide also received a severe beating from his comrades in the army simply because he was talking a walk, which “was a privilege of the human as of the animal species to use its legs as it pleases” (Candide, p. 6-7). Finally, Candide “was flogged in cadence to the singing” (Candide, p. 16) because he was agreeing with what Pangloss was saying (Candide, p. 16) while in Lisbon and that was only 16 pages into the novel! The repeated examples of punishment not fitting the crime were something Voltaire was critical of and had his own experience with when being exiled out of his own country.
He continued to use these satirical examples to show an important aspect of the government was being dealt with badly. Voltaire believed if this obstacle that the government (and ultimately the people) faced wasn’t dealt with correctly and in a timely fashion is would delay the progress of the European government and people. One of the most infamous characters and idea transcribed throughout the novel are those of Pangloss, who continuously advocates that “everything is necessarily for the best of ends” (Candide, p. 4).
A large idea present in Enlightenment thinking was the freedom of will and expression, which Pangloss was obviously a character for, even though he was continuously abused because of it. Our own government is based on Enlightenment thinking of free will and the pursuit of happiness. Candide, in the beginning and mostly throughout the novel, idolizes Pangloss, wishes he was with him, and gives examples of what he would say if he were with Candide. However, towards the end of the novel it seems that Candide abandons the ideas of Pangloss when he realizes what the “three great evils” (boredom, vice, and necessity) (Candide, p. 2) are in the world after encountering the old Turkish man. Voltaire seems to be making the point that it is better to fill one’s life with work so that there is no time to philosophize with each other (necessity) and that we all must cultivate our own garden. One can argue that Voltaire believes freedom of will is necessary for society to evolve and grow and that thinking is good but we still need to be able to get our own work done. Voltaire clearly established all that he sees wrong with European government and ultimately society in his satire Candide.
He pokes fun at the corruption of Christianity and the sometimes unnecessary punishments inflicted upon humans for small crimes. He also mentions that although free human expression is necessary for a group or society to grow and blossom it is not always met with open arms and must sometimes be quieted in order to live a happy life. Candide was clearly written to point out all that Voltaire thought was wrong with the way Europe was living its day to day life and is now a classic in Enlightenment literature.