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Making Fun of Idle Thinkers

The novel Candide, written by Voltaire, is a satirical book which pokes fun at the optimistic philosophy of the 17th century philosopher Leibniz. The character Pangloss preaches the philosophy of Leibniz, who famously stated that this world is “the best of all possible worlds”. Pangloss is the teacher of the main character Candide, who is a good natured, honest and pure young man who follows the teachings of his teacher. Throughout the book though terrible things happen to Candide and those around him: disease, slavery, being shipwrecked, earthquakes, torture, execution, and other horrible misfortunes. Yet Candide and his teacher Pangloss continue to hold on to their optimistic beliefs. At first it’s quite comical, but after a while you begin asking yourself when will they realize just how terrible the world is?.

 

The story of Candide starts off with him being caught kissing his cousin Cunegonde, who he proclaims he loves, by her father the Barron. Candide who is pure hearted, naïve, and overly optimistic is banished from his home, and is thrown into the real world. This is where his series of misfortunes begin. The novel not only centers around the ridiculing of 17th century philosophy, but it also tells of the human desire which can never fully be quenched. Candide travels the world chasing Cunegonde, and at the same time wishes to amass wealth so he may gain respect and be eligible to marry her. At one point, his journey takes him to the city of El Dorado, a place where the citizens treat gold and precious stones as pebbles. Candide finds the city of El Dorado to be the perfect place where everyone is happy, a Utopia that only exists because it isolates itself from the outside world. Even though Candide is happy in El Dorado, the idea of bringing its riches with him into the outside world, and becoming a wealthy man excites him even more. Even in a perfect Utopia his desires still drive him to leave and seek out wealth, and status in the outside world, a world which has given him nothing but misfortune. At the end of the novel Candide is reunited with Cunegonde only to find her to be haggard. He realizes then that he truly did not love her, but had only lusted for her. In the end he decides to settle being with her, and chooses to be content with what he has. Nothing more, nothing less.

This novel not only ridicules the foolish philosophies of the idle thinkers of Voltaire’s time, but it also points out the never ever ending desire of man. At the end Candide chooses to live a simple life farming with his comrades, everyone is kept busy by their tasks, and thus unable to ponder about life or any philosophies concerning it. Voltaire at the end conveys the notion that maybe we should be content with the lives we have. That idle hands will lead us to desires and thoughts that will only cause misfortune.

-Gabrielle O’Connor

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