Literature/Candide

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Question
Hi my name is Alyssa and I am writing an essay on the story Candide by François Marie, if you have read this story I would like to hear about your thoughts or comment on it.

Thank you.

Answer
Hello Alyssa,

Ah, you mean Voltaire's Candide (his birth-name being François-Marie Arouet)? Well, this is one of the greatest classics of European literature. Many books can be written about its themes and ideas. An essay can only mention a few things, and your task is to write about what you find interesting about the story. What are your own thoughts about it? Does it seem to have any special meanings to you?

If you can relate some of its themes to some of your own observations or experiences, then you will have fulfilled your task. The assignment is about which thoughts the story evokes in your mind; your essay is probably intended by your teacher as an exercise in showing that you can think independently.

But it is also a difficult story to analyze. The main moral or message of the story can undoubtedly be found in Candide's and Pangloss' final statements. Pangloss is an incurable optimist, even to the extent of believing that everything happens for the best, and we live in the best of all possible worlds. This can be interpreted to mean several things. When you think about the concept of "optimism", it can be found in at least two quite different forms.

First, you can be an optimist even if you don't think the world is perfect. Because you might have faith (as I do) in the goodness of human nature, and in the progressive hope that we will one day solve the problems of the world.

Second, however, you can also be the kind of optimist (as Pangloss is) who believes that things are neither too conservative nor too progressive; that the world is neither too evil nor too good, but simply exactly as it should be. The best of all possible worlds. The typical person who believes this is the political centrist, who is neither right-wing nor left-wing but right in the middle. He believes that nothing is worth changing, because everything is fine the way it is. This is much like a fatalist; someone who believes that everything is fated to happen in one particular and unchangeable way. Such people will often support their own ruling establishment rather than be critical of it. Perhaps they have even adopted such an attitude in order to be an apologist for the established system of rule, in order to make certain that they will never be pursued or oppressed by the system. Other words for such people, who just praise the ruling system no matter how oppressive it might be, are sycophants, lackeys and flatterers. This was probably Voltaire's opinion of Leibniz, the philosopher on whom Pangloss is based. Voltaire felt that you *should* be critical of everything, and you should speak truth to power, never accepting an oppressive or in other ways unjust system of rule.

Now, Candide's final statement, "We must cultivate our garden", can also be interpreted in different ways. You could relate the idea of a simple life in proximity to nature to Henry David Thoreau's book "Walden", as it expresses a seemingly similar sentiment. Candide is inspired by the Turkish family who just leads a simple farm life, but the conclusion he draws might as well be an analogy or allegory for some larger concern about taking care of our environment in general. A human being is a social creature who exists in a human civilization (as well as a natural environment), and humanity collectively spends a lot of time shaping culture and nature to fit our own needs and notions. We use resources, we construct huge buildings, we trade things and we engage in social configurations of all sorts; some beneficial, some corrupt. To say that we must cultivate our gardens could mean that we must bring our affairs in order. All of our affairs: everything we do should be done with the proper care and conscience. We should cultivate culture as well as nature, because the entire world is humanity's garden. Well-cultivated, a garden can become an Eden. A paradise. This is what Candide is most likely saying, in the final analysis: We must take care of the world, and of society, until we can make it a paradise.

Those are the most immediate thoughts that came into my mind when I read your question. I hope these comments were of use to you.

Good luck with your essay,
- Tue Sorensen

Literature

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Tue Sorensen

Expertise

I am an authority on the complete works of Shakespeare, and can answer any questions relating to his plays, poetry and life. I specialize in interpretation, double-meanings and translation into modern language.

Experience

I was a top-rated Allexperts expert on this same subject several years ago.

Organizations
Former member of the Danish Shakespeare Society, as well as an active participant in the scholarly SHAKSPER mailing list.

Education/Credentials
Three years of studying English literature at the University of Aarhus, Denmark

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