Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Candide, by Voltaire, Chapters XVII - XXIV

Chapters I - VIII
Chapters IX - XVI
This past week, Candide has been an even better experience for me; I felt like I was reading a different book.  Maybe it is because I am simultaneously reading White Noise by Don DeLillo, which also addresses philosophical questions about life and death, reinforcing the ideas in Candide; or maybe it is because I have spent three weeks with Candide, the character, and am finally getting to know him better.  It often takes me longer than usual to understand others.


After an escape with their lives, Candide and Cacambo make their way to Europe.  During their travels, they find themselves in a land of utopia, where no one values gold or gems, everyone is content and innocent, and guests are highly treated.   It must be “the country where all goes well.”  The people worship only one God and have no need for priests or leaders to tell them how to worship; nor do they need courts of law, judges, or prisons. 

Given that the land is rich with gold and gems, and that the people do not need it, the king permits Candide and Cacambo to take what they like.  By the next chapter, however, they lose most of it to misfortune.  Candide says, “You see, my friend, how perishable are the riches of this world.”

Meeting the unfortunate slave
Next, Cacambo and Candide meet a slave who tells his dire tale of woe, and Candide cries, “Oh, Pangloss!  A scandal like this never occurred to you!  But it’s the truth, and I shall have to renounce that optimism of yours in the end. 

Cacambo asks, “What is optimism?”

Candide responds, “It’s the passion for maintaining that all is right when all goes wrong with us.”

With all they had lost and suffered or witnessed of another’s poor situation, Candide became depressed:
The wickedness of man appeared to him in all its ugliness, and his mind became a prey to gloomy thoughts.
Another twist in the philosophical test of ideas is the new character that joins Candide on his travels.  Martin, a scholar, who has his own personal, horrid story, has nothing to hope for.  Candide, still clinging to Pangloss’s philosophy, asks Martin his opinion about evil. Martin believes that the forces of evil created man and is certain that God has abandoned the world to evil. 

However, Candide knows there is some good in the world, but Martin believes that Satan is always one step ahead of God.  Candide wants to believe that man has changed from good to bad, somehow, but Martin argues that man’s evil nature has been the same from the beginning.

Candide inquires if Martin thinks “all is for the best in the physical and moral world,” but Martin refutes that it is the opposite: “…no one knows his place in society...it is perpetual civil war.” 

Candide and Martin
After more adversity is perpetrated on Candide, he still wants to know what Martin thinks of this world, to which he calls it, “…a senseless and detestable piece of work.”

Remember, Candide is just trying to make his way back to Cunégonde, while Martin continues to prove to him that there is little virtue and happiness in the world (except in that impossible land of utopia).

To test this theory, Candide meets a happy couple – a woman (he once knew as a girl) and a monk – and inquires the reason for their happiness; but neither one is truly happy, and in fact they are only faking an appearance of being content together. 

That was enough for Candide.  Martin is correct.  In fact, Martin is sure that even CunĂ©gonde cannot make Candide happy.  Candide asks Martin why he is so pessimistic, and Martin replies that he “knows what life is.” 

By the end of the chapter, the two are off to meet a senator who has never known misery, and Martin is eager to meet this "rare specimen.”

Will they find the answers they need in this search for happiness in this world?

Next week, the final Chapters XXV - XXX


Cleo said...

I'm enjoying this book more as well, although I still feel I'm missing certain allusions that relate to Voltaire's era, such as certain people he was taking pokes at.

I certainly liked Cacambo better than Martin. Martin has made certain parts of the read somewhat flat for me, whereas another character-type would have made them more lively but, that said, I can see that with him that Voltaire is making a point.

Ruth said...

I replied to you on your blog under your latest Candide post, but it did not show up. So basically I said that I felt the same way you did about stopping at chapter 24: anything can happen. I have no idea. This novella can go either way, or a completely new way.

And, yeah, Martin is a real downer. But I like how you point out the extreme opposites of him and Pangloss.