Voltaire’s Use of Satire in Candide

Table of Content

Voltaire portrays an image of human suffering and cruelty in our world. He criticizes the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz’s optimism theory in the novel Candide. Candide was written by Voltaire and translated by John Butt in 1950. “Each particular contingent fact in the world has an explanation” (“God in Leibniz’s Theory” 1). In the novel, Candide’s teacher Pangloss believes that we live in “the best of all possible worlds. ” This novel was written during the period of the Enlightenment. This era was a time of ideas about science and philosophy.

The doctrine, “The Divine Right of Kings” and “The Social Contract” were written during this time. A major catastrophe occurred during the Enlightenment that shaped Voltaire’s attitude towards optimism. The Lisbon earthquake occurred on November 1, 1755. Fires from cooking and candles broke out after the quake as well as a Tsunami. Voltaire uses this earthquake as an event in the novel. Voltaire also uses his own experiences to relate himself to the character of Candide, as he was also exiled for his own ideas.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

Candide is a criticism of philosophy, religion, and politics. Throughout the novel, it’s evident that Voltaire took aim to target the flaws in Leibniz’s theory by criticizing optimism, organized religion, violence and war through the use of satire. As Candide travels on his journeys across South America, Voltaire uses specific events occur that make Candide criticize and question Pangloss’s theory about optimism. Leibniz’s principle of the best, explains that there is an explanation for every fact and an answer to every question.

() Voltaire created Dr. Pangloss, Candide’s teacher who believes we live in the “best of all possible worlds. ” Even when the horrendous earthquake occurs and kills 30,000 people, or when he gets the disease syphilis; it is all for the best. He says, “the disease was a necessity in this ‘the best of all possible worlds’, for it was brought to Europe by Columbus’ men, who also brought chocolate and cochineal, two greater goods that well offset any negative effects of the disease,'” (Voltaire 17).

Though Candide follows his teacher’s theory temporarily, his mind set starts to change when he experiences cruel circumstances, which effect him and other characters in the book with no explanation as to why they happened. For example, Candide and Cacambo meet a Negro slave on the road who has suffered unspeakable abuse. When the slave explains his tale, Candide can’t understand how something so unbearable could happen for the best. “Oh, Pangloss… ’A scandal like this never occurred to you! ’ ” (Voltaire 86).

This is proving Voltaire’s criticism of this theory by picking such a horrendous and sad story to prove that Leibniz’s principle has flaws. Voltaire satirizes organized religion with the use of religious figures in the novel. He criticizes religion by showing examples of corrupt leaders such as the Pope, and the Jesuit Baron. Voltaire is clearly against the Catholic Church and mocks the Christian faith as well as the Jews, and Muslims. The Catholic Church was corrupt and ridiculous (Candido; Voltaire” 2). After Candide was flogged, The Old Woman took care of him and nursed him back to health.

As they exchange stories she explains, “I am the daughter of Pope Urban X and the Princess of Palestrina. ” (Voltaire 29). This shows the lack of celibacy of a church member-a Priest. Instead, he had a daughter who wore dresses that were “worth more than all the magnificence of Westphalia. ” (Voltaire 49). James the Anabaptist is a kind character in the novel. During the 18th century Anabaptists were viciously persecuted because of their belief in rebaptism as an adult. (Anabaptism and Anabaptists 7). James reflects this because he was so kind to Candide when he had no where to go.

James also he saved a solider from drowning, which is significant because they were persecuted by drowning. Voltaire mocks and shows the ridiculousness of the Catholic Church through James and his beliefs. Voltaire expresses the horrors of violence, and the evilness of war throughout the novel. He uses the wickedness of the Bulgars to show his satire of war. For example, the Bulgars terrorize an Arabian village by burning it leaving civilians dead and butchered. The Bulgars also recruit him as a solider, but then is captured.

He has a choice of being shot twelve times, or running the gaunlet. This just proves how evil they are; they don’t only kill people but they torture them. He satirizes violence in the novel by portraying the exploitation of women. Almost all the women in the novel have been raped, and some have been murdered. For example, The Old Woman was captured and raped by pirates. After she was sold to Morocco, an Italian eunuch attempts to rape her. “Just imagine the situation of a Pope’s daughter… suffered poverty and slavery…. seen her mother quartered…

plague in Algiers. ” (Voltaire 55). Another example would be Paquette who was forced to become a prostitute to support herself. When Martin and Candide see her and the monk walking together, he later finds out that he is merely a client. “These women understand that in the 1800s they had very little power; only through men may they exert any influence” (“The Position of Women In Voltaire’s Candide” 5). The men were clearly very powerful during this time period and Voltaire shows that by the exploitation and cruelty of man towards women,

Cite this page

Voltaire’s Use of Satire in Candide. (2016, Aug 27). Retrieved from


Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront