English 233:  Introduction to Western Humanities - Baroque & Enlightenment

Study Guide to
Voltaire's Candide

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Here are some things to pay attention to as you review Candide.  (Incidentally, don't overlook the notes that are provided beginning on p. 91 of our text [Dover Thrift Edition].  These are often essential for clarifying points that readers today would have no way of knowing on their own.)

How does Voltaire design the opening chapter to be recognized as a parody of the Biblical story of the Fall?  (Why would Voltaire be doing this?)

What attitude towards princes and established religions does Voltaire evince in his treatment of the war between the Abares and the Bulgarians (Chapters 2-3)?

What are we supposed to notice about the Anabaptist James (who appears in Chapters 3-5)?  What do you think is Voltaire's point in including him in the story?

When Candide meets up with his old tutor Pangloss, the latter is in a pitiable condition.  How does he explain the cause of his woes in the light of his principles of philosophical optimism?  What are we to think of this?

What were the circumstances of the Lisbon earthquake of 1749, and what trauma did it pose for both orthodox Christian theology and philosophical optimism?  (What features are in common between the two outlooks, that you infer that Voltaire is hostile to?)

How does Candide come to be reunited with Cunegonde?

Why does Candide have to skidaddle from Lisbon?  What kind of advice does he get from the Old Woman?  (How does her use of Reason differ from that of Pangloss, who is absent?)

What kind of reasoning do the travelers engage in during the voyage from Cadiz to Argentina and Paraguay (Chapter 10)?

What are the main themes of the history of the Old Woman (Chapters 11 and 12)?  What does this catalogue of disasters have to do with the overall theme of Candide?  What attitude does the Old Woman adopt towards what has happened to her?  What counsel does she give her companions on the basis of her experience?  What does Candide (Chapter 13) think the old woman's history means for the theories of Pangloss?

What kind of fellow is the Governor of Buenos Aires?  What is Voltaire's point in giving him the name that he does?  What is the Old Woman's advice to Cunegonde?

What kind of a fellow is Cacambo?  How is he similar to the Old Woman?  How is he different?  What advice does he give his master Candide?

What are the outstanding features of the "Jesuit kingdom" Candide and Cacambo visit in Paraguay(Chapters 14-15)?  Why is Voltaire so hostile to this community?) (If you have seen the film The Mission, you will be struck by the divergence of evaluations!)

In the third paragraph of Chapter 16 we read of Candide that "[w]hile he was thus lamenting his fate, he went on eating." What is Voltaire nudging us to notice here?  Does this remind you of a point of view we've heard expressed earlier in the story?  Does it come up elsewhere later on as well?

What mistake does Candide make in rescuing the girls from the monkeys that are chasing them?  What is the point of this episode?

How is it that the pair doesn't end up on a spit, and being eaten by the Oreillons (the "Big-Ears")?  What's the fun Voltaire is having with the idea of "natural reason" (the quality of intellect common to the species)?

Concerning the visit to El Dorado (Chapter 18):

How do the despairing pair get there?

What mistakes of interpretation do they make during their first encounter with the natives?  What assumptions are these mistakes meant to throw into relief?  Why does Voltaire want the reader to reflect on these?

What are the important points of the history of El Dorado that are conveyed by the old sage?

What is striking about the religion of El Dorado? 

What is striking about the reception Candide and Cacambo receive from the King of El Dorado?  (What is this meant to get us to question concerning European monarchs?  Why are the latter the way they are?  What "necessities" drive them to it?)

If Voltaire thinks that reason is a property of the human race as a species, how do you think he would account for the fact that what passes for "reasonable" and "required by reason" differs so strikingly in Europe from what it is in El Dorado?

What is the focus of intellectual life in El Dorado?  (How does Voltaire's estimation of the value of astronomy and other sciences differ from Swift's?  Why do you think that is?)

What essential features of European civilization are absent from El Dorado? 

Why does Candide resolve to leave El Dorado?  (There are two factors, one more profound for assessing the social facts that are taken for granted as natural in Europe.)

What point is Voltaire making in the encounter Cacambo and Candide have with the Negro they find on the way in to Dutch Surinam?

How does Vandurdendur acquaint us with another dimension of "prudence" from the one we have come to associate with Cacambo and the Old Woman?

How does Candide come to take on the company of Martin?

How does Martin define his own philosophical perspective?  (What does he mean by describing himself as a Manichean?)

Chapter 21 is worth at least a cursory look.

Consider Candide's speculative questions in natural and moral philosophy, and Martin's replies to them.  What do we learn about each character's inclinations from the questions and answers concerning

In Chapter 22, Candide and Martin encounter a scholar at the dinner hosted by the Marchiness of Parolignac.  What is Voltaire up to in designing this conversation?

What is the hoax played by the Abbé?  How do the pair escape?

How does Martin's view of England compare to his view of France?

Why is Candide inconsolably depressed upon their arrival in Venice?  (Would one expect consolation out of Martin?!?)

What do we learn from the stories of Paquette (on the life of a prostitute) and Friar Giroflée (on religious faith)? 

The visit to Senator Pococurante is an important episode.

How is his name fitting? 

Recall Pococurante later on when you encounter the Old Turk.  How do they exhibit different sorts of "indifference," with radically different sorts of implications for happiness?

How is one wise, the other foolish?

How does the theme of indifference arise in the picture the Dervish conveys through his little capsule parable of "his highness" (the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire) and the mice on board the ship?

What do Candide and Martin learn at the dinner with the 6 strangers at the public inn in Venice (Chapter 26)?

Who turns up, in what circumstances?  What is familiar, in the tale we've become acquainted with, about the kind of story behind this surprise reappearance?

What is Martin's view of the sufferings of the 6?  (Cf. Chapter 27, p. 78.) Who has the most convincing case - Martin or Candide?

How does everyone in the little society come to be all gathered together at the end?

What are the themes of the Baron's story?

What are the themes of Pangloss' story?  What are we to think of the explanation he gives of his refusal to recant?

What surprise is in store for Candide with Cunegonde?

What is the Baron's response to Cunegonde's demand, and Candide's response to the Baron?

The great reversal occurs in the highly compact, and radiantly significant concluding chapter.

I.  The little farm's miserable beginning (pp. 84-5)? 

What question does the Old Woman pose that stumps them all?

[In the light of how things eventually turn out, what is the diagnosis of the root of the problem?]

What is the effect on their philosophical reflections of the arrival of Paquette and Friar Giroflée?

II.  The visit to the Dervish.

How does the Dervish's initial reply undercut the assumption of Pangloss's opening question?

How does the sequel explain the rationale of the rejection of that apparently eminently sensible assumption?

What is the significance of the Sultan's attitude towards the mice in the hold of the ship?  (What is the Sultan presumably concerned about?)

How is this a radical rejection of a fundamental postulate of the Judeo-Christian picture of the meaning of history?  (Where did we find that picture articulated?)

Now turn the perspective around:  what do we notice if we ask what the attitude is of the mice towards the Sultan?  (What are they presumably concerned about?  Is this appropriate - sensical - under the circumstances?)

What is the implicit advice in this parable for mankind?

What would Luther think of this?  Calvin?  the participants in the Council of Trent?  Pope Urban VIII?  Swift?  (even Pelagius?)

How does Pangloss' reply indicate that he hasn't heard what the Dervish has been saying?

How does the Dervish's answer to Pangloss' question speak to what is (wrong with) Pangloss?  (Remember what his name means:  pan = "all," gloss = "tongue," and derivatively "word.")

What is "Pangloss" about Pangloss' final protest?

How does the Dervish's final gesture, in response to Pangloss' exasperation, execute his advice from his own side?

III.  The news from Constantinople:

How is this a translation (application) to the secular plane of precisely the categories at stake in the conversation with the Dervish, on a cosmic plane?

What is "Pangloss" about Pangloss' response?  How has he still not heard the Dervish's lesson?  (You should notice some similarity here between the sources of comedy with Pangloss and part of the fun Molière has with Madame Pernelle in the opening scene of Tartuffe.)

IV.  The visit with the Old Turk and his household:

How is the Old Turk implicitly acting, with respect to the political powers that be, in accordance with the Dervish's advice to the little group of inquirers?

What is the secret of the happiness of their household?

Do you see any connections with the conditions of "contentment" (in the "containment" of one's desires) that we were led to consider in connection with the El Dorado episode?

How does what the Old Turk say clarify the predicament of Pococurante?

V.  The "new order" at the little farm:

Can you see how what the group accomplishes is a kind of "mutualist commune"?

What is the attitude here towards the idea of "private property"?

Is this necessarily a "drop-out" attitude towards the world?  Or could one's "garden" include (say) a much larger social unit?

Keep in mind that Voltaire was very active in the campaign for political justice and against religious fanaticism in France.

Can you see how this ending amounts to an endorsement of a humble version of the Baconian project?

Can you see how one might describe Voltaire's position as a kind of secular Pelagianism?

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   This page last updated 06 October 1998.