Candide

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Candide Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Once they are out of Paraguay, Cacambo and Candide deliberate on where to go next. They decide to head to the city Cayenne, and then back to Europe. The journey is hard: their horses die of starvation, and they are left to eat only coconuts and wild fruit. One day, they find a canoe at the edge of a river. Thinking that it might lead to civilization, they board it and float downstream for more than a day, passing through caves and, eventually, losing their canoe on the rocks.
Here, Candide reaches the bottom of the ladder of “civilization” that he has been descending throughout the novel. Having started in neat, peaceful Westphalia, he has ended up living in the wild with Cacambo, totally without resources. Only after this return to nature, having left behind the evils of human civilization, do Candide and Cacambo make it to El Dorado, the perfect place. Contemporary philosophers of Voltaire, such as Rousseau, believed that the “state of nature,”—a hypothetical time before civilization—was better than modern life.
Themes
The Enlightenment and Social Criticism Theme Icon
Pulling themselves along the rocks to the end of the stream, Candide and Cacambo find themselves in a large plain enclosed by inaccessible mountains. They come upon a village and see children playing with gold and precious stones, under the supervision of a schoolmaster. When the children walk away from their game, they leave the stones behind. Candide tries to return them to the schoolmaster, who simply smiles and flings them on the ground. Candide and Cacambo are shocked by the disregard these people pay to valuable things.
A lack of concern over money and valuables (like the schoolmaster's), and a remote and inaccessible location were both considered, in Voltaire's time, to be necessary aspects of a “utopia,” or perfect society. The word “utopia,” was coined by Sir Thomas More in his book of the same name, and could be translated as both “no place” and “good place.”
Themes
The Enlightenment and Social Criticism Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
Cacambo leads Candide into an inn. There, the two converse with the guests and the landlord. Before leaving, they attempt to pay for their meal and drinks with the precious stones they have gathered that the children had thrown on the ground. The landlord laughs, and explains that in this country, most things are paid for by the government. Candide concludes that he has at last arrived at the country “where everything goes well.”
In almost every other place Candide has looked for hospitality, he has been tricked or robbed: by the Bulgarians at the inn in Germany, by the friar at the inn in Spain, and by Don Fernando in Buenos Aires. For the first time, there seems to be no “catch,” and so, for this and other reasons, Candide concludes that El Dorado must be the best of all possible worlds that Pangloss spoke about.
Themes
Optimism and Disillusion Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon