Candide

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Themes and Colors
Optimism and Disillusion Theme Icon
The Enlightenment and Social Criticism Theme Icon
Religion and Philosophy vs. The World Theme Icon
Love and Women Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Candide, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Optimism and Disillusion Theme Icon

Candide pits the optimistic doctrine of Pangloss—that we live in the “best of all possible worlds”—against the long and senseless series of misfortunes endured by Candide and the other characters. Candide begins the novel as a faithful student of Pangloss, but painful experience prompts him to reconsider his views. Candide's disillusionment is gradual. As he sees more of life and the world, he becomes less and less convinced that suffering and evil exist as part of a larger divine harmony. By the end, Candide comes to know that good is not always rewarded with good, that the New World is as filled with war and religious confusion as the Old, and that the best of intentions are no protection against the worst of outcomes. Even so, Candide suggests that the struggle of human life—an endless cycle of optimism and disillusionment—might in fact be preferable to a static faith in the “best of all possible worlds. As Pangloss concludes at the novel's conclusion, “man is not born to be idle.”

The disillusionment of Candide mirrors that of many Europeans in Voltaire's era. Scientific discoveries and natural disasters—especially the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755—made many people begin to doubt the existence of an all-powerful and infinitely good God: if there were such a God, why would he let such awful things happen? The branch of philosophy which tried to respond to this question was called theodicy, and its most famous proponent was Gottfried Leibniz, the historically real philosopher and mathematician on whose teachings those of Pangloss are modeled. Leibniz argued that evil existed because it was necessary to bring about an ultimate good, as part of a “pre-established harmony,” created by God.

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Optimism and Disillusion Quotes in Candide

Below you will find the important quotes in Candide related to the theme of Optimism and Disillusion.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“It is demonstrable," said he, "that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end. Observe, that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles—thus we have spectacles. Legs are visibly designed for stockings—and we have stockings. Stones were made to be hewn, and to construct castles—therefore my lord has a magnificent castle; for the greatest baron in the province ought to be the best lodged. Pigs were made to be eaten—therefore we eat pork all the year round. Consequently they who assert that all is well have said a foolish thing, they should have said all is for the best.”

Related Characters: Pangloss (speaker)
Page Number: 1-2
Explanation and Analysis:

In the opening pages of the novel, we're introduced to two of its main characters: Professor Pangloss and his pupil Candide. Candide is a classic "blank slate" narrator: he just soaks up information and experience. Here, for example, he learns from his professor that the world consists of everything that is the case; furthermore, the fact that everything in the world "fits together" (like a nose and spectacles) and was presumably created by a just God proves that the world is the best it can possibly be. Every event has a cause, and the ultimate result of any event must be happy in the end. In short, Pangloss believes that everything happens "for the best."

The passage is, needless to say, illogical and backwards, a parody of the optimism of Voltaire's contemporaries. Voltaire satirizes the famous "argument from design"--the idea that the world "fits together" and therefore must have been made by a benevolent God. But the examples that Voltaire puts in Pangloss's mouth prove that he doesn't take the argument from design very seriously: we all know that the nose wasn't formed to bear spectacles; it's the other way around. Humans haven't been given their place in the universe; rather, they've actively manipulated their environments to produce a comfortable world to live in (just as humans invented spectacles to fit on the nose).

The passage is a satire of religion and religious optimism in all its forms. There were many religious fanatics in Voltaire's lifetime who believed that everything was a blessing from God--even events that seemed tragic. Even the philosopher Leibnitz wasn't immune to this logic, and argued that evil is meant to produce good (i.e., everything happens for the best).

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Chapter 6 Quotes

“If this is the best of possible worlds, what then are the others?”

Related Characters: Candide (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Candide witnesses a sea-change in Lisbon. Following the disaster of the earthquake, the leaders of Lisbon conclude that the only way to avoid another disaster is to please God by persecuting all religious heretics. Innocent people are horribly tortured and killed in order to prove the city's loyalty to God. Candide is horrified by the carnage he witnesses, all the more so because it's done in the name of divinity. He remembers Pangloss's old pronouncement that the world is the best of all possible worlds; he wonders what other worlds could be worse than the one he's living in. Pangloss himself has been sent away to be hanged for his supposed heresy, further reinforcing the foolishness of Pangloss's abstract optimism.

Chapter 12 Quotes

“A hundred times I was upon the point of killing myself; but still I loved life. This ridiculous foible is perhaps one of our most fatal characteristics; for is there anything more absurd than to wish to carry continually a burden which one can always throw down? to detest existence and yet to cling to one's existence? In brief, to caress the serpent which devours us, till he has eaten our very heart?”

Related Characters: The Old Woman (speaker)
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the old woman tells us more about her life story. After being kidnapped by pirates, the old woman endured horrible torture. Throughout all her tortures, however, she clung on to life itself: although she could have killed herself in any number of easy ways, she preferred to stay alive, hoping that things would get better somehow. The woman notices the odd (though extremely common) reasoning of her choice: she could have relieved herself of all pain through suicide, and yet she preferred life, even a harsh, painful life.

The passage is one of the best examples of how optimism and naive hope aren't wholly bad or useless. Voltaire makes fun of Pangloss for his naive belief in the goodness of the world, and yet it's hard to disagree with the woman's actions in this passage. As "rational" as it would be to end her own life, the woman decides to have hope and carry on. Perhaps human beings are hard-wired for the kind of naive optimism the woman embodies: which means that we survive because we can delude ourselves into thinking that everything happens for the best.

Chapter 14 Quotes

“You'll make a prodigious fortune; if we cannot find our account in one world we shall in another. It is a great pleasure to see and do new things.”

Related Characters: Cacambo (speaker), Candide
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide travels with the valet Cacambo, a native-born Peruvian who tells Candide he'll take him to the land of the Jesuits, who rule over the people of Paraguay with an iron fist. Cacambo is very different from Candide, though they have a few things in common: Cacambo, like Candide, is highly optimistic, and yet where Candide is still (relatively) inexperienced and naive, Cacambo is confident and well-traveled; he knows where to find things. His thesis that "it is a great pleasure to see and do new things" could be taken as Candide's motto: Candide wanders all over the world, always taking a vague, naive pleasure in the new places he sees. Notice that Cacambo believes in the possibility of multiple worlds; it's because he doesn't just accept the existence of one world (like Pangloss) that he's always trying to find new places to explore. Pangloss is the armchair theoretician; Cacambo is the empiricist.

Chapter 19 Quotes

“What is this optimism?” said Cacambo.
“Alas!” said Candide, “it is the madness of maintaining that everything is right when it is wrong.”

Related Characters: Candide (speaker), Cacambo (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide and Cacambo, bearing gifts of gold, come across a poor African slave who's missing a limb. Candide is so moved by the slave's pain--he's spent his entire life serving others and being abused by them--that he briefly gives up on optimism itself. Candide has always believed that everything bad happens for a good reason. Here, however, he starts to see how silly his optimism really is: as he tells Cacambo, optimism is just a way to "spin" bad things as good things.

During Voltaire's lifetime, the slave trade boomed, after centuries of existing on a much smaller scale. The discovery of the New World led to the need for cheap (or free) labor--hence the vital importance of African slaves. Slaves were treated horribly, and never saw any of the wealth they mined from the ground. The spectacle of so many humans being mistreated would have been enough to make a pessimist of anybody--even Candide the eternal optimist.

Chapter 20 Quotes

“...but I own to you that when I cast an eye on this globe, or rather on this little ball, I cannot help thinking that God has abandoned it to some malignant being.”

Related Characters: Martin (speaker)
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide and the scholar Martin, his new associate, debate about the essential goodness of the world. While Candide continues to maintain that the world can be a good place (in spite of all the horror he's witnessed during his travels), Martin takes a different position, arguing that the world may have been created by God, but it has lately been in the hands of a devil of some kind.

The passage shows a different kind of position than the ones we've read about so far: Martin doesn't believe that the universe is a totally random, chaotic place, but neither does he believe that the world is uniformly good. His position is relatively close to the doctrine of Deism, which maintains that God created the world but now lets it run itself, like a great cosmic clock.

Conclusion Quotes

“What signifies it," said the Dervish, "whether there be evil or good? When his highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he trouble his head whether the mice on board are at their ease or not?”

Related Characters: The Dervish (speaker)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

In this enigmatic passage, Candide comes to an old Dervish (a Turkish holy man) and asks him for help achieving enlightenment. The Dervish doesn't give Candide the information he was hoping for; instead, the Dervish irritably tells Candide to mind his own business. There's no point in hunting for meaning in the world; the fact that God made the world doesn't mean that the world must have meaning. The Dervish clarifies his argument with an analogy: the man who builds a ship and sends the ship across the ocean doesn't care about the mice that live onboard the ship, and certainly hasn't built the ship to accommodate the mice's needs.

The passage is an amusing refutation of the argument from design: the Dervish, quite aside from arguing that the world is built "for" human beings, claims that the universe (God, the Almighty, etc.) is basically indifferent to human beings' suffering. If there is a God, it's unlikely he cares about human beings (instead, he thinks of them like mice)--the Christian idea that God made the world "for" mankind is, in the Dervish's opinion (and probably Voltaire's, too) arrogant nonsense.

“I have only twenty acres,” replied the old man; “I and my children cultivate them; our labour preserves us from three great evils—weariness, vice, and want.”

Related Characters: The Old Turkish Man (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Garden
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

After a novel's worth of traveling and debating, the characters reach an old Turkish Man who works hard on a farm with his children. The Turkish Man represents, arguably, the closest thing in the novel to enlightenment or peace. Instead of sitting around like Professor Pangloss and debating the causes and meaning of the universe, the Turkish Man works on his property. If there is a path to happiness and peace, it's implied, that path consists of a lot of hard, real-world work.

The passage might as well be a moral for Voltaire's book. Unlike the religious scholars in the pre-Enlightenment era, Voltaire doesn't believe that we should kick back and wait for God to take care of everything (or, following the same twisted logic, embrace every single thing that happens as "God's will"). Instead, we should actively try to change the world and improve it on our own: humans are the architects of their own world, not God.

“You are right,” said Pangloss, “for when man was first placed in the Garden of Eden, he was put there ut operaretur eum, that he might cultivate it; which shows that man was not born to be idle.”

Related Characters: Pangloss (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Garden
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Professor Pangloss responds to the example set by the Old Turkish man, who has just finished explaining the importance of work and labor. Pangloss, despite spending most of the book blindly blessing every event as "God's will," immediately converts to the Old Man's point of view and now claims that it's important to work in the real world, rather than trusting in divine providence.

Why does Pangloss change his mind so quickly? Perhaps the passage is meant to show that Pangloss is just a follower, easily convinced of any point of view, provided that he can find Biblical (or philosophical) justification for it. In a way, the passage is one of the most prophetic in the novel: it illustrates the way that religious factions can fight and even kill over their beliefs, and yet also change their beliefs at the drop of a hat. (For example, in modern times, Christian leaders openly believe that the Earth revolves around the Sun; 500 years before, their predecessors tried to kill Galileo because he dared to argue this scientific truth. A whole string of Panglosses moved Christianity from one point of view to  the other.)

“Let us work,” said Martin, “without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable.”

Related Characters: Martin (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Garden
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel approaches an ending, each one of the main characters comes to the same conclusion (work hard and embrace the limits of one's life), albeit for different, and highly revealing reasons. While Professor Pangloss concludes that man should work because there's Biblical justification for doing so, Martin comes to the same conclusion because he's a compromiser and a pessimist. Martin seems to believe that the world is full of pain and suffering; it's telling, then, that he claims that working is the "only way" to find happiness in the world. One could argue that Martin is the most pragmatic of the characters: instead of sticking to his guns, he embraces a new point of view because he recognizes its real-world potential.

“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”

Related Characters: Candide (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Garden
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, everything and nothing has changed. Pangloss continues to philosophize about the "best of all possible worlds," and yet he's now working in a garden, showing that he's willing to get his hands dirty and work for himself, instead of trusting in God that everything will work out for the best. Candide, by contrast, seems to have changed greatly. As the novel began, he was a foolish, naive young man who trusted that everything had a silver lining. Over the course of the book, Candide hasn't entirely lost his optimism, but he has come to see the futility of totally surrendering to "divine providence." The only way to find happiness in the real world is to involve oneself in the real world: thus, Candide resolves to work hard on his garden and trust in his own actions and morals.

The notion of "cultivating our garden" could be taken as a metaphor for the entire Enlightenment project that Voltaire celebrated. Instead of trusting custom and tradition (and thus, religion), Voltaire advocated for secular humanism, according to which all men were created equal, and should be judged by what they achieve in the real world, rather than what their aristocratic ancestors achieved hundreds of years ago. It's for this reason that this quote remains famous and applicable even now, hundreds of years later.