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The Enlightenment and Social Criticism Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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The Enlightenment and Social Criticism Theme Icon
Religion and Philosophy vs. The World 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.
The Enlightenment and Social Criticism Theme Icon

Candide is a central text of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement in Europe which flourished during the 17th and 18th centuries. It questioned, and often harshly criticized, traditional views of science, religion, and the state. Enlightenment thinkers believed in using reason and scientific experiment, rather than doctrine and custom, as a guide in the remaking and improvement of life and society. They also advocated for greater legal and social equality between men.

As a novel of the Enlightenment, Candide satirizes and critiques almost every powerful institution of its era. Churches, the aristocracy, and the military are viciously lampooned. Characters like the Grand Inquisitor, the Bulgarian Captain, and the haughty Young Baron showcase the prejudice and irrationality of 18th century institutions. This direct, irreverent criticism of subjects considered sacred for centuries prior is central both to the Enlightenment, and to Voltaire's work. So, too, is the faith in the power of human reason and equality between men, best represented by the garden at the end of the novel.

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The Enlightenment and Social Criticism Quotes in Candide

Below you will find the important quotes in Candide related to the theme of The Enlightenment and Social Criticism.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Candide, all stupefied, could not yet very well realize how he was a hero. He resolved one fine day in spring to go for a walk, marching straight before him, believing that it was a privilege of the human as well as of the animal species to make use of their legs as they pleased.

Related Characters: Candide
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide is captured by soldiers and forced to learn military exercises until he becomes a talented soldier. Candide is bewildered the entire time: he's a passive character who'll do whatever the people around him order him to do. One day, Candide cheerfully walks away from the military base where he's been staying, reasoning that it's his right to walk wherever he pleases. Little does Candide realize that he's convinced the soldiers that he's trying to desert--as a result, he's arrested.

The passage is a good example of Candide's "blank slate" quality. More often than not, Candide is "stupefied" by the people around him: he's so innocent and pure that he can barely be said to have a personality. And yet Candide is also the embodiment of the human right to be free: he just walks "wherever his legs will carry him," satirically showing how oppressive it is for any institution or authority (like the military) to limit this most basic of human instincts.


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Chapter 3 Quotes

“My friend,” said the orator to him, “do you believe the Pope to be Anti-Christ?”
“I have not heard it,” answered Candide; “but whether he be, or whether he be not, I want bread.”

Related Characters: Candide (speaker), The Protestant Orator (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide stumbles upon a group of pious Protestants. The Protestants ask Candide to admit that the Pope is a villain--the Antichrist, in fact. Candide, who barely knows where he is or who his new "friends" are, replies that he doesn't particularly care about the Pope; he just wants some food.

The passage is often interpreted as a satire of the schism between the Protestants and the Catholics that arose during and after the life of Martin Luther. For more than 1000 years, Christianity in the West was generally unified and uniform; however, in the late Middle Ages, a group of Christians called the Protestants rebelled against the Christian (or Catholic) church for what it perceived as the corruption of religious leadership. The schism prompted hundreds of years of radical, bloody warfare throughout "civilized" Europe, prompting many intellectuals, including Voltaire, to point out how absurd the schism really was: why argue over Gods and Popes when people are going hungry? The passage is also a good example of Candide's boundless innocence: he just wants to eat, sleep, and be happy. At times, Voltaire makes fun of Candide's simplicity, and yet he seems to see virtue in Candide's down-to-earth nature: Candide could never be seduced by religious fanaticism.

Chapter 4 Quotes

"This present Paquette received of a learned Grey Friar, who had traced it to its source; he had had it of an old countess, who had received it from a cavalry captain, who owed it to a marchioness, who took it from a page, who had received it from a Jesuit, who when a novice had it in a direct line from one of the companions of Christopher Columbus. For my part I shall give it to nobody, I am dying."

Related Characters: Pangloss (speaker), Paquette
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Voltaire satirizes many different things at once. Candide is shocked to hear that Pangloss has contracted syphilis from Paquette, the chambermaid. Pangloss proceeds to list out the "history" of his particular disease, tracing its long genealogy all the way back to Christopher Columbus. The joke is that Pangloss's "genealogy" is a parody of people claiming nobility or greatness by listing their ancestors, but this list is just one of people passing syphilis on to each other. Furthermore, in the "genealogy" Voltaire brings down the institutions and members of the clergy, the aristocracy, and the military to Pangloss's level as well--they're all just humans and human ideas, passing around human diseases, despite all their wealth and pretensions.

“It is more likely,” said he, “mankind have a little corrupted nature, for they were not born wolves, and they have become wolves; God has given them neither cannon of four-and-twenty pounders, nor bayonets; and yet they have made cannon and bayonets to destroy one another. Into this account I might throw not only bankrupts, but Justice which seizes on the effects of bankrupts to cheat the creditors.”

Related Characters: Jacques the Anabaptist (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jacques and his companions Pangloss and Candide are traveling to the city of Lisbon. Jacques disagrees with Pangloss and Candide about the nature of good and evil. Jacques insists that evil is real, and that it emanates from human nature. Jacques lists a formidable number of examples, including war (and the various machines of war).

Jacques's reaction to Pangloss's naive optimism could be taken as a more "modern" position on human nature. Many of the Europeans who lived through long, bloody religious wars were forced to conclude that man, quite aside from being inherently virtuous, has the capacity for violence and destruction--how else to explain entire nations ripping each other apart over religious conflict?

Chapter 11 Quotes

“Our men defended themselves like the Pope's soldiers; they flung themselves upon their knees, and threw down their arms, begging of the corsair an absolution in articulo mortis.”

Related Characters: The Old Woman (speaker)
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, an old woman tells us the sad story of her life. She was born into a wealthy family (her father was the Pope--scandalous!) and engaged to be married to a handsome prince. However, her good fortune ended suddenly when a group of dangerous Moroccan pirates captured her at sea. The woman's protectors and guards, agents of the Pope, were of no help--instead of fighting against the pirates to the death, they begged for mercy, a line of defense that, of course, didn't work.

The passage is an interesting example of Voltaire's even-handedness when it comes to depicting other cultures. One could argue that the Moroccans are a racist stereotype ("dangerous" Africans) and yet in a way, the pirates come across as smarter and stronger than the old woman's guards, who are so cowardly and naively faithful in their religion that they'd rather pray for mercy than fight. The passage is also a good example of the meaninglessness of the universe: religion and optimism simply don't have much currency here.

Chapter 13 Quotes

They landed at Buenos Ayres. Cunegonde, Captain Candide, and the old woman, waited on the Governor, Don Fernando d'Ibaraa, y Figueora, y Mascarenes, y Lampourdos, y Souza. This nobleman had a stateliness becoming a person who bore so many names. He spoke to men with so noble a disdain, carried his nose so loftily, raised his voice so unmercifully, assumed so imperious an air, and stalked with such intolerable pride, that those who saluted him were strongly inclined to give him a good drubbing.

Related Characters: Candide, Cunégonde, The Old Woman, Governor Don Fernando d'Ibaraa, y Figueora, y Mascarenes, y Lampourdos, y Souza
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

In this amusing passage, we're introduced to a new character, the Governor Don Fernando d'Ibarra-- his long name is a parody of aristocratic privilege and pedigree. The Governor is a conceited man who knows full-well that he's a powerful aristocrat with the title to prove it. Voltaire notes the superficiality of the Governor's superiority: something as silly as a name signifies his power, and in fact, is his power. Furthermore, Voltaire satirizes the pretensions of the aristocratic elite by noting that the Governor deserved a "drubbing" (i.e., a smack to the head). The Governor isn't anything special--he's not very smart, strong, attractive, etc., and indeed, all he has going for himself is his name and title. Voltaire, a true Enlightenment hero, distrusts the idea that we should respect aristocrats because of their genealogy.

Chapter 14 Quotes

“It is an admirable government. The kingdom is upwards of three hundred leagues in diameter, and divided into thirty provinces; there the Fathers possess all, and the people nothing; it is a masterpiece of reason and justice.”

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

Cacambo tells Candide about the land of the Jesuits in Paraguay. Although Cacambo seems to find the Jesuits' kingdom admirable in every way, he describes it in such a sense that it's obvious to us that the kingdom is a tyranny. Cacambo claims that the Jesuit leadership has stripped the natives of all their property, all in the name of religion. The Jesuits claim to use their intelligence and authority to run their territory with "reason and justice," but based on everything about religion and reason we've seen in the novel so far, we can be pretty sure that the Jesuits' government isn't all that reasonable or just.

Chapter 15 Quotes

“Reverend Father, all the quarterings in the world signify nothing; I rescued your sister from the arms of a Jew and of an Inquisitor; she has great obligations to me, she wishes to marry me; Master Pangloss always told me that all men are equal, and certainly I will marry her.”

Related Characters: Candide (speaker), Pangloss, The Young Baron
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide prepares to rescue Cunegonde from the hands of her "owner," Don Fernando. Candide offhandedly mentions that he hopes to marry Cunegonde one day, a statement that Cunegonde's brother, the Young Baron, finds absurd. The Young Baron insists that Candide is not nobly born, and therefore not worthy to marry an aristocratic lady like his sister. Candide replies that he's always been taught that all men are created equal; therefore, he's a perfectly suitable match for Cunegonde.

The passage is an interesting example of how Candide, in spite of his naivete and occasional foolishness, has some pretty good ideas (and Voltaire just uses Candide's naïveté to show the badideas human society has come up with). Candide thinks this is the best of all possible worlds, an idea that Voltaire clearly finds laughable, and yet he also believes in a classic Enlightenment tenet: all men are equal (an idea that Voltaire believes whole-heartedly).The Young Baron comes across as a comically irate, conceited character, so obsessed with genealogy and blood that he hesitates to save his own sister from capture (capture from the eminently aristocratic Don Fernando, by the way).

Chapter 16 Quotes

“A Jesuit! a Jesuit! we shall be revenged, we shall have excellent cheer, let us eat the Jesuit, let us eat him up!”

Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide and Cacambo run into some trouble. They shoot a pair of monkeys during their walk through the forest, only to learn that they've accidentally shot two partly-human figures who were lovers to two of the native women. Candide and Cacambo are promptly tied up and prepared for eating: the natives are going to enact their revenge by eating their "Jesuit" prisoners alive.

A couple things here. First, it bears noting that the passage reflects Voltaire's racist views of non-Europeans (there seems to be some idea here that "natives" are partly monkey). And yet as before, Voltaire's racism and stereotyping is somewhat mitigated by the near universality of his criticism: Candide and Cacambo, as representatives of the European order, come across as clueless about the real world. Furthermore, the passage reminds us of all the pent-up hatred the natives reserve for their Jesuit oppressors (clearly, the Jesuits have just been starving their subjects, rather than leading by reason, justice, and Christian ideals). Cacambo and Candide don't really understand native culture, and in return, the natives misinterpret Cacambo and Candide's identities, mistaking them for Jesuits.

Chapter 18 Quotes

“...but being surrounded by inaccessible rocks and precipices, we have hitherto been sheltered from the rapaciousness of European nations, who have an inconceivable passion for the pebbles and dirt of our land, for the sake of which they would murder us to the last man.”

Related Characters: The Old Man of El Dorado (speaker)
Related Symbols: El Dorado
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Candide and Cacambo come to the land of El Dorado, where they meet an elderly man who tells them about his home. In El Dorado, he explains, there is gold everywhere. Luckily, El Dorado is located in a remote area far from European explorers, who are hungry for the gold, which the people of El Dorado treat like mere rock or soil.

The point of the passage seems to be that one man's trash is another man's treasure: the Europeans crave gold (a completely useless, strictly ornamental thing) while the people of El Dorado are indifferent to it. Voltaire comes across as a cultural relativist here: so much of what culture believes in is just idle superstition (for example, the idea that gold is valuable and should be fought for). Traveling the world, one notices the arbitrariness of certain cultural norms, and Candide's travels seem to give him some sense for the comic futility of Europe's search for riches in the New World.

Conclusion Quotes

“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.