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Candide: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

The story of the old woman's life continues. After the battle between the Moroccans, she was found by a eunuch singer, who had known her during her childhood as a princess. The eunuch brought her to Algiers, where she came down with the plague. After that, she was sold all around the world, from Turkey to Russia to Germany and eventually to the household of Don Issachar. Along the way, she experienced countless misfortunes: in the worst them, one of her buttocks was sliced off and eaten by starving Turkish soldiers in a besieged fort. At the end of her story, the old woman expresses wonder that no matter how awful life is, we somehow still love it, and continue in our struggles against death and pain. She tells Candide and Cunégonde that if they can find a single passenger on the ship who has lived without serious suffering, they may throw her into the sea. They cannot.
Unlike a tragedy, which makes the suffering of its hero appear profound and unique, the novel of Candide makes human suffering comic and absurd by pointing it out everywhere—not only in the life of the hero. Candide is filled with suffering that does not cause death. The old woman's missing left buttock—like Pangloss' missing eye or the slave's missing left leg—is a terrible injury, but allows life to go on. This is one of the purposes of both the old woman's story and her bet. The old woman's philosophical reflections on human perseverance are part of a larger philosophical argument in the novel: that life is made up of constant disruption and motion, not rest.
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