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Candide: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Finally, Candide and Martin come within sight of the coast of France. Candide asks Martin about France, and Martin replies that it is filled with terrible people: some too stupid, some too cunning, some slanderers, and some fanatics. Candide further questions Martin about his beliefs, asking him whether or not mankind has been evil throughout its history, or only in recent times. Martin responds sarcastically, asking if Candide believes “that hawks have always eaten pigeons.” Candide responds that there is a difference: men have free will.
The voyage back to Europe is a mirror image of the voyage to the New World. While the first was filled with hope and optimism, the second is darkened by Martin's low opinion of the French. Candide's optimism begins, here, to become more refined. By asking the question of whether or not human beings have always done evil, he implies that we might be able to stop. In other words, although we do not live in “the best of all possible worlds,” we still might be able to create it. Martin does not think so: he doesn't believe that human nature can change.
Optimism and Disillusion Theme Icon
The Enlightenment and Social Criticism Theme Icon
Religion and Philosophy vs. The World Theme Icon