Candide Study Guide

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Candide By Voltaire

Candide, or The Optimist is a satire by the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire. Candide is the main character, a young man who has been living a sheltered life and is indoctrinated in a philosophy called Leibnizian optimism by his tutor, Pangloss. Leibnizian optimism is summed up neatly as "this world is the best of all possible worlds". Of course, Candide's philosophy is put to the test.

First, Candide is caught kissing the baron's daughter, Cunegonde, for which he is exiled and rapidly conscripted into the Bulgar army. The army beats him for slight misunderstandings, and he quickly escapes to Holland, where he is taken in by an Anabaptist named Jacques. He meets a deformed beggar only to learn that it is his old tutor, Pangloss, who has contracted syphilis and been forced to leave when the baron and Conegonde were brutally murdered by the Bulgar army. Despite everything, Pangloss maintains his optimistic philosophy, and soon Jacques takes in Pangloss as well.

The trio go to Lisbon together, but on the way the ship is swamped and Jacques drowns. Candide and Pangloss arrive in Lisbon, but it has been ruined by a massive earthquake and is under the control of the Inquisition. Pangloss is hanged as a heretic, and Candide is flogged for listening to Pangloss' philosophies. Afterwards, an old woman helps heal him and then takes him to Cunegonde, who explains that the Bulgar army didn't so much kill her as rape her repeatedly and sell her as a sex slave jointly to the Grand Inquisitor of Lisbon and Don Isaachar.

As they talk, both of her owners arrive in succession, and Candide kills them both. Terrified of the consequences, the pair, accompanied by the old woman, board a ship for South America. On the way, the old lady explains that she was born the Pope's daughter but has had a terrible life including rape, enslavement, and even cannibalism. When they arrive in Buenos Aires, the governor, Don Fernando, proposes to Cunegonde, who accepts despite having promised Candide her hand on the boat. Shortly after, the Portuguese authorities come looking for Candide, accusing him of murdering the Grand Inquisitor.

Candide meets a Jesuit commander who happens to be Cunegonde's brother, who insists that his sister will never marry a commoner. Candide stabs him, and runs into the wilderness with a man named Cacambo, where he narrowly avoids being eaten by the Biglug tribe of cannibals. After days of travel, they find El Dorado, where gold and jewels are commonplace and the social system is utopian. Despite the perfection of El Dorado, Candide longs for Cunegonde, and returns to civilization with Cacambo and a pack sheep full of gold and jewels.

Candide sends Cacambo to buy Cunegonde from Don Fernando with instructions to take her to Venice. A large piece of his fortune is stolen by a traveling merchant, and Candide sails to France with a pessimistic scholar named Martin. On the way there, Candide gets some of his fortune back when his captain sinks the merchant's ship.

In Paris, Candide's fortune makes him popular, but also a target of thieves. He proceeds to Venice where his learns that Cunegonde and Cacambo are not there. They do meet Paquette, the prostitute who gave Pangloss syphilis. Cacambo eventually turns up, now a the slave of a deposed Turkish monarch, and explains that Cunegonde is in Constantinople also as a slave. Candide goes to Turkey with Martin and Cacambo, and purchases Cacambo's freedom. They find Pangloss and the baron in a chain gang, both having survived despite everything. Candide purchases them, and goes on to find Cunegonde and the old woman.

Cunegone has grown ugly from her misfortunes, but he purchases them both regardless, after sending the baron back to the chain gang because he still insists that his sister will never marry a commoner. Candide finally marries Cunegonde, buys a farm, and spends his time working hard rather than speculating on philosophy, and learns that in hard work, there is finally fulfillment and happiness.

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