Candide Summary

Voltaire

Candide

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Candide Summary

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It was 1759 in the Age of Enlightenment that philosopher Voltaire published Candide.  The French novella’s title character is a young man living a simple life in relative paradise while being exposed to the philosophy of optimism by Professor Pangloss, his mentor. Candide’s view of life begins to change as he sees the myriad hard times people face in the world. The book at times is a parody of traditional romance and adventure tales with a tone of sarcasm, contempt for conventions of society, and humor. It is Voltaire’s most famous work and its insight into the universal human condition puts it the canon of great Western works of literature in spite of those who contend that its relative short length prevents it from deserving the same status as bulkier epic sagas.

The story opens in Westphalia, a town in Germany where Candide lives in the castle of a baron and where Pangloss teaches the philosophy of optimism. As Candide learns of the evil that can be wrought by man, the ravages of war, and ideas of the church that seem to contradict its basic tenets, his initial acceptance of the concept of an optimistic world begins to waver. Opposition to war and the church remain themes throughout the work. Within the castle, Pangloss becomes involved with a chambermaid. The baron’s daughter, Cunegonde, is prompted by the sight of the affair and attempts to initiate the same with Candide. They are caught by the baron and Candide is told to leave the castle.

Candide find himself alone in the world as he reaches a nearby town and soldiers come to his aid. He forced into service, is abused by his superiors, and runs away. He finds village after village ravaged by the war  Eventually he arrives at Christian Holland where he finds but one kind person who is an Anabaptist. Next he meets a beggar with a serious disease. It turns out that the beggar is Pangloss who tells him that soldiers have killed the baron and his family, yet Pangloss professes that he is still dedicated to philosophical optimism. The Anabaptist finds a cure for Pangloss and accompanies him and Candide as they head to Lisbon. The Anabaptist is killed while they are at sea and the ship they are aboard is destroyed by a storm. They do manage to get to Lisbon only to encounter an earthquake to which church leaders respond with a sacrifice. Candide is aided by an old woman and survives, but Pangloss is hung.

Candide is taken to the baron’s daughter Cunegonde who has survived the attack on her family.  She was the one who saw to it that Candide survived the sacrifice that took the life of Pangloss.  She has been living with two men of power who vie for her and after Candide is reunited with Cunegonde, he kills the two men. Cunegonde, Candide, and the old woman take flight, arriving at a port where a military boat is about to leave for Paraguay. A Spanish general is impressed by Candide’s military prowess and makes him an infantry captain. Subsequent events have Candide losing his faith in the tenets of optimism he learned from Pangloss. On a voyage to South America the old woman tells Cunegonde and Candide of the pains she has suffered in life which are more extensive than those of anyone Candide knows of.

When they arrive in Buenos Aires Governor Don Fernando is attracted to Cunegonde and asks her to marry him. Although crestfallen, Candide cannot fight for Cunegonde’s hand because he has been tracked down by the authorities and needs to go on the run. Candide is helped by a valet, Cacambo, and escapes. Next he meets the leader of a Jesuit army, Reverend Father Commander, who it turns out is the brother of Cunegonde who was thought to have died during the attack on their family. When the brother finds out that Candide is in love with Cunegonde with the intent to one day marry her, he is angered by the idea.  There is a fight and Candide kills him. Candide and Cacambo leave and face another series of adventures ultimately ending up in Eldorado.  They continue on their way with the hope of finding Cunegonde. Cacambo goes to Buenos Aires to seek the release of Cunegonde while Candide heads for Venice to escape the police.  More misfortunes befall Candide who eventually takes a new traveling companion in Martin, a scholar with whom he begins a journey to Venice via France.

In time Candide learns that Cunegonde is in Constantinople. At this point Candide has four travelling compatriots in Martin and Cacambo, along with Pangloss and the baron’s son neither of whom was actually dead as had been believed. Cunegonde had been working as a servant.  Candide finds her along with the old woman, and buys their freedom. He and Cunegonde marry and buy a farm where they take up residence with Cacambo, Martin, the old woman, and Pangloss.  Candide and the others live unhappily until one day they meet a Turk who tells them his story of how living a simple life on his own small farm provides for his needs and brings him happiness. Candide realizes that his group can learn to live the same way.