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Candide | Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

The old woman tells the story of her life, explaining that she is the daughter of (a fictitious) Pope Urban X and a princess. As a young woman she is incredibly beautiful, or so the local poets tell her, and she is betrothed to an Italian prince. He is murdered just before their wedding, and she and her mother set sail to their country home to escape their sorrow.

Their ship is attacked by pirates. The young princess's virginity is "plucked by the Corsair captain" as they head to Morocco, where the women are to be sold as slaves. In Morocco a fight over the princess's mother turns into a bloodbath among "soldiers, the sailors, the blacks, the whites, the mulattoes, and lastly, [the] captain himself." The young princess is the only survivor. Stupefied she stumbles to a stream and collapses. When she comes to, there is a white man lying on top of her, moaning in Italian, "Oh, what a misfortune to be without balls!"

Analysis

The old woman's story is another example of how women were viewed in 18th-century Europe. The young princess, her mother, and their servants are valued only for their monetary value and their sexual allure. Today's readers are horrified by such thoughts, but the old woman doesn't seem to think anything of them, merely saying she and her mother "must have been made of stern stuff to endure what we endured before arriving in Morocco." Their treatment wasn't unusual, and the old woman is essentially telling Cunégonde that this sort of thing is to be expected.

Voltaire also touches on race in this chapter. The people who torment the young princess all have dark skin: the pirate captain is described as "an abominable negro," and the warring Moroccans are black, brown, and mulatto, or mixed race. The princess doesn't feel safe until she comes across a man who touches her without an invitation and verbally declares he wishes he had testicles. She doesn't view him as a monster because he looks and talks just like she does.

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