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Candide | Chapter 18 | Summary

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Summary

Candide and Cacambo learn about the history of El Dorado from an old man. He explains that nobody enters or leaves the legendary country. According to him "this is what has preserved our innocence and our happiness." Everyone worships the same singular God, and the head of each family serves as a priest. Inhabitants don't pray because they have everything they need. Instead they "thank Him unceasingly."

The old man sends the two travelers to meet the king, who invites them to stay as his guests. After a month, Candide decides they need to leave. He and Cacambo are "just like everyone else" in El Dorado, but if they return to the land they came from, Candide reasons, they will be wealthy beyond belief. Cacambo agrees. The king is reluctant to let them go but says he can't stop them. His engineers devise a way to transport them across the mountains along with 100 llamas loaded with provisions and treasure. Candide, Cacambo, and the pack animals head for Buenos Aires and Cunégonde.

Analysis

Voltaire doesn't think much of the legend of El Dorado, but that doesn't stop him from dressing it up as his own kind of utopia. There are no prisons or courts, science is celebrated, and the country is run as a constitutional monarchy, a government overseen by a king or queen within the limits of a specific written constitution. Voltaire's religious beliefs are also congruent with El Dorado culture. He is a deist, which means that he believes in one God, not the Holy Trinity. As the old man says of El Dorado, here "there are not two Gods, or three, or four."

Candide's and Cacambo's desire to leave El Dorado illustrates Voltaire's idea of some of the shortcomings of Western culture. In the West personal contentment isn't nearly as important as vast wealth; happiness is determined by what material possessions one has or does not have. Candide and Cacambo want to go home so they can "boast of what [they] have seen on [their] travels" and make others jealous. It's an ugly instinct. Instead of always trying to be better than everyone else, Voltaire thinks people should focus on what they have here and now, or, as explained by the king of El Dorado, "when you are reasonably happy somewhere, you should stay put."

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