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Candide | Study Guide


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Chapter 20

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 20 of Voltaire's novella Candide.

Candide | Chapter 20 | Summary



Martin and Candide sail for 15 days, discussing "moral and physical evil" the entire time. Candide, still carrying a few diamonds in his pockets and looking forward to his reunion with Cunégonde, is much cheerier than Martin, who says he has seen very little good in the world, which is why he follows the tenets of Manichaeism. This ancient religion holds that life is painful; salvation can be found only through realizing, through self-knowledge alone, that one's soul partakes of God.

At one point, in the distance, they see a ship fire a cannon at another ship; the targeted ship sinks. A bright red blob swims through the water toward their boat. It's one of Candide's last two llamas. The sunken ship belongs to Monsieur Vanderdendur, who stole Candide's llamas and the treasure they carried. Candide points out to Martin that "crime is sometimes punished." Martin asks, "but did the passengers on board have to perish too? God punished the thief, the devil drowned the rest."


Martin, a natural pessimist, is the first character who outwardly disagrees with the theory of philosophical optimism. The difference in his and Candide's interpretations of the sinking ship illustrates why there are so many belief systems in just one general religion. Interpretations of events and any subsequent beliefs in a higher power are always colored by previous experiences and personal disposition.

Candide and Martin's ongoing discourse about physical and moral evil shows that it's possible for people of different beliefs to coexist peacefully. Neither man is trying to convert the other to his way of thinking. Candide, in particular, is curious to learn more about his new friend's ideas. He is constantly reevaluating his own belief system based on what he experiences and what he learns from others. In Voltaire's ideal world, so will everyone else.

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