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Candide | Study Guide


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Candide | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


According to Voltaire's Candide, how does religion impact a person's ethics in the story of the enslaved old woman?

Voltaire shows in Candide that piety has no impact on personal or cultural ethics. He illustrates this through the experience of the old woman when she is taken as a slave when a young princess. She, her mother, and their female servants are taken to war-torn Morocco, where everyone is fighting everyone else. The old woman's companions are brutally torn apart by members of the warring factions, yet none of the men "ever omitt[ed] to say their five daily prayers as required by Mahomet." Even the most morally corrupt men showed dedication to their religion. From Voltaire's point of view, a person's religion or devotion does not necessarily make him or her a better person.

What point does Candide make with the old woman who has only one buttock?

The old woman has just one buttock because the other is cut off when she and several other slave women are caught in the middle of a battle between Russians and Turks. The Russians decide to starve out the group, and after the two eunuchs (castrated males) are eaten, the imam, or Muslim prayer leader, says it's perfectly fine to take a buttock from each of the women. This procedure was reputed to happen in Scotland (with the flesh taken from young shepherds), but such reports were false. They were based on a fictional history of the region, De Situ Britanniae, and described there mainly in order to make the Scots look brutish. Voltaire includes the practice to emphasize the low status of women who have neither virtue nor money. They are valued more than eunuchs but are considered more expendable than nearly everyone else.

How does Cunégonde's rape at the hands of the Bulgars in Candide affect the rest of her life?

A woman's virginity was valued above all else, even beauty, in the 18th century. An ugly but "pure" woman was seen as a better candidate for a wife than someone beautiful but "plucked." Cunégonde's rape at the hands of the Bulgar soldier is a terrible experience not only for the violence to and violation of her body, but also because it closes any doors her beauty may have opened. Though her virginity is taken from her without her consent, she is looked down upon as if she had given it willingly. She can no longer marry nobly. With her family gone, she is forced to sell her body to stay alive. The assumption is that once she has been used for sexual gratification, she can serve no other purpose. Knowing this prejudice, she later tells Candide that she has not yet slept with Don Issacar and the Grand Inquisitor. She still has a chance at a good life with him, and she doesn't want him to think of her as a common whore. Cunégonde can't even outrun her past on a new continent. Don Fernando, the governor of Buenos Aires, desires her for her beauty and assures her "that tomorrow he would marry her"; the reader later discovers that she is not his wife, just one of his mistresses. She stays with him instead of fleeing with Candide because she thinks he can give her a better life, but his discovery of her secret puts her back where she started. Despite her best efforts, she is forever branded by the act of violence perpetrated against her body.

How are Jesuit missions portrayed in Candide?

Jesuit priests were in Paraguay as missionaries, directing indigenous peoples to establish societies based on those of early Christianity. Had the Jesuits not been there, many Paraguayans would have lost their lives and cultures to European powers, most notably Spain, who were determined to expand their territories. Candide is sent to Paraguay to help quell an uprising of Paraguayans against representatives of the Spanish crown. The king of Spain gave the Jesuit missions his blessing in the early 1600s. However by the mid-1700s, the Jesuits were the enemy of the native people. The character Cacambo, a wise observer, notes this shift with great amusement. He compares the priests to gods for making "war in this part of the world against the kings of Spain and Portugal, while being confessors to those same kings back in Europe." He also tells Candide that the priests own everything and the native people get the rest, "a masterpiece of justice and reason." This tongue-in-cheek description of the Jesuits tells the reader what Voltaire thinks about the situation: the Jesuits, and therefore the church, have too much power in foreign lands.

How are class and status reflected in the Young Baron's opposition to Candide's marriage to Cunégonde?

The Young Baron doesn't want Candide to marry Cunégonde because he thinks Candide is inferior to him and his sister. Candide was born out of wedlock, and his biological father's identity is unknown. The Young Baron and Cunégonde are both of noble birth, and, as a rule, commoners and nobles didn't cross class lines to marry. Candide is well aware of the class distinction between himself and his cousins, but he also believes that everything happens for the best. According to this Panglossian logic, Cunégonde is raped and sold into sexual service specifically so Candide can save her, thereby putting her in his debt, which she can repay by marrying him. This line of thinking doesn't hold with the Young Baron, even after Candide rescues him from life as a galley slave.

How do Cacambo and the old woman differ from Candide's other traveling companions?

Cacambo, a valet Candide hires in Cadiz, has lived in both Europe and South America. He proves himself to be a loyal companion to his master. The old woman, Cunégonde's caretaker, is hired by Don Issacar. She, too, accompanies Candide during part of his journey. Candide is hardly ever seen without some sort of companion (Pangloss and Martin also fill this role at various times), but Cacambo and the old woman don't have set philosophies of life. While Pangloss preaches optimism and Martin wallows in pessimism, Cacambo and the old woman are realists. Their life experiences teach them that the only important issue is survival. Cacambo, in particular, doesn't even realize that there are philosophies of life. He isn't as educated as his master, and Candide finds himself playing teacher for the first time in his life as he explains philosophical realism to his employee. At their core Cacambo and the old woman are practical: let people (including women who love apes) live their lives as they want as long as they pose no threat to others. Both think quickly on their feet and help Candide escape imminent danger. Their loyalty is unparalleled: Cacambo returns to Candide when he can just take the money from El Dorado and build himself a new life, and the old woman stays with Cunégonde even after her service to Don Issacar is ended. All of Candide's companions help him survive his journey, but Cacambo and the old woman teach him that you don't need to adopt a formal personal outlook on life to live it.

How are the Jesuits' actions received by the indigenous people of Paraguay in Candide?

The Jesuits helped many indigenous peoples in Paraguay and other South American territories form Western-based societies. Some tribes appreciated this effort, siding with the Jesuits and rebelling against Spanish war parties trying to colonize them. However not everyone was appreciative of the Jesuits' efforts. The Oreillons, a tribe named for the heavy jewelry its members wore on their ears, try to serve Candide for dinner because they think he's a Jesuit: "We will be avenged! And we'll eat our fill!" they chant as they prepare spits and boiling water. It is only after they find out that Candide isn't a Jesuit and actually killed a Jesuit that they let him go. The European missionaries may be well received by some tribes, but others prefer to preserve their original ways of life.

What is Candide referring to when he talks about the "state of nature"?

The "state of nature" is a phrase used by French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a contemporary of Voltaire's, to indicate the condition of humans before societies were formed. He believed that all men are equal at birth and enjoy happiness and freedom. The formation of a society creates jealousies and pride, which he believed cause the downfall of mankind. Pangloss teaches Candide about Rousseau's ideas. In Chapter 10 when Cunégonde's money and jewelry are stolen, Candide says that "the things of this world are common to all men, and that everyone has an equal right to them." This reasoning is illogical, which is Voltaire's way of saying Rousseau doesn't know what he's talking about. Candide refers to the state of nature again in Chapter 16 after he is released by the Oreillons: "It seems that the state of nature is a good thing, since these people, instead of eating me, showed me a thousand civilities just as soon as they knew I was not a Jesuit," he says to Cacambo. He reasons that the Oreillons didn't eat him because, to them, everyone is equal. This, again, is faulty logic.

What does El Dorado represent in Candide?

El Dorado is portrayed as a utopia, or perfect place. In Candide it is exactly what Pangloss has promised Candide all along: the best of all possible worlds. The scenery is beautiful, gold and jewels are abundant, and the people are kind and smart. Its only flaw is that it's nearly impossible for outsiders to find.< Voltaire's version of El Dorado gives the reader a glimpse of a society that is perfect simply because it has no outside influences. The "happiness and innocence" of its people are preserved because nobody comes and nobody goes. El Doradoans have no concept about how valuable their land is; only outsiders know the cultural value of El Dorado's "dirt" and "rocks." This ignorance is one reason why the people of El Dorado are so content; their happiness is completely separate from any notions of wealth. Voltaire's vision of utopia is constructed as an insult to European nations and empires of the 18th century.

Why don't Candide and Cacambo stay in El Dorado?

Candide and Cacambo decide to leave El Dorado because of their egos. Neither has wealth or a title, and they are tired of being on the bottom level of the proverbial food chain. If they remain in El Dorado, they will be equal to all who live in that perfect country, but that isn't enough. They want to be better than everyone else, and for them that objective is worth returning to a world full of sin and strife. The narrator notes how pleasant it is "to get ourselves noticed back home, and to boast of what we have seen on our travels." The tendency of humans to want to be better than everyone else is one of humankind's great flaws, according to Voltaire. Unfortunately Candide and Cacambo don't realize that their lives will be even more disappointing after they have experienced the glory of the paradise that is El Dorado.

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