Candide | Study Guide


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Candide | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


How does an influx of wealth change Candide's outlook on life?

Candide's faith in humankind takes a dramatic tumble after he is gifted with fathomless riches by the king of El Dorado. His first experience with the seamy underbelly of greed comes when he hires a ship to take him to Venice. Its owner, Monsieur Vanderdendur, realizes that the naive Candide has almost unlimited funds, so he keeps raising the price of the voyage. Candide is too trusting to question these sudden rate hikes and just hands over more and more money. Monsieur Vanderdendur also steals Candide's last two llamas, or "red sheep," leaving Candide with just what he can carry. The magistrate to whom Candide complains also takes Candide for a fool, extorting 20,000 piastres just for hearing his case. Candide can now see the "wickedness of man ... in all its ugliness." He becomes depressed, "plunged ... into the blackest melancholy." For someone who has spent his life believing that people are inherently good, he is shocked to learn that evil resides so close to the surface.

How do the possession and loss of the "red sheep" affect the hero of Candide over the course of the novel?

The "red sheep," which are actually llamas, are a gift from the king of El Dorado that can carry Candide and Cacambo's provisions and treasure back to the outside world. With 100 of the animals at the start of their journey, the two men are filled with hope about the future. Then 98 of the sheep die. This is not good, but it's also not terrible: Candide and Cacmbo still have "the fortunes of twenty monarchs." But then Monsieur Vanderdendur steals the last two sheep. This act enrages and depresses Candide. Without that money he has very little hope of changing his station in life. He can still rescue Cunégonde—Cacambo is already on his way to Buenos Aires—but he will no longer be afforded the status and power that comes with wealth and class. In a twist of fate, Candide is reunited with one of the stolen sheep after Monsieur Vanderdendur's ship sinks. This last sheep carries nothing but its red coat, but Candide is delighted to see it anyway. He "felt more joy at recovering this one sheep than the affliction he had suffered at losing a hundred," a comment that echoes the biblical parable of the prodigal son. The single sheep represents his last glimmer of optimism for the future. If the sheep has found him, he reasons, he may be able to find Cunégonde.

How do Martin's beliefs compare and contrast with Pangloss's teachings in Candide?

Pangloss believes in philosophical optimism, which is developed around the idea that everything that happens is God's will. God is benevolent, or kind, so everything that happens is for the best. Martin, on the other hand, is a pessimist. Unlike Pangloss, Martin has spent his entire life outside of the cushy confines of either academia or a baron's estate. His wife robs him, his son beats him, and his daughter elopes. The church is after him for his religious beliefs. Though Pangloss has seen terrible things in his life, he is able to rationalize that even the worst events have good effects. Martin, on the other hand, thinks everything is awful because his life truly is awful. The differences between Pangloss's and Martin's philosophies are best illustrated by the conversation between Martin and Candide after the sinking of Monsieur Vanderdendur's ship. Candide says, "crime is sometimes punished; that blackguard of a Dutch owner got the fate he deserved." Martin replies that God may have punished the thief, but the devil drowned the rest of the passengers.

How is Martin's persecution by the church in Candide an example of dramatic irony?

Martin tells Candide that he is being persecuted for being a Socinian, when he's actually a Manichean. The religion, which died out between the 5th and 6th centuries, holds that the world is inherently evil and salvation can be achieved only through knowledge of oneself. Present hardships do not impact the hereafter. These ideas make a lot of sense to Martin, who has experienced enormous suffering. In an example of dramatic irony where the audience has an understanding that the characters do not, however, his persecutors don't seem to care about the distinction between his beliefs and those of the Socinians. This group held that Jesus is a mortal, so God cannot be the culmination of the three separate entities known as the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

In Candide what are the similarities and differences between Martin's and Candide's first experiences in Paris?

Martin has already been to Paris prior to meeting Candide. In true Martin style he doesn't have a very good time. His money is taken by a pickpocket, and then he is accused of being one himself. He spends eight days in prison, followed by a brief stint working to earn enough money to take him back to Holland—on foot. He observes that in Paris, "everyone pursues pleasure and almost no one finds it." Candide, too, is fleeced for all he has, first by the Marquise de Parolignac, then by a corrupt police officer who tries to arrest him and Martin. Candide spends a good deal of time in pleasurable activities such as playing cards and seeing plays, but nobody seems happy about anything. The play and actress he adores are hated by the theater critic, and the books discussed at the Marquise's house are unanimously derided. Candide decides Martin is right: Paris is terrible. His opinion reflects the anger Voltaire felt toward the cultural and political establishments responsible for his exile.

How does the execution of the British admiral in Chapter 23 affect Candide's philosophical outlook?

Before Candide and Martin can even disembark from their ship, they witness the execution of a British admiral who does "not engage closely enough with the enemy." Candide is told "in this country it is considered useful now and again to shoot an admiral, to encourage others to fight." He finds this way of thinking abhorrent. Though he is slowly losing his penchant for philosophical optimism, he cannot fathom even entering a country that treats its military commanders in such a fashion. Voltaire is making a deliberate point when he has Candide balk at this particular event. During his time in England, he became friends with one Admiral Byng, who was later executed in the very same manner for not winning a battle. Voltaire tried to lobby on the man's behalf, but to no avail. Candide's refusal to enter Britain is a direct commentary on Byng's brutal punishment.

What do the stories of Cunégonde, the old woman, and Paquette in Candide have in common?

Cunégonde, the old woman, and Paquette are all victims of sexual violence and sexual servitude. The old woman and Cunégonde both begin life as beautiful women of high stature who, once stripped of all they owned, are also raped. Paquette loses her virginity (as far as the reader knows) to a Franciscan priest with syphilis who "seduces" her. This phrasing indicates that the encounter may not have been consensual. The loss of their virtue leaves all three women in dire straits. Paquette is fired from her job at Thunder-ten-tronckh, and the old woman and Cunégonde are no longer viable marriage prospects. Without money or a place to live, each woman is forced into offering sexual services to men who abuse and misuse them. Bought and sold like livestock, they become property. Beauty fades with age, and so does their value as sexual partners. The old woman becomes a servant for Don Issacar, Cunégonde ends up washing clothes for a Turk, and Paquette can't even earn money as a prostitute. Their stories illustrate the low status of women in 18th-century Europe.

What are the functions of Martin, Cacambo, and the old woman in Candide?

There are very few instances in Candide when the titular character isn't accompanied by someone who is older and wiser. The novella begins with great praise for Candide's mentor, Pangloss, and Candide often quotes him on his travels. When Pangloss dies Candide no longer has anyone to guide him through morally dubious situations. That's why he turns to the old woman when he kills Don Issacar; he needs someone to tell him what to do and how to think. As the story proceeds, the old woman, Cacambo, and Martin all take on Pangloss's role. However their individual viewpoints vary greatly from that of the scholar, and it is through them that Candide starts to see the world in a different light.

What is the significance of Candide's and Martin's dinner in Venice?

Candide and Martin dine with six men in Venice, each in town for Carnival, the annual pre-Lenten festival. These men are slowly revealed to be deposed kings: Sultan Achmed III of Turkey; Tsar Ivan VI of Russia; Charles Edward (also known as the Great Pretender, who believed he had the right to the British throne); King Stanislaus I of Poland; King Augustus III, also of Poland; and Théodore, Baron von Heuhoff, king of Corsica. They have all hit rock bottom, forced into exile with barely any money. When they take up a collection for the poorest, Théodore, it is actually Candide who gives the most money. The kings marvel at how much money the commoner has and also that he is generous enough to part with it. This interaction is a commentary by Voltaire on the revolving doors of European politics. During this interaction Candide realizes that people in the highest positions have the farthest to fall. Perhaps it is better to be down the social ladder.

In Candide what are the similarities between the Young Baron and Pangloss after their reported "deaths"?

Pangloss and the Young Baron have very similar experiences after their supposed deaths. Assumed by Candide to be dead, Pangloss is nursed back to health, as is the Young Baron. Both are imprisoned for encounters of a sexual nature with a practitioner of Islam; the Young Baron goes to the public baths with a young Muslim man, while Pangloss flirts with a young woman in a mosque. Both are whipped on the soles of their feet (a practice dating back to China in 960 CE) before being sentenced to the same ship as galley slaves. Voltaire crafts these nearly identical experiences to suggest to the reader that, despite differences in status, beliefs, and lifestyles, the human experience is universal.

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