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Candide | Study Guide


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Plot Summary

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the plot summary of Voltaire's novella Candide.

Candide | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Candide, a naive and curious young man, lives in Westphalia, Germany, with his uncle's noble family on a large estate. He and his two cousins, Cunégonde and the Young Baron, are tutored by the philosopher Pangloss. Pangloss teaches his pupils about the world through the lens of philosophical optimism, which purports that everything that happens is of divine intention and is therefore for the best. Nonetheless in this "best of all possible worlds," Candide is thrown out of the castle for kissing Cunégonde, whom he ardently adores.

After an unfortunate stint in the Bulgar army, Candide ends up in Holland, where he meets a kind Anabaptist. He is also reunited with Pangloss, who is near death and living on the streets. Through Pangloss Candide learns of the deaths of his extended family, including Cunégonde and the Young Baron.

Pangloss and Candide accompany the Anabaptist to Lisbon, Portugal. A violent storm rises within sight of the port; the Anabaptist is killed. Pangloss and Candide make it to shore just as an earthquake demolishes the city. Dining with survivors, Pangloss philosophizes about why the earthquake occurred and what it means for the future. He is arrested by an agent of the Inquisition and hanged for heresy; Candide is publicly whipped.

An old woman helps Candide recover and then takes him to Cunégonde, who is still very much alive, acting as a sexual servant to a Jew and the Grand Inquisitor. Candide kills both of the men when they come for their nightly visit. Candide, Cunégonde, and the old woman flee the country, sailing to South America, where Candide is to command Spanish troops against the Jesuit-led revolt of indigenous peoples.

Spanish police are hot on their trail. Cunégonde remains in Buenos Aires to marry the governor, who can provide her a much better life than Candide can. Candide and his valet, Cacambo, escape to Paraguay, where Candide plans to join Spain's opposition. The commander of the border post is none other than the Young Baron, who has become a Jesuit priest. He and Candide are overjoyed to see each other until the Young Baron learns Candide wants to marry Cunégonde. He forbids him to do so, and Candide tries to kill him.

On the run again, Candide and Cacambo end up in El Dorado, where the streets are filled with gold and rubies and the residents are kind and generous. Candide thinks this must be the "best of all possible worlds" Pangloss talked about. Yet Candide and Cacambo decide they'd rather leave paradise behind, taking untold riches with them to improve their status back in Europe. The king sends them off with 100 llamas carrying jewels and provisions.

Cacambo returns to Buenos Aires to get Cunégonde while Candide makes arrangements to sail to Venice, where they will meet. He is swindled by numerous people, including a local judge, and nearly everything he has is lost to a thieving ship captain. He hires another traveling companion, Martin, and the two set sail for Europe.

After being cheated and seduced in Paris, Candide and Martin finally arrive in Venice. Months go by without any sign of Cacambo. When he finally appears, he reports he is the slave of a deposed king and Cunégonde is a house slave in Turkey. The trio set sail. They are reunited with Pangloss and the Young Baron, who are serving as galley slaves below deck. Candide buys their freedom and then does the same for Cunégonde and the old woman when they are reunited in Propontide.

Cunégonde has become terribly ugly and mean. Candide doesn't want to marry her anymore but goes through with it to spite the Young Baron. Candide buys a small farm in Propontide and sends the Young Baron back to the galleys. Everyone else settles into mutual unhappiness. They go to the local philosopher for guidance, but he tells them good and evil are none of their business.

An old farmer invites them into his home. Candide suspects the man is wealthy, but it turns out that his happiness is the product of hard work, good company, and meaningful purpose in his life. Candide and his friends decide to attempt a similar existence on their farm, dividing up household and farm duties. Here they are finally all content, even Pangloss, although he still lapses into philosophizing now and again. Candide now has no interest in such talk: he wants to focus on his garden.

Candide Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Candide is banished from his childhood home.

Rising Action

2 Pangloss is hanged by the Inquisition for heresy.

3 Candide appears to kill the Young Baron over Cunégonde.

4 Candide loses most of his wealth and returns to Europe.


5 Candide and an ugly Cunégonde are reunited.

Falling Action

6 Candide buys a small farm, and everyone is unhappy.


7 Candide and company learn contentment is found in hard work.

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