Candide | Study Guide


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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the symbols in Voltaire's novella Candide.

Candide | Symbols


The most prominent symbols in Candide represent the key tenets of Voltaire's personal philosophies: optimism is overrated; God is not benevolent; and hard work, not wealth, is the key to happiness.


The disease that ravages Pangloss in Chapter 4 has a long and twisted origin. He believes that syphilis comes from North America, brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus's crew, and that it is "an indispensable feature of the best of all possible worlds." Without syphilis, he reasons, there would be no North American discoveries like chocolate or cochineal, an insect prized for its red hue. For Voltaire syphilis represents the dangers of empire building. Had Columbus not ventured to America, the disease would never have shown up in Europe.

Syphilis also symbolizes Voltaire's stance on the idea of a benevolent God. As a sexually transmitted disease, syphilis requires intimate contact to spread. Once it has done so, it affects the reproductive organs and sometimes prevents procreation. Yet according to the Bible, the purpose of having sex is to procreate. A disease that prevents procreation cannot have been conceived by a kind and loving Creator.

Red Sheep

The llamas (which Voltaire calls "red sheep"), gifted to Candide and Cacambo by the king of El Dorado in Chapter 18, symbolize the hope for a better life. The riches they carry will buy Cunégonde back from the governor of Buenos Aires and secure them all a place in the upper class. Candide is "plunged in misery" when he loses the sheep, but overjoyed when one survives the sinking of Monsieur Vanderdendur's ship.


Candide's farm in Propontide, which he refers to as a "garden" in Chapter 30, symbolizes Voltaire's idea of a perfect society. Unlike El Dorado it is a version of utopia that can actually exist in the real world. Each person does work they enjoy, and everyone is treated equally. Most importantly personal success comes only through hard work. Human free will, not God, determines whether or not the garden will succeed. Voltaire makes the point that the same thing happens to societies when humans work together instead of waiting for God to be the agent of change. The happiness of the garden's caretakers is also an allusion to the Biblical Garden of Eden.

El Dorado

The legendary city of El Dorado was believed by Europeans during the 16th and 17th centuries to be a city of gold located in the Americas. In Candide El Dorado is a utopia or an ideal civilization based on equality and science without the vices of greed, social conflict, or human suffering. It exists in stark contrast to the outside world and therefore challenges Candide and Cacambo's belief in its reality, much like its golden namesake, which has never been located.

Questions for Symbols

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For the final writing assignment in this course, you will write a researched argumentative essay. As a first step, you will identify some possible topics of interest for research. By Saturday, October Questions: (Answer in short sentences) 1. What details give us a clue to the time in which the essay was written? Is the time necessary to the main p
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From the book Confessions written by Augustine, answer the following: What is Austine confessing, why, and to whom? What book by what author does Augustine read at age 18 that changes his life? What m
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