Is Candide an Enlightenment Text?
In the Context of the Enlightenment Candide by Voltaire: It certainly makes for a provoking type of comedy, but there are few solutions offered other than living an austere life on a farm.
Even though Voltaire was known have verbally advocated the equal rights of women, this sentiment is not apparent in his fiction, especially considering the fact that the main female characters are prostitutes, women that marry for money, disease-spreaders, and most importantly victims.
Consider for example, the inhumanity of the clergy, most notably the Inquisitor, in hanging and executing his fellow citizens over philosophical differences. Perhaps the most absurd example of hypocrisy in the Church hierarchy is the fact that the Pope has a daughter despite his vows of celibacy.
In the end, the group manages to alleviate their troubles by numbing their minds with hard labor, thus proving that perhaps Voltaire truly believes there is a way to work through the problems posed by society versus philosophy.
In sum, far from being a treatise on the beneficial nature of philosophy in bringing about positive change, Voltaire is suggesting that philosophy is, in itself, useless and even damaging.
While her presents a number of ways of looking at the world philosophically, none of them are ever proven right.
This seems like a strange message coming from an author who was one of the most recognized philosophes of his time, and thus it seems rather ironic that the ultimate message about philosophy and its use is so grim.
It is also apparent in his discussion on philosophy that he is not creating something new or revolutionary, but is rather working on an old base—the same institutions of philosophy and religion that already exist.
While it is apparent that Voltaire is not visibly working toward any revolutionary sentiments in Candide and is merely pointing out flaws in society, it is interesting to note how ingrained the popular cultural notions of the Enlightenment are not even expressed in the text.
The most noticeable case concerns his treatment of women in Candide.
In fact, as Stromberg points out see f. In thinking of Voltaire and many of those philosophes similar to him in thought, women were not always considered equals aside from a few exceptions. If Voltaire also held such views, why then do all the women in Candide show such weak and defenseless character traits?
While on the one hand it seems as though it many be a progressive move to point out how women constantly run the risk of being subject to often violent male desire as we see in the stories of rape, enslavement, and general submission on the part of women it seems more the case that Voltaire considers them to be weak and ineffectual creatures—using sex to obtain their desires and serving as vessels of disease.
Women are strangely represented in the novel since at once they seem like helpless victims yet also show remarkable strength. The old woman, after telling her terrible life story, relates that she does not believe in self-pity—she was merely telling everyone to pass the time.
Although there are many female victims in Candide, none of them seem at all aware of the travesties committed to them or their sex and moreover, they hold true to an abundance of stereotypes gold-diggers, prostitutes, battered old women.
While this essay has attempted to point out that perhaps Candide is not free from the biases inherent to those classes and groups Voltaire so harshly criticizes, this is not to say that there are not plenty of cases in which it would be possible to draw revolutionary ideas from.
By taking an almost socialist stance at the end of the novel, there is the feeling that the only to progress is through direct action rather than idle philosophical speculation.
Still however, there also remains the idea that Voltaire is perhaps not as progressive as he is said to be—especially since he was working from inside the system one of Churches, aristocracy, and gender bias to formulate his critiques.
Despite this rather negative outlook on Candide as an inspiration for future revolutions, it is important to buffer such a statement with the admission that he created a new way of writing about society that was not to be matched for years to come. A comfortable ascent toward progress.Candide: A Satire on European Hindering Development The Age of Enlightenment is a pivotal part of human history, it helped reshape Europe with its many ideas and those also shaped the United States of America.
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