Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire’s novella, Candide, incorporates many themes, yet concentrates a direct assault on the ideas of Leibniz and Pope. These two well-known philosophers both held the viewpoint that the world created by God was the best of all possibilities, a world of perfect order and reason. Pope specifically felt that each human being is a part of God’s great and all knowing plan or design for the world.
Voltaire had a very opposite point of view in that he saw a world of needless pain and suffering all around him. Voltaire, a deist, believed that God created the world, yet he felt that the people were living in a situation that was anything but perfect. Thus, the major theme of Candide is one of the world not being the best of all possibilities, full of actions definitely not determined by reason or order, but by chance and coincidence.
To prove his point, Voltaire uses pointed satire directed at various organizations and groups prevalent in his time period. In particular, Voltaire takes aim at organized religion, in particular Catholicism, as well as aristocratic arrogance and war. All of Voltaire’s comments are precisely chosen to convey his point that those in power were completely corrupt in all their thoughts and actions.
Throughout the entire book, Voltaire portrays religious men, such as monks and priests, as hypocrites who do not live up to the religious standards that they set upon others. Voltaire first attacks the men of the Church and their hypocrisy in chapter three. After escaping from the Bulgars, Candide was obviously in need of food and possibly medical attention, but could find no help. When he came upon a minister who had just spoken of charity, Candide asked for some food to eat, but was harshly turned away. After speaking of charity to others, the minister turned Candide away just because they didn’t share the same view of the Pope. To make matters worse, the minister’s wife proceeded to throw a pot of urine over Candide’s head. Voltaire used these rather repulsive acts to show the hypocrisy found in many church affiliated men of his time. One minute the minister was talking to the townspeople of charity and brotherly love, while the next minute he rudely dismissed a man in need of that very Christian ideal. While I don’t completely agree with Voltaire that the religious men of that time were so blatantly hypocritical, I do feel that they were a bit confused. They were so content on teaching others by words and not actions. In many situations, it is the actions that make the impactnot the words. Voltaire saw the ministers speak of brotherly with their mouths, but turn their back on those who needed the guidance and love of which they preached.
Voltaire elaborated further on brotherly love by introducing the character of James, the Anabaptist. James is described as, “A man who had never been christeneda creature without wings but with two legs and a soul.” (27). This very man took Candide in with an offering of bread, drink, money, and the opportunity to learn a trade. James was the exact opposite of the minister in more ways than just his kind actions towards Candide. The description of James said that he was not an angel, but he did have a soul. By using this severe character contrast, Voltaire is saying that those who may not hold high positions of power in the Church, many times show more Christian love than those who do. I agree with Voltaire in that many times people look to those in authority to find guidance, when in reality, they can find true love and fellowship right in their midst. During the Enlightenment, officials in the Church were not the same people who truly touched the hearts and lives of the people around them.
Beyond attacking men of faith, Voltaire depicts the Church as oppressive, corrupt, and he felt that it was of no need to the general public. In chapter six, Pangloss is hanged for his speech and Candide simply for listening with “an air of approbation” The reason given for this hanging is that the people believed a ritual hanging would keep the