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THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
Evils in Society
Voltaire has exposed the evils in his contemporary society in a satirical manner. Wherever, Candide goes he finds sin, selfishness and religious intolerance except in Eldorado. Atrocities are committed. The auto-da-fé shows ridiculous belief, due to which heretics are burnt to prevent earthquakes. The University of Coimbra states that the sight of a few people ceremoniously burned is an infallible prescription for preventing earthquakes. Thus people are burned for the most ridiculous reasons. A man is burned for marrying his Godchild’s grandmother; a Portuguese Jew is burned for not eating bacon. The auto-da-fé is an entertainment for the onlookers. Invitations are sent. Refreshments are served between mass and execution. Candide is flogged and Pangloss is hanged for no fault of theirs. Another earthquake takes place on the same day.
Don Issachar and the Grand Inquisitor are killed. The Grand Inquisitor is given a grand funeral. Don Issachar’s body is thrown into the sewer because he is a Jew. This shows the fanatic attitude prevailing in society.
The Moslem soldiers cause bloodshed, murder and rape. Yet they do not miss even one of the five daily prayers prescribed by Mohammed. They practice religion ritually rather than imbibe the spirit of it. The Jesuit fathers take away everything from the natives and give them nothing in return. Religion advocates love for fellowmen but they do not care for their fellowmen. Voltaire describes the luxury in which they live, when the Baron’s son, who has become a Reverend Commandant, invites Candide. They eat from golden dishes while the Paraguayans outside eat humble meals from wooden plates. Thus Voltaire has satirically exposed the selfishness of the so-called religious people. A monk is one of Paquette’s seducers, though his religion advocates celibacy for a monk.
Voltaire condemns excessive national pride, which is an excuse to murder the innocent and steal their land. Candide experiences hypocrisy and snobbery everywhere except in the land of Eldorado. The Baron’s castle in Westphalia is considered the best because it has doors windows and tapestry. Candide’s father is rejected because he has ‘mere’ seventy-one quartering. The Baron’s son vehemently opposes Candide’s marriage to his sister, Cunégonde because Candide also has only seventy-one quartering. Voltaire hated such aristocratic snobbery. He himself had been a victim to it.
After so many people are killed in the Bulgar’s war against Abars, both sides sing the ‘Te Deum.’ It is ridiculous that both sides should consider themselves victorious. It is not possible for both the opposite parties to win the war. When the English executes Admiral Byng, Voltaire ridicules the foolishness of a colonial war. The two nations have been fighting for snow- covered land on the borders of Canada, which is hardly worth anything.
Paquette symbolizes human misery and disease. She is a prostitute full of disease and sorrow. The incident of the naked girls and the monkeys shows how savage and primitive human beings can be.
Young choirboys are castrated, so that they can sing beautifully even when they grow up. It is shocking that such cruelty is imposed on them for the purpose of religious singing.
Cunégonde is raped as much as possible when her family and the castle are attacked. Later on she is sold off as though she is a commodity. She is even shared by two people, Don Issachar and the Grand Inquisitor. Pangloss picks up venereal infection from Paquette the chambermaid. He describes its origin. It is shocking that so many people were infected by it including Columbus and his sailors. Prostitution too is rampant.
People from all walks of life seem to indulge in sex out of wedlock. Candide is assumed to be the illegitimate son of the Baron’s sister. The Pope has illegitimate daughter, although the Catholic religion ordains its leader to be a celibate. The Pope’s daughter and her mother are raped. Her mother and some other women are torn to pieces.
It must be noted that Voltaire has exposed the evils in society in a satirical manner in Candide. He exposed the evils in society in his other works too. His writings had a deep impact on the readers. They have an important place in the causes of the French revolution. Voltaire is one of the greatest satirists of his time. Satire is a literary way, of helping the society to remodel its behavior and attitudes by pointing out the follies in it.
The Theme of Love
The theme of love is not apparent in many chapters. Yet its echo is there almost throughout the novel. In the first chapter, Candide is kicked out of the Baron’s castle because he and Cunégonde love each other and are attracted to each other. Ever since then Candide’s only quest is to find her and achieve her. Wherever he goes, he thinks of her. He even leaves a beautiful place like Eldorado to go in search of her. He keeps finding her and losing her.
When the governor proposes marriage to her, and the old lady tells her to accept the proposal and let Candide go, otherwise he would be killed, she immediately runs to him and tells him to flee. She is more concerned about his life and safety than even his physical presence. This shows that she really loves him and cares for him.
Towards the end of the novel he finally finds her and does not lose her. However, by then she has become very ugly. He does not wish to marry her but he feels that he must do his duty. Despite severe opposition from the Baron’s son, he insists on marrying her. His genuine concern for her shows true love. He is not merely attracted to her youth and appearance. His love is deeper than that.
The theme of love is a foundation on which the novel proceeds right from the first chapter. It has not been dealt with in detail. Yet it is a very important theme.
Snobbery among aristocrats
This is seen from the first chapter of the novel. Voltaire hated such snobbery and false pride among the upper class people. He himself has been a victim of humiliation at their hands. It is assumed that the Baron’s sister is the mother of Candide. Yet she refuses to marry Candide’s father who has less nobility than she does.
The snobbish attitude of the Baron’s son is disgusting. Even when his position is lost and his sister has lost all her youth and beauty, he is determined to prevent her marriage with Candide. Candide emphasizes his love and concern for Cunégonde but the Baron’s son is adamant. His argument is that their children will not be noble enough because Candide has a ‘mere’ seventy- one quartering.
Voltaire has further satirized such people by introducing the dethroned kings. They have not only lost their thrones but are in a bad financial condition. One of them is likely to be arrested for debt along with his servant. Yet they are referred to as kings and highnesses.
Theme of goodness
Although the novel Candide is a satire on the evils prevailing in society, goodness is not completely ruled out. There is goodness in Jacques (James) who is like a Good Samaritan. He does whatever he can to help Candide. He also tries to save the crude and selfish sailor when they are shipwrecked.
The old lady who is Pope’s daughter acts as a mother figure to Candide. She gives him food and shelter and takes good care of him. She takes him to Cunégonde and helps them to escape along with her. She has gone through so much suffering. Yet she does whatever she can to relieve the suffering of others.
Candide also tries to help and protect his acquaintances whenever he can. He spends money to buy some of them freedom. He and some other characters decide to live a simple and honest life on his farm. At the end of the novel, Cunégonde has lost her beauty. She has become ugly. Yet Candide is determined to marry her. He feels it is his duty to protect her. He is a moral person.
Characters like Cacambo and Martin too are very helpful to Candide. Candide too reciprocates their goodness sincerely.
Though there is suffering and sin everywhere, Eldorado offers hope for improvement and a better life. It is a paradise on earth. It has no churches, courts, or prisons. The king is free from vanity. He is kind and courteous. Everyone is hospitable and thankful to God. Eldorado symbolizes the ideal society.
Voltaire has wisely interspersed goodness in a society, which is mostly evil. Without these elements of goodness, the novel would have probably been unrealistic.