WEEK 2: VOLTAIRE'S CANDIDE OR OPTIMISM
The following notes and questions are to guide you while
reading this book. fFor the writing assignment, be sure to refer to the
syllabus, page 3.
Voltaire chose names because they had specific meanings
and connotations, e.g.:
Candide: trusting, naive, guileless
Cunégonde: Kunigunde, a German queen who was sainted
because she walked over glowing plowshares unscathed to prove her virginity
Pangloss: Greek "all+tongue," i.e. all talk (full of hot
Thunder-ten-tronckh: "thunder around the trunk," i.e. a lot
of noise about the (family) tree, the lineage
Pococurante: "little caring," i.e. indifferent
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
"O che sciagura d'essere senza coglioni!" (p.
53): O what misfortune it is not to have testicles!
The story begins with Candide's forcible ejection from a
kind of paradise, and ends with him saying "We must go and cultivate our
garden." What are the parallels of Candide's story to the biblical story
of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden? How would you interpret that concluding
What institutions of 18th century European society does Voltaire
single out for criticism?
What is Voltaire's opinion of the Bulgar and Abar military
"heroes" and the causes they fight for?
What does Voltaire think about institutionalized religion
and its alternatives (e.g. Anabaptism or the religion of Eldorado)? (What
Does Voltaire believe that women are treated appropriately
in Europe, and what role does he think women should play in society?
Why does Voltaire have Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh twice forbid
Candide from marrying Cunégonde, and what tradition is Voltaire
poking fun at here?
What does Voltaire think of the European colonialism (e.g.
Jesuits in Paraguay, Spaniards in Argentina, Dutch in Surinam)?
What is the political significance of the "six strangers"
Which of the characters is Voltaire's voice? In what situations?
Candide, Martin, the "old man"? Why? Is Voltaire an optimist?
How is Eldorado different from Europe (especially France)?
What is Candide's/Voltaire's final conclusion about the worth
of philosophy compared with that of other pursuits in life?
What is Dr. Pangloss' philosophy?
Does what happens to James, Candide and Pangloss in Portugal
support Pangloss' conviction that we are living in the "best of all possible
Why does the "old woman" call the human tendency to be "in
love with life" a "ridiculous weakness?"
Do Candide's miraculous reunions with Pangloss, Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh
Jr., Cunégonde, and the old woman convince him that Pangloss is
right after all?
This book is a satire. It exposes perceived evils, vices
and shortcomings by ridicule, exaggeration and irony. Why has Voltaire
written such a book? What effect does he want it to have? Does he believe
that the world will change for the better?