(To begin this essay you could use the earlier notes: “Voltaire’s evidence against Optimism”  This introduction largely repeats the introduction found in these previous notes  Give illustrations from the body of this previous chapter as the length of your essay permits).)

Voltaire’s conte philosophique, "Candide'' is his treatise against Optimism.  In order to prove the opposite case, Voltaire gives the reader a detailed description of the miserable state of man’s existence.  Voltaire presents us with a vast accumulation of historical and fictional events which show that all is very far from well in the world, whatever the Optimist philosophers may have believed they had proved.

With each new chapter, he acquaints us with a mass of historical events of the 18th Century is for example:
 European War -The Lisbon earthquake -The war in Paraguay. -The old woman’s experiences e.g. (a) The siege of Palus Meotides. (b) the troubles in Morocco on the death of Muloy Ismael. -The ceremonial execution of Admiral Byng - The fate of the six kings.

In addition, his fictitious characters undergo experiences which represent the grim realities of life not only in this century but inherent in the human condition.  Outbreaks of was, bringing unspeakable brutality – Death and destruction caused by f natural disasters and disease – The corruption of  social institutions, of which there are plentiful examples in organised religion and in the operation of organised religion and the machinery of law.- Serious failings of the human character, such as the arrogance of the rich and powerful, the greed and dishonesty of ordinary people, the   aggression and strife met in public and domestic life. - The personal disappointments that life brings such as the unsatisfactory nature of possessions and the disillusion of romantic dreams. 
 From Voltaire’s depiction of these events, both factual and fictitious, we may make a wide-ranging list of generalisations about the human condition. The overwhelming majority of these generalisations are negative and pessimistic:

However, we can also find statements in the book which provide a constructive philosophy for man, and suggest a way in which he might satisfactorily lead his life
Furthermore although this is a pessimistic book the effect upon the reader is not depressing.

The non-pessinistic statements in Candide

Some critics have claimed that, with Candide’s visit to Eldorado, Voltaire is describing an optimistic future to which man can aspire. If this is so Voltaire would be conceding the case to the Optimist philosophers.  Eldorado would indeed prove their thesis that the Divine Power manifests itself in a great chain of being from which links might appear to be broken, when there are inadequacies in God’s creation, ,  but these missing links might exist in other countries or on other planets.  Candide had gone to South America in the hope of finding this link and his arrival in Eldorado could be seen as his moment of success.

(But does Voltaire intend Eldorado as a picture of an existing Optimist world?)
As was traditional in the Picaresque novels, Eldorado is painted as a Utopia where happiness reigns supreme and wealth is taken for granted.  As the people of Eldorado speak about their country, we see that in Voltaire’s Eldorado we have a blueprint for a world where his own ideas are applied- for example:


Candide is told that in El Dorado they worship their God from morning to night.  There is one God only. Every man is a priest of God. (They are deists like Voltaire, who built his own church in Ferney and conducted his own services.)
There are no monks – including Jesuits- in this country. Candide asks the elder:
Chapter. 18 - Page 102 - Quoi. Vous n'avez point de moines qui enseignent, qui disputent, qui gouvernent, qui cabalent, et qui font brûler les gens qui ne sont pas de leur avis?
The old man replies:
Il faudrait que nous fussions fous, dit le vieillard; nous sommes tous ici du même avis.  (Their religion is a peaceful consensus and they have no sectarian disputes, wars or persecution)

  1. THE LAW

There are no law courts
Chapter 18 - Candide demanda à voir la cour de justice, le parlement ; on lui dit qu'il n'y en avait point, et qu'on ne plaidait jamais.(Voltaire had had legal problems in France and detested the legal profession)

   There are no prisons either. (Voltaire had had two spells in the Bastille)

   3) THE RULERS do not use pomp and ceremony to assert their superiority over their subjects, unlike the Bourbon monarchs in France:
Chapter 38 Page 102
Quand ils approchèrent de la salle du trône, Cacambo demanda à un grand officier comment il fallait s'y prendre pour saluer Sa Majesté: si on se jetait à genoux ou ventre à terre; si on mettait les mains sur la tête ou sur le derrière; si on léchait la poussière de la salle; en un mot, quelle était la cérémonie. 
«L'usage, dit le grand officier, est d'embrasser le roi et de le baiser des deux côtés. 
(Voltaire had had unhappy experiences in the authoritarian courts of France and Prussia and was an admirer of the democracy he got to know during his exile in England))

4) THE NEW SCIENCES. In Utopia they had great respect for and spent a lot of money on the new sciences- very admirable in the eyes of progressive people of the Enlightenment.
Page 103 Ce qui le surprit davantage, et qui lui fit le plus de plaisir, ce fut le palais des sciences, dans lequel il vit une galerie de deux mille pas, toute pleine d'instruments de mathématique et de physique.
(Voltaire like the 17th Century Philosophes was an enthusiast for the new sciences.)

If we were to see Eldorado as proof of one of the main tenets of Optimism, this would mean that in the middle of the book there was a contradiction of the message of all that comes before and all that follows after.  However, Voltaire’s Eldorado is not intended to show a real world.  As with Utopian novels, the aim is to present a fantasy world to highlight the shortcomings of the real world in which it is our lot to live.  

We have to remind ourselves that Eldorado takes up only one chapter.  Although it is a real event in the story of the book and the wealth that Candide collected there allowed him to sort out many subsequent situations, it is not intended as an option in the argument of the book.  It was a place where we could not go in the judgement of Martin.  Chapter Chapter 24 page 126  
…… Martin ne cessait de lui prouver qu'il y avait peu de vertu et peu de bonheur sur la terre; excepté peut-être dans Eldorado, où personne ne pouvait aller.

Qualifications to the pessimism found in Candide.

The resilience of the characters 
A positive aspect of the book is the resilience of the characters, none of whom seem prepared to accept defeat.

The conclusion of the old woman to her account of her life of suffering could be seen to demonstrate the resilience of mankind eg. Chapter 12 –Page 84  
je voulus cent fois me tuer, mais j'aimais encore la vie. 
It would be unfair however not to put this statement in the context of her following words.
Cette faiblesse ridicule est peut-être un de nos penchants les plus funestes; car y a-t-il rien de plus sot que de vouloir porter continuellement un fardeau qu'on veut toujours jeter par terre? d'avoir son être en horreur, et de tenir à son être? Enfin de caresser le serpent qui nous dévore, jusqu'à ce qu'il nous ait mange le cœur?

However painful and futile life might be, it is suggested that the ending of it by suicide is a pointless, exaggerated gesture. The list of persons, whom the old woman knew to have committed suicide, is provided for comic effect.  She had knownChapter 12 - page 84:
…..un nombre prodigieux de personnes qui avaient leur existence en exécration; mais je n'en ai vu que douze qui aient mis volontairement fin à leur misère: trois nègres, quatre Anglais, quatre Genevois, et un professeur allemand nommé Robeck.

Humans are animals with a survival instinct and although our minds devise theoretical alternatives, our bodies wish to live on.

Another example of this survival instinct is given by Candide.   In the depths of despair after killing Cunégonde’s brother, he makes an emotional declaration about the futility of prolonging his days away from Cunégonde. He nevertheless carries on eating with good appetite to sustain this life.
Charter 16 – Page 93
A quoi me servira de prolonger mes misérables jours, puisque je dois les trainer loin d'elle dans les remords et dans le désespoir? Et que dira le Journal de Trévoux?
En parlant ainsi, il ne laissa pas de manger.

Resilence is a key feature of Candide’s character.  After each setback, he picks himself up and moves on.  It is the hope of reunion with a beautiful, young, loyal Cunégonde that inspires him and even though this proves illusory, in the interim it gives him the will.  Pangloss lives on through the most horrendous experiences, protected by the armour of his false philosophy.  Most of the other characters with similar resilience are back on their feet and with Candide at the end.

The positive philosophy that Candide achieves at the end. (This topic is discussed at greater length in the section: “What is Candide’s final philosophy of life?”)

In the final chapter, Voltaire has moved on from his catalogue of the evils of the world in order to discuss how human beings can conduct a rational and satisfactory life in this world.

Candide goes to consult a dervish to understand what life is about.  This Muslim cleric is the most famous philosopher in Turkey.  Pangloss is the spokesman and asks the question.  Chapter 30 Page 148: 

Pangloss porta la parole, et lui dit: 
 « Maître, nous venons vous prier de nous dire pourquoi un aussi étrange animal que l'homme a été formé?
« De quoi te mêles-tu? lui dit le derviche; est-ce là ton affaire?

Having been told that it is not man’s role to concern himself with metaphysical questions, Pangloss questions further, because what he knows nothing else a philosopher can do, but he is told the only course is to say nothing.
“Que faut-il donc faire? dit Pangloss. 
«  Te taire, dit le derviche.

The derviche has given them purely negative advice on what not to do.    The positive advice and example is given to them by an old Turkish farmer as they make their way back from seeing the derviche.

There was news of yet another bloody palace revolution in the neighbouring city of Constantinople. When they ask the old farmer he replies that he does not inquire what goes on in Constantinople, but is content to send there the fruit he grows:
Chapter 30  Page 148/9
J'ignore absolument l'aventure dont vous me parlez ; je présume qu'en général ceux qui se mêlent des affaires publiques périssent quelquefois misérablement, et qu'ils le méritent; mais je ne m'informe jamais de ce qu'on fait à Constantinople; je me contente d'y envoyer vendre les fruits du jardin que je cultive.».

When Candide suggests that he must be a man of property to live in such comfort, the farmer corrects him- Page 149:
Je n'ai que vingt arpents, répondit le Turc- je les cultive avec mes enfants; le travail éloigne de nous trois grands maux, l'ennui, le vice, et le besoin.»
Candide is impressed by the lifestyle of the old man and says it is superior to that of the six deposed kings whom they recently me in Venice.

Martin also endorses it with typical pessimistic tone Chapter 30 page 150- 
-Travaillons sans raisonner, dit Martin; c'est le seul moyen de rendre la vie supportable.»

Candide freed from his Optimistic illusions silences the absurd reasoning of Pangloss with the final famous dictum of the book:
 Page 150 - Cela est bien dit, répondit Candide, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin

How inspiring is Voltaire’s final recommendation of his code of living?

It could be argued that Voltaire's philosophy offers the greatest hope for mankind, Political and religious ideologies have created hatred, slaughter and destruction  throughout history, and it would seem good advice to restrict the vision to simple , everyday human issues. Perhaps, if we could cease to interfere  in the lives of each other, we could more easily live in peace. The majority of people would however hesitate to call this in any degree an optimistic view of life,

Some critics have suggested that Voltaire is neither an Optimist nor a Pessimist but a Meliorist, believing in the gradual improvement in the human condition, This is difficult to sustain however. The old man advocates complete isolation from the affairs of our neighbours.  He had taken no action to help his fellows who were suffering and did not allow himself to express any sympathy for any victims.

It is probably not unfair to describe the philosophy in this book as pessimistic.. It 'is the approach of a disillusioned man in his middle sixties who had written in that year to a friend. "Je n'ambitionne que de passer le reste do ma vie dans la paix et dans l’obscurité."

It should be added that Voltaire was to live another twenty years, to involve himself spectacularly in political and religious controversy and to die in a blaze of national acclaim

Hope in the book
Some critics see hope for humanity in this book.  Throughout the book Candide resiliently picks himself up from his misfortunes, clinging to hope for the future.  Even the Manichean, Martin, claims to admire hope- but perhaps cynically: 
Chapter 25 - C'est toujours bien fait d'espérer, dit Martin.
However, we may assume that Martin said this cynically, anticipating future disappointment.  This proves to be true when Candide is reunited with the beautiful woman whom he had loved for so long.  His hopes are dashed as he finds her no longer beautiful or charming and finds his love gone.  This is not a book of hopes realised and is a book of constant disappointments.
The survival of the characters
In spite of all the hardships only two of the main characters end unhappily. The Anabaptist Jacques , drowns and is not resurrected.  The Baron’s  Jesuit son, at Cacambo's suggestion is put back on the galley to send him to the Jesuit father general in Rome- It has been said that this would be a very short book if the characters suffered the realistic outcome of their disastrous adventures.  The confidence that builds up of the invincibility of the characters gives an optimistic reassurance to the reader.

Above all the book is not a depressing book, because of the inventive imagination of the author and because his intellectual wit, and entertaining literary style and his unfailing sense of humour. (See the section: “Candide - a comic masterpiece)

Pessimism continued. How Voltaire's style lifts the pessimistic mood. Go to "Voltaire's literary style" and also the positive aspects of the code of living that Candide finally adopts. Go to: Candide's final philosophy of life