Candide: Or Optimism (Penguin Classics)
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Candide Summary and Analysis

by Voltaire

Chapters V-XII

Jacques is thrown overboard while trying to help a sailor tossed by the tempest. In the ensuing shipwreck, Candide is injured by falling stonework. Pangloss invokes universal reason: "Things could not possibly be otherwise."

At an Auto-da-fé, a public ceremony of repentance and humiliation, Candide is flogged and Pangloss hanged by authorities who round up several townspeople for communal rites intended as "an infallible specific against earthquakes." Candide plunges into despair, wondering what the cause of all this hardship is.

An Old Woman takes Candide in and nurses his wounds. She later escorts him to the countryside and presents him to Miss Cunégonde, who has survived the rape and pillaging of the castle, contrary to what Pangloss claimed. They tell each other of their trials and tribulations.

Miss Cunégonde tells her story: after a brutal rape at the Castle of Westphalia, a Bulgar captain sells her to Jewish merchant Don Issachar. The Grand Inquisitor takes notice of Miss Cunégonde at mass and insists on a shared living arrangement with Don Issachar. He invites her to an Auto-da-fé where, in horror, she witnesses the torture of Candide and apparent execution of Pangloss.

Don Issachar discovers Candide and Miss Cunégonde lying together on the sofa and draws a dagger. Candide drives a long sword into the Israelite, killing him instantly. Miss Cunégonde panics, and at that instant, the Grand Inquisitor walks in. Without hesitation, Candide drives the sword through his other rival. The Old Woman suggests that they escape by horseback to Cadiz, thirty miles away. Candide, Miss Cunégonde and the Old Woman stop at a tavern in Aracena along the route to Cadiz.

Miss Cunégonde's jewels and diamonds are stolen at the tavern. The Old Woman suspects the Franciscan priest. Once again penniless, they sell one of their horses to a Benedictine friar and continue on their journey to Cadiz. Candide impresses the general of an army with his military skills and procures two additional horses. They ruminate on Pangloss's philosophy. Miss Cunégonde and the Old Woman compete with each other for the title of most aggrieved and unfortunate. The Old Woman reveals the extent of her own hardships.

Daughter of a pope and a princess, the Old Woman grew up in a luxurious castle contracted in marriage to the Prince of Massa Carrara. Before the marriage, he dies from liquid chocolate served by a former mistress. She and her mother end up as slaves in Morocco, where a Moorish captain takes her virginity. In a gory battle between competing native tribes, everyone is slain except her, left standing in a heap of corpses. The young princess falls unconscious, only to be awoken by an Italian man, who offers to transport her to Italy. Instead, he sells her to the Dey of an Algerian province. The plague sweeps the African nation, killing everyone except her. After the first wave of pestilence dies down, she is sold to a string of other merchants from Tripoli to Constantinople. She finally lands in the custody of a janissary, who is attacked by the Russians and whose fort is blockaded and starved to the point of famine. A man proposes to cut one buttock off each woman to feed the rest. They all undergo this painful procedure. Later liberated, she is healed by a French surgeon. She ends by disavowing any self-pitying stance, and challenges Miss Cunégonde and Candide to find someone who does not consider himself "the most wretched of mortals."

Analysis:

Throughout the story, Voltaire balances his role as omniscient storyteller with the testimonies of individual characters. Entire chapters are regularly devoted to "Cunégonde's story" or "Old Woman's Story." This narrative technique is an extension of the theme of candor because the first-person voice appears to lend sincerity and authenticity to the experiences that the characters recount. Voltaire creates a tension between the form and content of the story‹in other words, between the way in which it is told and what is actually being told. The earnest, serious tone of these testimonies is very much at odds with the clearly embellished and exaggerated details of the tale. The reader is made to feel sympathy and incredulity at the same time, without either reaction canceling the other out.

Already Pangloss's doctrine of optimism is showing signs of wearing thin. How Candide can account for Jacques the Anabaptist's death when he was acting in the role of good samaritan? Why is he being flogged and Pangloss himself hanged? Often Candide's unwavering faith in Pangloss's wisdom will force him into contortions of logic that defy standards of ethical behavior. In the next section, Candide will justify his killing of Miss Cunégonde's brother since this act later spares his own life by proving that he is not a Jesuit. Similarly, challenged to defend his murder of the Inquisitor, Candide responds: "When a man is in love, jealous Š he is no longer himself." The flimsiness of his justification points up the moral inconsistency of optimistic determinism.

A short summary prefaces the start of each chapter, often proclaiming "What happened to Š" The question of fate and destiny figures prominently into the Panglossian doctrine of optimism. Despite the third-person omniscient narration, Voltaire gives voice to the two central female characters, allowing them to shape the account of their own destinies. Contrast the woe-is-me attitude of Miss Cunégonde with the more self-empowering stance of the Old Woman, who refuses to buy into the solipsism of victimhood, instead showing compassion toward her travelling companions: "I have become more concerned with your fate than with my own." Undoubtedly, the ethics of care articulated by the Old Woman is the closest thing to a philosophical alternative that Voltaire offers up in response to the doctrine of "optimism," which is inherently egoistic and engenders a form of paralyzing self-pity.

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