Candide Summary and Analysis

Chapters XIII-XX

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Miss Cunégonde and Candide concede that the Old Woman's tales trump their own in terms of the cruelty and hardship endured. They lament the absence of Pangloss and the philosopher's wisdom. Upon arriving by ship to Buenos Ayres, the Governor Don Fernando becomes instantly smitten with Miss Cunégonde and inquires into the nature of her relationship with Candide. The latter is too scrupulously honest to lie and shield her from the Governor's advances. Candide instead says that Miss Cunégonde is going to do him the honor of marriage. In private, Fernando makes a competing declaration of love. Miss Cunégonde consults with the Old Woman about how to proceed. She advises the young woman to take the hand of the wealthy governor. The Franciscan whom the Old Woman had suspecting of stealing Miss Cunégonde's diamonds at the tavern en route to Cadiz comes back to haunt them at this point in the story: a ship arrives in Buenos Ayres carrying agents of the Inquisitor, from whom the jewels were originally stolen. Caught with the gems, the Franciscan has already been hanged, but confessed before his execution who the previous owner was, and the agents have come in search of Miss Cunégonde and Candide for further retribution. The Old Woman urges Miss Cunégonde even more strongly to marry the Governor and seek his protection, since she is innocent of any wrongdoing against the Inquisitor.

Candide makes a swift escape with his footman Cacambo, who leads him to Paraguay, where he knows that Candide's military skills will be prized. After having their arms and two horses confiscated by the Paraguayan army, Candide and Cacambo land themselves in the company of the Reverend Father Commandant, who turns out to be Miss Cunégonde's brother, the Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh. Candide and the Baron rejoice in the unexpected reunion.

The Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh / Reverend recounts his ascendancy within the Jesuit priesthood and his enrollment in the military. Candide informs him that his sister, contrary to his understanding, survived the massacre of Westphalia and resides in Buenos Ayres. Overjoyed by the prospect of seeing Miss Cunégonde again, the Baron turns sour, however, when Candide reveals his intention to marry her. In an access of rage, Candide draws a sword and plunges it into the Baron. He collapses in grief at his unwarranted action, only to be rescued by Cacambo, who disrobes the Reverend and dresses Candide up in Jesuit garb in order to escort him from the military fortress unrecognized.

Candide and Cacambo wander into the strange country of the Oreillons, where Candide rescues two distressed damsels from what appear to be attacking monkeys. With his keen sense of aim, he kills the beasts instantly, only to learn that he has inadvertently created another mishap: the monkeys are the legitimate lovers of the women. The Oreillons descend on the two men the following day, armed with arrows and hatchets, ready to slaughter them in thinking that Candide is a Jesuit. Cacambo intervenes and challenges the Oreillons to inquire into the matter, whereupon they discover that Candide is in fact not a Jesuit. He and Cacambo are released unharmed. Candide quips that, had he not slaughtered Miss Cunégonde's brother, his life would not have been spared by the Oreillons.

Transported to the frontier of the Oreillons, Cacambo and Candide head toward Cayenne along a river route through "a chain of inaccessible mountains." They arrive in a magical land where the carriages are made of magical "glittering materials" and the streets paved with precious jewels. At an eating house, they are treated to a lavish dinner and entertainment. Candide tries to repay them with the jewels they have found on the road, and is met with laughter, since they are simple pebbles in the eyes of these remote Peruvian villagers.

Cacambo asks a 172 year-old man about the religion of the kingdom. Theirs "is the religion of the whole world" and "we are all of us priests," he responds. Enraptured by the man's discourse, Candide declares El Dorado a more ideal place than Westphalia according to Pangloss's standards. At the King's palace, Candide and Cacambo are greeted by twenty-one virgins. During a tour of the city, they learn that the country has neither judges nor legislators. They spend a month in the country of El Dorado as the guests of the King, but Candide decides to leave the land of luxury and leisure. The King grants them permission to leave, recognizing the inherent liberty of all men, and orders his engineers to construct a machine that will hoist them over the steep surrounding mountains. Candide and Cacambo take sheep and "pebbles" (i.e. jewels) with them as bargaining chips to get Miss Cunégonde back from Governor Don Fernando. Considered worthless in El Dorado, the jewels make them ten times richer than any monarch in Europe.

Candide and Cacambo head toward Surinam. Along the way they meet a Negro slave who has suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of his master Mynheer Vanderdendur, a trader. Hearing the Negro's tale, Candide loses faith in the doctrine of optimism heralded by Pangloss, which is disparaged as nothing other than "the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst." Candide and Cacambo devise a plan to retrieve Miss Cunégonde: Cacambo will go back and bargain with the Inquisitor for the custody of Miss Cunégonde, and the two of them will reunite in Venice. Candide contracts with Mynheer Vanderdendur to take him to Italy. The trader, sensing the passenger's wealth, triples the amount for the voyage, then sails away with the diamond-loaded sheep, leaving Candide penniless in Surinam. Candide lodges a complaint with the Dutch magistrate, who fines him for his insolence and wasting the Court's time.

Candide makes arrangements to sail with a French captain and announces that he will pay the passage of any honest man to keep him company. The qualified candidate has to be "the most dissatisfied with his condition, and the most unfortunate in the whole province." Candide settles on Martin, a poor scholar who argues with him about the nature of moral and natural evil in the world. Martin confesses to being a Manichaean, much to the disbelief of Candide, as a result of past suffering. They spot two ships on the horizon engaged in battle. One belongs to the Dutch pirate who stole Candide's sheep and diamonds, some of which he reclaims after Mynheer's ship meets defeat and sinks to the bottom of the sea. Candide seizes upon the incident to reinforce his optimistic view of the world. But Martin points out that several innocent passengers also sank with the Dutch pirate. "God has punished the knave, and the Devil has drowned the rest," he concludes. Candide rekindles his hope to find Miss Cunégonde.

Analysis:

The geographic dimensions of Candide are among its most remarkable features: the spatial mobility mirrors the social mobility--both upwards and downwards--of the characters. Though money is traditionally conceived as the determining force behind a character's fate, desirability or social status, the varying material fortunes of Miss Cunégonde, Candide and the Old Woman are shown to be more or less irrelevant to the storyline, in no way impeding the momentum of their travels. It is when the Old Woman is at her most destitute, for instance, that she acquires the most experience as "a chambermaid in Riga, then in Rostock, Wismar, Leipzig, Cassel, Utrecht, Leyden, The Hague, Rotterdam." Voltaire's description of the topographical features of the land metaphorically reflects the vicissitudes of the characters' providentially inspired fortunes: the river they travel "widened steadily; finally it disappeared into a chasm of frightful rocks that rose high into the heavens." The themes of space and movement take on a new level of importance in this section with the narrative detours to the mythical lands of the Oreillons and the country of El Dorado.

El Dorado might best be described as a proto-Marxist utopia, in the sense that the social "superstructure" (laws, politics, the State) has been eliminated because the material needs of everyday life have been satisfied. Marx believed that the economic base of society was the driving force behind History, causing social change through conflicts between competing classes or groups. The country of El Dorado is hence a place where the forces of History, and by extension, those of individual fate, have come to a halt. If it represents the organization of society at its most advanced, then the Oreillons are lower down on the evolutionary ladder, evocative of ancient mythological times when commixtures between man and beast produced "centaurs, fauns, and satyrs." Like the static society of El Dorado, the Oreillons are stuck in a primitive state where, absent any civilizing institutions, violence is tantamount to political power.