Tuesday, February 2, 2010

"the best of all possible worlds?"

Voltaire takes up and effectively implements the satirical form in his work, Candide. The countless instances of a specific character expressing a particular belief or truth is often undercut by the action of the story which simultaneously suggests otherwise. Voltaire understands that satire, though humorous, does not necessarily have to be traditionally funny all of the time. The form is instructional in its command of given situations and what is being offered by an author despite the outcome of such situations (or because of the outcomes); it highlights the disparities between what is being told and what is taking place. Satire challenges readers to always question why something is the way it is, or why a particular situation is uncomfortable. This is the job of humor, but of literature in general as well. The questions are what lead to the truths and non-truths behind works of literature.

Pangloss suggests that this is “the best of all possible worlds,” yet horrible occurrences and events continue to fall upon Candide as well as the many characters found throughout the work. Though a firm believer in the philosophy of Dr. Pangloss, Candide’s optimistic outlook on the world is often challenged. It seems that Candide is quick to resign or defer to the notion that life is either completely good or completely bad, often judging from a single victory or setback.

Rather than recognizing that life will be filled with moments of great happiness as well as great sorrow, the characters leap from either complete happiness or absolute sorrow throughout their journeys. The joy present in the state of happiness is apparent, but its place in melancholy may not be quite as obvious. Martin suggests “that there is some pleasure in having no pleasure” (73). There is no middle ground offered by many of the characters in Candide, and they take pleasure in the extremities of human emotions instead of valuing the variations and degrees of them all.

The recognition of free will intrinsic to all human beings is worth exploring in the work as well (55). Though the world may not always be the best of all possible worlds as Pangloss professes early on, it is not necessarily its opposite. Men and women have the potential to shape the world according to their volition. It is free will which differentiates as well as unities all human beings. Candide ultimately comes to understand the significance of cultivating one’s own garden (87). The ability to shape one’s life and the world concentrates on the active individual rather than he or she who looks back on past events and attempts to ascertain meaning from that which was out of their control. It is free will which allows us to actively pursue the best of all possible worlds-to cultivate and shape the best of all possible worlds- because it is certainly not something that we ought to expect; it is not a given, disconnected from our potential to influence our environment.

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