Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Class in Candide

Voltaire’s Candide is widely acknowledged as a satirical piece of work. There are many different elements that Voltaire depicts through Candide’s journey in the novel. One specific area that he focuses on is that of class specifically dealing with marriage. In the very beginning Candide wants to marry Cunegonde but cannot because he is unequal to her class and by the end when she has nothing left, there is still objection to the marriage.

Candide is only “seventy one quarterings,” of his class and he once kissed Cunegonde, who has “seventy two quarterings,” and is the daughter of the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh. This caused him immediate banishment from the kingdom because of the mixing of classes. The difference appears so small but makes the most difference for those of “seventy two quarterings.” Even after the kingdom is destroyed and the Thunder-ten-Tronckh family of “seventy two quarterings” is mostly dead, Cunegonde’s brother, known as the Baron, clings to the slight difference in class. Candide spends the remainder of the novel searching for Cunegonde after the kingdom is destroyed. Candide even rescues her from slavery and is in debt to him, Cunegonde’s brother refuses their marriage. He insults Candide when he says, “ ‘Would you have the impudence to marry my sister who has seventy-two quarterings! I find thou hast the most consummate effrontery to dare to mention so presumptuous a design!’ ” (36). The Baron insults one of the only people remaining from his previous kingdom and is willing to practically lose his life rather than let a slight class difference mar his family. This appears to be humorous in that the slightest difference would be easy to overlook if the Baron viewed the larger picture of how much Candide and Cunegonde care for one another.

This attitude seems ridiculous in the beginning of the novel and continues to the very end. Cunegonde is no longer the desirable beauty that she began the novel as and Candide barely expresses the same motivation for marrying her by the last chapters. However, Cunegonde’s desparation is so great that Candide feels obligated to marry her, except her brother, the Baron, still refuses to allow for the marriage. Candide at this point has established himself and owns a farm. He is a willing and able candidate to provide for Cunegonde, but the Baron still refuses . He states “ ‘my sister’s children would never be able to enter the church in Germany. No; my sister shall only marry a baron of the empire,” (82). The Baron refuses to accept the truth of reality and is willing to die than accept the reality. His sister is no longer fit for marrying a baron, because she is undesirable to a man of a lower class than herself. The blindness of the Baron to reality allows for the reader to find his unalterable opinion somewhat funny. This benefit is also an example of the irony in that the upper hand shifts from Cunegonde to Candide by end of the novel. These aspects are appealing because the reader is put at an advantage of the Baron in understanding that it is for his sister’s benefit to marry Candide. The reader also experiences a moment of laughter at the outrageousness of the Baron’s objections and his willingness to suffer consequences such as death.

How far can class systems go in preventing actions? In Candide, the slightest difference in class can be seen as ridiculous because its one tenth of a difference. But when regarded in the scheme of actual life and the truth of current class systems, it is not so funny. Then again, it’s partially humorous in Candide because in reality, class in some cultures determines all.

1 comment:

  1. I've just read your interesting post about class in Candide - thank you! FYI wonderful matinee this Sunday in NYC:
    -All the best,
    Christopher Balchin