Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Humor with a Recommendation

Before cracking the spine of Voltaire’s Candide, I decided to read over the editor’s description on the back cover. I wanted to see what I was getting myself into. Stanley Appelbaum writes, “Caustic and hilarious, Candide has ranked as one of the world’s great satires since its first publication in 1759.” I knew satires are intended to bring humor to, while commenting on some social issue. Besides that I really didn’t know what satires consisted of. Did they fall into one of our “Humor Models” or is it a separate entity in itself?

My dictionary defined satire as, “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) At first it wasn’t easy for me to pick out the humor. I have not lived in 18th century Europe, and thus I am unaware of the cultural norms of the time. However, as I continued to read some situations were far too absurd to assume normal, even in my ignorance. For instance, within the old women’s history, the Russian Military is forced into cannibalism, yet because the Iman is “pious and humane” he decides to only cut only one butt cheek off each of the women for food. Once accustomed, the, “humor, irony, exaggeration, and ridicule” was very evident in Candide.

The second aspect of a satire is the criticism, the humor displays. Throughout the novel, Candide is constantly revising his philosophy on the world. Candide holds onto his mentor’s philosophy of “all being [is] created for an end, [and] all is necessarily for the best end.” This philosophical thinking pulls Candide as well as others, out of their present situations. Their actions make no difference, because everything is intended to be the way it happens. The fact that Candide justifies the constant tragedies with philosophical reasoning, so they don’t affect him, turns terrible situations into hilarious ones.

I would not consider this satire a “Superiority Model.” Although we look in on the characters and events at laugh at them, the themes the humor points to are universal. Philosophy, religion, love, and money are just as relevant today as they were in 1759. I would place Candide in the multi-directional model. Voltaire places his solution to the issues he presents in the last sentence of the novel. “[L]et us cultivate our garden,” proposes that humans return to taking control of their actions. This differs a little from the simple multi-directional model, for it offers a suggestion at the end. I am not sure that this fact places satire in another category all together, but the recommendation at the end does place Candide in a sub-section of the model.

No comments:

Post a Comment