Wow, what a bargain. For $1.50, the reader of Candide gains insight into various aspects of the human experience. Voltaire satirizes so much in his thin work that it is impossible to digest fully even after multiple reads. The Frenchman is vicious in his assault on love, philosophy, theology and religion, warfare, and various other concepts. The story uses a very blunt sense of ironic humor throughout, and it is possible that if reading without prior knowledge of the book’s comic value, the reader might find the book horrifying instead of comic.
The name of the protagonist, Candide, is rather amusing. Candid really is not an accurate descriptor of the way that things are addressed in this novel. No, oftentimes a straightforward, frank tone may be used, but the author uses metaphors and somewhat convoluted language to describe a straightforward event. For example, in the first chapter, Pangloss’ sexual encounter with the chamber-maid is described as a “lesson in experimental natural philosophy.” This contradiction of tone and subject matter seems to be the source of humor throughout the whole novel. While the characters speak in a straightforward tone about sophisticated, virtuous ideals like love and philosophy, they are really talking about sex and false theories of life.
As an example of the false theories proposed, Pangloss’ theory that “all is for the best” is proved false over and over again throughout the novel. This theory seems to be one of the central aims of Voltaire’s satire. Voltaire was seemingly frustrated with the conservative doctrine of fatal determinism, in which people seemingly have no control over everything and all is as it must be, and thus it cannot be any better. One cannot help but laugh when, while enduring numerous tortures in Europe, Candide states that it all must be for the best. The irony in saying that rape, whipping, disembowelment, and hangings are all for the best is so outrageous that it’s comical. Voltaire’s frustration could have stemmed from a number of areas, but the most likely seems to be that he sought some change in Europe and reactionary, conservative sentiments prevailed over progressive thoughts. The thought “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind, and Voltaire wants to emphasize that something is clearly “broke.”