Monday, February 1, 2010

Misery loves company

In Candide the title character meanders through life directionless and hopeless as he subscribes to the credo that this is the best possible world. A lesson imprinted on his brain by the philosopher Pangloss, the hapless eternal optimist who educated him. However, in this satire/coming-of-age story, it is this very attitude that is mercilessly ridiculed and proved wrong repeatedly as the well-meaning lead character encounters tragedy after tragedy; all the while we are put in the position of laughing at his folly.

In a way this satire truly places us as the audience in a superiority model as we are laughing at Candide for his unintelligent decisions and his seemingly unwavering optimism in the face of countless hardships. We perceive him as naïve and stupid. I also found myself to be incredibly frustrated with him as he never tried to take any action but rather reacted to the situations thrown at him. He seemed to always let luck and fortune rule his future while remaining optimistically passive throughout the narrative with the exception of running after Cunegonde.

His love of Cunegonde also represents another remark Voltaire is making out against love and the formal happy endings of courtly lovers. His “relationship” with Cunegonde is the great romance of the story and yet she is equally as passive as Candide as their relationship is not based on substance as there is not a lot of contact. Additionally she tends to manipulate and prompt his chivalry and loyalty; and yet she willingly accepts proposals from other men. Clearly Voltaire is critiquing love and its many self-delusions.

Despite these higher and heavier remarks on society’s virtues, it is the humor in the satire of Candide that glosses over these hard truths and makes you laugh out loud. Perhaps the funniest parts of work for me were when the characters would lament over who had the worst life. All of us suffer but these characters were so deluded as to think that having the worst tale somehow makes them more righteous than the other. Candide is in many ways a marriage of misery and humor with social commentary blended in the mix.

No comments:

Post a Comment