Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Voltaires' Pearls of Wisdom

In Candide written by Voltaire, I can’t help but be both perplexed and infatuated by the characters and the dynamic personalities that they represent. Their complexities make for a grand adventure in which I felt myself riveted and fascinated throughout the entire reading. Candide was essentially a journey for me as I followed the minds of Candide and his friends in their respective journeys in search of happiness.

Voltaire introduced a number of complex personalities and philosophical blunders and enlightened thoughts as each character depicts while searching for something throughout the story. I found it brilliant that the end of the story ends with somewhat of a lull in which the events seemingly dwindle to an anticlimactic ending where there is not much action but a lot of discussion.

What I found to be most effective about Voltaire’s story is that the ending presents the reader with a question that both bothers and complicates what we think throughout our reading of the rest of the story. All of the characters suffer from what is described as boredom which replaces the sense of urgency/ energy/ excitement that they had felt along their journey. They seem to fade into common society and join a mediocre lifestyle which they all have trouble adjusting too. I cannot help but note Voltaire’s extreme use of situational irony in the ending events of his story. In one way, all of the characters come to a point in their lives where they should all be happy, especially Candide. Candide’s whole journey throughout the story has been one in search of the love of his life: Cunegonde. He travels to throughout South America, Europe and even reaches Eldorado before he finds her. And the end of the book seems the pinnacle of his journey and as a reader we feel a sense of relief and contentment that he has finally succeeded in this endeavor. But Voltaire has other plans!

The irony is that at the end of the story, she is ugly, worn out, and less appealing to him than ever before. In fact at the end of the story Candide actually mentions that he has no desire to marry her any longer. The prize for which he sacrificed everything (Cundegonde), is not what he actually wanted, or turned out not to be the relationship he expected. The irony of the story is in actually the complexity of the outcome of the characters’ lives. In peace, they find themselves facing inevitable and daunting boredom exemplified by the frustration and enlightenment that their lives are not what they perceived them to be, or might not have been what they wanted. The sacrifices, the death, the suffering that they all endured seem to for no means to an end and I can feel the disappointment in the end. The characters subject themselves to a journey filled with frustration where they all question their purpose, their lives, and their futures but end up in one house, equally as unsatisfied as before.

Voltaire perhaps is alluding to a deeper concept here in the termination of his book. I cant help but make this applicable to my own life, and the lives of many people in the world today. We seem to all desire something deep and want gratification out of life, but sometimes search for the wrong things. Similarly, sometimes we search for things and then find disappointment when we finally attain them. The quest for human satisfaction and peace of mind in our lives is completely turned upside down in Voltaire’s novel. And though the pursuit that Candide embarks on is for love, we see him struggle with feelings of greed, power, disappointment, resentment, judgment, and so many other human emotions. We cannot help but question our own lives, and ask ourselves, are we doing what is going to make us happy? Or, what is life all about? Voltaire’s brilliance as a writer and philosopher invokes these feelings within us, compelling us to think.

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