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Free Study Guide: Candide by Voltaire - Synopsis / Analysis

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Candide as a Picaresque Novel

In Candide, Voltaire follows the tradition of the picaresque novel. The hero along with different characters moves from place to place. He goes through a series of adventures. There is no doubt that Voltaire exaggerates this technique which is already unsophisticated. Tragic as well as comic events are sudden and the coincidences are often unbelievable. Characters who are considered to be dead suddenly make their appearance again in the novel. Thus, the reader is surprised, but such happenings are not very unusual in a picaresque novel. The reader is shocked to know that Pangloss is saved after being stitched by a barber. One is surprised that Cunégonde is alive, and even more surprised that the Baron’s son survives twice after being considered dead especially after Candide had run a sword through him.

Candide as an Autobiographical Novel

Though Candide is a work of fantasy, it is to a great extent influenced by happenings and experiences in Candide’s own life. Voltaire, himself was ill treated and humiliated at the hands of Rohan-Chabot, a nobleman, just as Candide is beaten and humiliated by the baron and his son. Voltaire had known that even in the worst of circumstances some people from aristocratic families do not give up the false pride of their lineage. He has depicted this through the behavior of the Baron’s family. Voltaire had known the fall of great people from their high positions. He has depicted this by introducing the kings who have lost their thrones. Voltaire himself hated Jesuits and clergymen. Thus he has written about them in a satirical fashion. He has depicted many evils that prevailed in the French society of his times.

Candide is innocent. He is like Voltaire. He is imprisoned for no fault of his just as Voltaire was imprisoned in the Bastille. The Baron’s son humiliates Candide repeatedly just as Rohan-Chabot had done to Voltaire. Candide loves Cunégonde as intensely as Voltaire loved his beloved. Candide is assumed to be the illegitimate son of the Baron’s sister. Voltaire also was assumed to be the illegitimate son of Rochebrune. Thus there are autobiographical elements in the novel.

Candide as an Adventure Story

The hero along with different characters moves from place to place and from event to event. His adventures are tragic, comic, and sometimes eerie. Some of the most serious incidents are unbelievable yet humorous. Pangloss is hanged with a wet rope. He does not die though he is considered to be dead. He is cut open for dissection. Yet he is saved since a barber stitches him. The Baron’s son cured and saved even though Candide has run a sword through him.

Candide is an adventure story wherein the hero and his colleagues experience earthquakes, pirates, wars, shipwrecks, imprisonment, and also sudden and unexpected rescue. The adventures are sometimes too ridiculous. Hence some of them are unbelievable. At times it is like a folk-story or a mythological fairy-tale.


The language shows Candide’s progress towards maturity. In the beginning of the novel the reader finds compact, colorful and crisp sentences as Candide, the hero rushes through life. Later Voltaire adopts a calm and reflective style analogous to Candide’s mental development. Voltaire makes fun of the language of shallow philosophers who use a jargon of words and do not present anything worthwhile. Pangloss is Candide is a concrete example of such philosophers. Voltaire sometimes uses a word or an expression, which is exactly the opposite of what he wants to say.

Voltaire criticizes his contemporary society through his characters. Every detail of characterization heightens the essential mood. Even though his satire is intense, he gives a message of hope, which is far superior to Pangloss’s foolish optimism and baseless philosophy.

Towards the end of his career, Voltaire was awarded as the most brilliant member of the French academy. Voltaire has a tremendous sense of sentence rhythm. Short sentences abound. Even the long ones do not extend beyond modest proportions. He keeps the patterns symmetrical. He concludes his statements effectively. He does not allow his characters to linger in illusive idealism. He suddenly brings them down to earth.

Verbs are used continually to maintain the constant continuity of the story. The reader reads with rapt attention wondering what will happen next. Voltaire evokes a variety of moods. There are humor and comic incidents though the thread of tragedy runs throughout the novel. His vivid style is a reflection of the various aspects of real life itself. His ironic style suits his own view of life. He uses satire to expose the evils in society.

The hero, along with some other characters, moves from one event to another, or from one place to another. Co-incidents abound to such an extent that the reader is frequently reminded of movie stories and TV serials.

The other characters are mere puppets or caricatures. They represent certain types. Most of the characters have names, which represent their characteristics. Candide means candid or innocent. Pangloss is all-tongue. He talks too much with very little sense. Pococurante means the one who hardly cares. Cunégonde is oversexed as her name indicates. Cacambo is a name derived from ‘Caca’-‘beau.’ He revels in filth and beauty. Vanderdendur has ‘hard teeth.’ Men with a clear philosophy of life have simple names like Jacques and Martin. Also, there are characters who do not have names, such as the old woman, the priest and so on. They are mere symbols.

Voltaire had mastered the technique of judicious repetition. “All is well” is an expression, which runs throughout Candide. The word ‘for’ is also repeated. “For, he said, all is for the best. For if there is a volcano in Lisbon it couldn’t be anywhere else. For it is impossible for things not to be where they are. For all is well.” The logic of such a sentence is unconvincing. Yet the author beautifully handles the dialogue.

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