Candide by Voltaire: Death of Optimism

There are many a great novels depicting the journey of the protagonist on geographical, emotional and intellectual plains. The authors often, through the fictitious protagonist explore existential angst, religion and also different philosophical viewpoints to arrive at the meaning of life. These journeys are more of a spiritual journey of the protagonist towards enlightenment. Human beings are forever trapped in the void of existence and hence such books never lose their relevance. One such masterpiece is Voltaire’s Candide written way back in 1759.

Voltaire was one of the famous sharp witted rationalist thinkers of the ‘age of reason’ which swept through Europe in the eighteenth century. It was an interesting era when after Galileo, Newton discovered the basic Laws of Physics that governed the physical world. These new realities directly confronted the religion. Earth, life and creation was no longer the center and purpose of the Universe. Philosophers, physicists, mathematicians, artists were all divided in opinion. It was this fertile ground of thinking that gave birth to interesting allegorical tale of Candide. Voltaire explored all realms of life through this simple story of journey of Candide and travails he faced.

Voltaire’s tale of enlightenment of Candide is a realistic tale of disillusionment as well (which most thinking souls face during their lifetime). Candide, an optimistic, disciple of Pangloss, who believes that this world is the best of all possible worlds and everything happens for the best, learns the hard way that it is not true. This could not be best of all worlds. He travels through wars, natural calamities and even Utopia of El Dorado while battling emotional upheavals, going through relationships and meeting new people. At the end of the journey Candide is convinced that man is trapped in an unkind world and he must fight three evils – boredom, vice and poverty. He also realizes that the only way to survive disenchantment was by engaging in productive work which could even be cultivating one’s own garden.

It is rather strange that society, religion and science have gift packed optimism for thousands of years, and forced the being to believe that positive thinking is the way to go. Shunning of the negativity and the desperate attempt to hold on to anything that faintly looks positive is similar to the situation of an ant that tries to hold on to an uprooted blade of grass in a flood. While the institutions continue to manufacture and force feed the populace with optimism, one forgets to realize that pessimism and the rejection of the positive could be empowering.

It is strange indeed that the so called modern progressive world still tries to package and sell optimism and happiness while the real world around us is very dark indeed. Even the bestselling spiritual novels of present times harp about silver lining, best world, and formulas for being happy. Voltaire’s realization and death of optimism can only help us cope with grim realities. Acceptance of negative energy found in abundance around us prepares us for a dreary and sullen world.

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