Sunday, October 18, 2009


Voltaire writes, “Do you believe…that men have always massacred each other as they do to-day, that they have always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates, brigands, idiots, thieves, scoundrels, gluttons, drunkards, misers, envious, ambitious, bloody-minded, calumniators, debauchees, fanatics, hypocrites, and fools? Do you believe…that hawks have always eaten pigeons when they have found them? ...if hawks have always had the same character why should you imagine that men may have changed theirs? Oh!...there is a vast deal of difference, for free will---” (55).
Under the influence of Dr. Pangloss, a philosopher, Candide (sent out into the world) seeks to find that our world is “the best of all possible worlds.” He wants Pangloss to be proven right even when he suffers great pains and set backs. But as Candide, and ultimately Pangloss, come to learn, the free will of man shapes not only his life, but all lives he comes into contact with. Free will is equated with power, and Voltaire’s writing is at first satirical and entertaining, yet instructive as well.
Candide’s engagement in and with the world throughout his tumultuous adventures has afforded him clarity and understanding. Once he has ransomed his friends and settles in Turkey, Candide realizes that the best thing one can do is to cultivate his or her own garden. Mankind is not meant to remain idle. If all members of a community work to cultivate their own gardens, society and the community will prosper overall. The question at hand is not whether man has free will, but what he is to make of it. Free will should therefore be utilized in a collaborative manner in order to work towards the betterment of all.
To cultivate a garden and work in the earth presents the opportunity to play God. The gardener must attend to his crops, and the fruition of the crops relies directly upon the gardener’s will. It is up to the gardener to nurture and care for his crops. But if human beings are the plants in a larger “garden,” we differ from the plants we tend to in our own. Human beings have free will and may deviate from some set fate or predestination. Divine providence is a prevalent theme throughout Voltaire’s work. And Candide’s recognition that the best thing to do is to cultivate one’s own garden signifies his understanding of the free will of human beings. If God exists, human beings co create with him. We have choice as well as the potential to enact change in the world we live in; human beings have a cognitive understanding of the inherent power in our free will.
This work reminds me of many instances in my own life. While I cannot say that I have suffered any extreme events such as the ones our characters face, I have seen-both abroad and at home-how one’s experiences in and with the world may shape and even alter one’s perception or understanding of it. At home, my family is very much into gardening. My mother plants flowers and helps in the garden, but my father particularly takes an interest in working in the garden with my younger sister. I have personally noticed the difference and contrast that gardening presents to his work life. When he comes home after a day in the office, gardening is something that presents a release. It is easy to feel controlled at both work and school, to feel like we have no free will at all. We are expected and made to work, to not deviate from a position or occupation. But gardening allows us to exercise and express our free will in ways we forget we can. We get to play God and take care of something that relies on us completely. The decisions of our free will, how we choose to use it, will directly affect our garden. A garden may also be quite personal. Everyone will have his or her own method or way of approaching gardening. The expression of individual free will will then be visibly indicated by the actual garden.
I have seen this as well in my own life. An elderly man and his elderly daughter are neighbors of ours. I think that their garden means even more to them because of their age and decreased ability to do some of the other things they used to be able to do. The daughter has also been sick her entire life and suffers from muscle control problems. She has not lived a typical life, but enjoys her gardening a great deal. Her interaction with my dad through a shared love of gardening has also brought her joy. There is no doubt that I will see her either standing by the fence or in my backyard talking with my dad and giving him gardening advice on a given day in the summertime. I feel bad for her when I see her just standing in the front of her house or walking up and down the street, but I also admire her passion for gardening. She too has found an outlet for her free will despite her limitations. Through this woman, I have seen how gardening may be either a very independent activity or a very inclusive one that may bring people and a community together. Candide and the reader learn that “the best of all possible worlds” is not something given; rather it is something we must create for ourselves given our free will.

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