Sunday, October 18, 2009

The most fairly decent of all possible worlds?

The “best of all possible worlds” is a perfect idea in theory but in reality this kind of world is not one that provides a person with riches, status, and health but rather provides comfort. I believe that it is human nature to be upset when life doesn’t go your way and that comfort is disrupted, but as a human I also believe that uncertainties, tragedies, and failures comes with the price of humanity. This is why I think Candide fails miserably as a human being. However I cannot blame Candide entirely for his ignorance, his education is responsible for his lack of an open mind. Dr. Pangloss is the real culprit in painting Candide’s life as this wonderful utopia of bubblegum and sunshine. It is clear that Voltaire is satirizing aristocratic lifestyle and the dangers of their close mindedness. Dr. Pangloss presents the dangers of education; one cannot rely on simply being educated but you must rely on the sincerity and truth of the source your education is coming from. False knowledge is just as bad if not worse than ignorance. All the characters in the novel are at a complete disadvantage in the real world because they were all taught that their life is the best of all possible lives.
This theory seems to carry over even into the parts of their lives where they suffer great misfortunes. These characters compete with one another over whose misfortunes are the “best of all possible” misfortunes. These instances are obviously meant to be satirical and set up a parallel between misfortune and fortune. For example, as readers we follow Candide through his many misfortunes and during his journey we encounter Pangloss, Cunegonde, the Old Woman, Paquette, and others who explain to one another just how horrible their life has been. As hilariously absurd this exchange seems to be, it is not foreign to social practices today. Just the other day I was speaking with a couple of my friends, one of whom just recently broke up with her boyfriend. Rather than provide her with advice on what she should be doing to make herself feel better, we all rambled on about how we’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. One girl’s breakup was way worse than the others, but couldn't possibly compare to this other girl’s, and so on and so forth. Although this tactic may serve as some sort of reality check, life letting you know that “hey, things aren’t always going to be great”, but it does seem cruel and unnecessary.
The characters in this novel however cannot accept the fact that bad things are happening in their life because not only do they assume they live the most perfect of all lives, but that they themselves are the perfect examples of men and women. For example, Candide laments that he has killed three men, he does not grieve because of the actual murder but because he believes himself to be “the best-natured creature in the world.” (Voltaire, 36) He is unable to accept human inclination to sin. It is as if Pangloss failed to mention to his pupils that free will and choice are basic everyday occurrences.
The first positive revelation that Candide has is when he ventures to El Dorado and reflects to himself that “It is evident that one must travel.” (Voltaire, 44) This is the first instance where Candide realizes that perhaps his thought-to-be-dead ex-teacher may have not had everything he taught correct. In order to claim that one world is the best of all possible worlds, maybe one should check out all these other “possible worlds” before making such a bold statement. This would be if someone said that Baltimore is the best of all possible cities without having seen New York City, Paris, London, etc.
I would have to say that the only character in the novel that seems to have somewhat of the right depiction of life is Martin, quite possibly the most negative characters in the novel. Martin serves as the “anti-Candide”, Candide being the glass half full kind of guy while Martin is the token pessimist. He assumes that life’s purpose is to “plague us to death” (Voltaire, 54) and is content in the end living life on a farm because he believes he would be just as miserable anywhere else in the world. This allows Martin to obtain something all the other characters lack completely, patience. In the end, Candide is also able to perhaps not achieve patience, but at least becomes content with his life when he states that they must “cultivate [the] garden” (Voltaire, 87). Martin agrees with this Idea and says, “’Let us work,’ said Martin, ‘without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable.’” (Voltaire, 87) This is also a very modern idea, a sort of 16th century way of saying when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. This encourages Candide to finally make his own luck, stop fainting, moping, and be proactive with whatever life hands him. Thus creating a more realistic version of the world for Candide, no longer the best (an idea that clearly will always remain an idea) but perhaps the most fairly decent of all possible worlds.

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