Sunday, October 18, 2009

what he wants as opposed to what truly is

In Voltaire's satire, Candide, I couldn't help but notice the bland nature of relationships between men and women dispersed throughout. The series of interactions that struck me as especially dull are those that occur between Candide and Cunégonde, which are so nondescript and devoid of a deeper meaning. It is strange that Candide is eternally dedicated to Cunégonde even though Candide's thoughts of her as a virtuous woman are proven incorrect as the novel unfolds, and her personality is portrayed as flat and unstimulating.

I resolve that Candide is in love with the image of Cunégonde that is established in the beginning of the novel--that she is a pure, vulnerable woman. He continues to buy into the notion that he needs to save her Cunégonde from every discomfort that comes her way--an antiquated and distorted view of chivalry. Thus, as a result, he is crippled from seeing any of these discomforts as her own making (even though some of them are). Meanwhile, Cunégonde uses Candide's chivalrous nature to her advantage time and time again, always knowing she can come back to him and he will be ready and willing to protect her, regardless of how she has wronged him.

The initial description of Cunégonde in Chapter I is "fresh-coloured, comely, plump and amiable," which we later can tell is a deceiving portrayal, because she does not really come off as "comely" or "amiable" at all. I ultimate decided that she did not have much to offer anyone besides sex. Oddly enough, Candide views Cunégonde as a paragon of female morality, and so he is willing to "save" her from the Grand Inquisitor and Don Issachar, who both use her as a sex slave. He slays the two men as a symbol of his undying love to her, which he never lets go of--even when she leaves him for Don Fernando in the superficial pursuit of riches. To him she can do no wrong, even though this is clearly an indication that she is not nearly as dedicated to him as he is to her. This twist in their relationship reminds me of today's idea that "nice guys finish last," when a male is too giving, kind, and generous. Typically, these kinds of guys are seen as either trying to hard, or too easy to get by today's women. Candide would fit into this category, as he continuously tries and tries again to get to Cunégonde, even though she blatantly chose another man over him. When she hits a bump in the road, she returns to Candide, even though the passion isn't really there on her part. In today's society, this also occurs--when you are wronged by the mysterious choice, you go for the one who basically worships the ground you walk on as a temporary crutch.

Cunégonde plays up her role as a damsel in distress repeatedly throughout the novel, which I believe is illustrated by her incessant fainting in the face of danger. In Chapter VIII, her dramatic nature is exposed from the getgo. She begins her story with "I was in bed and fast asleep...A tall Bulgarian soldier, six feet high, seeing that I had fainted at this sight, attempted to ravish me. At that I recovered my senses. I cried, I struggled, I bit, I scratched... " Her descriptions are all dramatized and attempts to evoke sympathy from Candide, and they never fail to be effective. This aspect of Cunégonde's personality is seen in today's society as well, in the same exact way. Women oftentimes play up their vulnerability in order to get attention from men.

As I continued reading, I could not fathom why Candide remains faithful to this image of Cunégonde as his ideal mate, because to me, she is clearly manipulative and shallow. She has no real redeeming qualities, but for some reason, Candide remains obsessed with her. Perhaps this is because Candide is neither complex nor intelligent, but merely a product of naivite, desiring to make Cunégonde into the figure he has created in his mind. I do suppose that birds of a feather flock together, and so ultimately, when Candide and Cunégonde do wind up together, it makes sense because they equally lack depth and conviction, but the question that eats at me remains. Both in Candide and in today's romances, what makes us idolize these images we create of someone that are such obvious deviations from the person's true self?

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