The Enlightenment was a major movement in 18th century Europe that changed the way many people think. During this movement many scientific achievements and ideas were born due to the rise of individualism and the ability to reason. Numerous philosophers rose to state their perceived notions and thoughts on an array of topics, one such philosopher was Leibniz. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) is known as a (“universal genius” Look, Brandon C.) because of his discoveries in fields all across the board such as logic, mathematics, physics, and even religion.
One of Leibniz’s contributions was the Theory of Optimism which stated in a general sense that God created the world, therefore it is the best of all possible worlds and anything bad that happens is for the greater good. Due to this theory, Candide arose to combat it. Candide is a satirical novel written by Voltaire, another thinker from the Enlightenment Era. Voltaire believed in God and that he created the world but he did not believe in any one religion.
Instead, he was interested in the natural laws that were present in all religions that could piece together a bigger truth. Voltaire considered himself a deist, the belief that God created the world and set it in motion but does not continue to interfere in the world’s happenings. Voltaire uses his satirical comedy, Candide, to castigate the society that surrounded him and disprove Leibniz’s Theory of Optimism.
Throughout Voltaire’s novel, the satire is apparent in almost every word.
With his use of symbolism and imagery to fuel the satire, he criticizes his discontent with society’s current beliefs. One of the greatest symbols in Candide is present from the very start of the novel, Dr. Pangloss. Pangloss is nothing more and nothing less than an absolute optimist. No matter what tragic events happen to Pangloss during his time in the novel, he always believes that “everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds” (Boyd, Clark). One such example is when Candide is reunited with Pangloss to discover that the Doctor had contracted a horrible case of syphilis from Paquette. “Oh, Pangloss!’ cried Candide, ‘what a strange genealogy! Is not the Devil the original stock of it?’ ‘Not at all,’ replied this great man, ‘it was a thing unavoidable, a necessary ingredient in the best of worlds” (Voltaire 15). Pangloss is made to be a laughing stock because of his absolute belief in optimism.
Voltaire does this to make a parody of Leibniz’s theory. Another major symbol that is represented in Candide is El Dorado, the golden city. The golden city is a place where people never go hungry and equality takes place among the people. El Dorado is Voltaire’s way of contrasting his version of the ideal utopia to the real world. By doing so, Voltaire highlights how grotesque and somber reality is to a place that optimism could actually be a viable solution in society. Voltaire uses a sage that lives in El Dorado to make it clear that the only reason a utopia like this exists is because it is isolated from society. The main satirical point of El Dorado lies in the ideals. Reality, where the common european man would kill and slave for just a small amount of gold and the inhabitants of El Dorado, where they treat gold without a sense of rarity and value. In order to actually appreciate the luxuries of Eldorado, Candide feel they must take them out into the real world. They are not content till they can flaunt their wealth before others and show themselves superior.