"All is for the best...in the best of all possible worlds."
Utopia generally conjures up images of beauty, brilliance and harmony. How is it possible to conceive of the violent and brutal happenings in Candide as "the best of all possible worlds?" Our world is clearly not perfect, so isn't it more logical to conclude that all is not for the best? At least not all of the time? Such are the questions raised in Voltaire's timeless masterpiece of satire, Candide.
Candide tells the journey of a young man through the world and the realities he must face, deal with and eventually come to be defined by. During his ventures, Candide leaves behind the naive innocence of his childhood and assumes the status of an intelligent and distinguished man.
Candide was born and grew up in the castle of the Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, in the land of Westphalia in Germany. Soon after his mentor, the philosopher, Dr. Pangloss introduces him to the idea of extreme optimism, Candide's adventures begin as he is banned from the kingdom for kissing the Baron's beautiful daughter, Lady Cunegund.
As Candide travels through Germany, Holland, the New World and the remainder of Europe, he encounters trials and evils of every sort--war, hatred, betrayal, starvation, natural catastrophes of all kinds, in short, any and every evil to which man has ever fallen prey.
In the course of his travails, however, one thing becomes outstandingly familiar to Candide; the parallels of events that denote the universality of evil.
Finally, coming full circle, Candide settles down to cultivate his own garden and make the best of his own possible world.
As with most satire, the characters in Candide exist for one unique purpose rather than being fully fleshed out. Dr. Pangloss is the most notable. Pangloss is not present in most of Candide's adventures but he does provide the theme underlying the whole of the book. He serves to sway Candide with his one, unrelenting optimistic outlook on life.
The epitome of Pangloss's philosophical outlook, "Everything is for the best," is assimilated by Candide very early in the story. Being young, sheltered and naive at the time, Candide proceeds to live his life according to this tenet. When faced with a problem he always asks himself what Pangloss would do or say in a similar situation.
Candide, however, eventually learns to form his own opinions and concepts and thus the philosophical optimism of Dr. Pangloss is tested and challenged throughout the book.
The "Pangloss Effect" is also demonstrated through Candide's experience in El Dorado, Voltaire's fictional utopia. Candide, traveling with Cacambo, his servant, finally discovers El Dorado, the purported "perfect" place. Why would anyone ever want to leave this perfect place, Candide asks himself? His quest had been to prove the theory of optimism of Pangloss and now apparently, he had succeeded. However, all is not what it may seem, even in El Dorado, and Candide is confronted with many ironic and enigmatic questions.
As his journeys draw to a close, Candide comes to realize that it is man's almost limitless ability to accept the fate that befalls him and move on to new and better things that allows him to remain sane, happy and productive. In this sense, Candide comes to represent change and development while Pangloss remains the apex of the unchanging and inflexible.
While most satire grows stale and dated, Candide remains as fresh as it was when Voltaire wrote it. In the end, as Candide wisely shows us, in the best of all possible worlds, we all tend our gardens as best as we possibly can.