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In Voltaire's Candide, what is the old woman's attitude toward her own suffering and...

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mparish1 | Honors

Posted February 7, 2011 at 12:45 PM via web

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In Voltaire's Candide, what is the old woman's attitude toward her own suffering and Candide's interpretation of her experiences?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:21 PM (Answer #1)

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In Voltaire's Candide, the old lady, who is the servant to Lady Cunegonde, shares her story of her own trials and tribulations. A high-born young woman herself, her fate seems to have been more tragic than Cunegonde's, and when she shares her misadventures with her lady and Candide, they agree. They then listen to the tales of the other people on the vessel which is carrying them, and again, the two agree that the old woman's life has been more horrific than any other.

The old woman's attitude is that even though her life has been horrible, and she has wanted to die many times, still she chooses to live. She notes that even though people hate their lives, they still cling to them.

I've wanted to kill myself a hundred times, but I still love life. That ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our most pernicious inclinations. What could be more stupid than to persist in carrying a burden that we constantly want to cast off, to hold our existence in horror, yet cling to it nonetheless, to fondle the serpent that devours us, until it has eaten our heart?

Candide, having heard the old woman's story, wishes that Pangloss were still alive, imagining the comments the old man would make regarding her experiences.

It's a great pity...that the wise Pangloss was hanged...he would have told us admirable things about the physical and moral evils that cover the earth and the sea, and I would have felt strong enough to venture a few respectful objections.

We can assume that since Pangloss' character reflects the sentiment that Voltaire is criticizing—a sense of eternal optimism in the face of all things good or bad—that with Pangloss' sentiment of "this best of all possible worlds," Pangloss would find good fortune in the old woman's experiences; most probably he would tell her that had she not endured all of the terrible things in her life, she should not now find herself in the good company of her mistress, Candide, etc. The flaw in this logic, however, is that things are not really wonderful for any of them: they are on the run because of Candide's murders of the prelate and the Jew.

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