Why does Voltaire write in this style?"Candide" by Voltaire

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Best known by his nom de plume, or pen-name, Francois-Marie Arouet, criticized his society; in fact, he signed everything  "Ecrasez l'in-fame," or "down with infamy." His famous work, "Candide," satirizes the popular philosophy of optimism promulgated by Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz that held that since everything was created by God, and since God is perfect, then everything in the world must be also perfect.  When Voltaire initially criticized this philosophy in his poem on the Lisbon earthquake of 1756, the Romantic Henri Rousseu retorted that it was Voltaire who was wrong.  Voltaire fired back at Rousseau with his satirical tale of "Candide" in which one disaster follows another; however although he is beaten and treated cruelly, Candide continues to be rescued from the horrible situations.  When he finally arrives in Eldorado, Candide decides that this must be the best of possible places, but although he recognizes a utopia, Candide cannot live without his love, Cunegonde.  So, he and his companion depart with vast riches, but they encounter more harships and losses.  As a result, Candide exclaims that he must renounce the optimism of Pangloss.  His companion, Cocambo, asks, "What is optimism?"  To this question, Voltaire replies, "It's a mania for saying things are well when one is in hell."

In the conclusion of his work, Voltaire, who has criticized the optimism of von Leibitz and Rousseau, does offer a solution to the negative conditions that really exist in life:  One must cultivate one's own garden, making the best of his/her own life. 

Having chosen satire as his method of writing, Voltaire mocks the theory of optimism by making the entire world a stage for his criticism.  His style imitates that of the ancient poets Horace and Juvenal as he exposes the follies of humans in an effort to help them progress.  Votaire's satire is humorous and not biting, therefore.  Employing the Eden trope, Candide travels through many gardens, but there is a lesson to be learned in each one.  Finally, he concludes that one must cultivate his own garden in order to avoid misfortune and folly.

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