François-Marie Arouet, known to his contemporaries and to posterity as Voltaire, represented classicism in the age of the Enlightenment. He was true to the ideas of logic and nature and presented works of philosophical optimism. The core of meaning in Zadig is similar to that of Voltaire’s more popular novel Candide: Ou, L’Optimisme (1759; Candide: Or, All for the Best, 1759). Zadig is aptly subtitled The Book of Fate. The reader is shown many chance occurrences and their results. Voltaire’s theory is that coincidence is really a trial, reward, punishment, or foresight—there are no chance happenings in the larger picture of life. His philosophy implies that people should consider the possible meanings of seemingly random events instead of dismissing them as accidental and therefore unimportant.
Zadig is a testament, as is the rest of Voltaire’s writing, to his belief in a system of universal justice and morality that applies to all people of any year or century. His philosophy, cloaked in wit, sarcasm, and satire that was relevant to his own time, still sparkles with truth more than 250 years after it was written.
The question posed in Zadig is, Why do bad things happen to good people? The plot takes Zadig through his troubles as he constantly asks himself why the bad things keep happening, forcing the reader to consider the same quandary. Zadig himself is reinforced as a wonderful specimen of maleness and humanity, a person pure of heart, a competent and clever judge, and a brave and winning fighter. Zadig is repeatedly punished for his good and honest nature, but evil is rewarded only in the short term. Just when Zadig is in trouble because his poem has been haphazardly broken in half in such a way that it appears insulting to the king, he is relieved from trouble by a parrot that transports the other half to the king—an even greater unlikelihood. The miracle of chance elevates his status. Had it not been for the earlier unjust and unlikely charge, he would not have been in the circle of the king at all. Although he is introduced to the palace by this unexpected occurrence, he ends up as the court prime minister. He also meets the queen, Astarté, with whom he will eventually live happily ever after. First, however, there are more chance incidents, many of them bad things happening for no particular reason. Bad events are...
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