In Candide by Voltaire, what kind of narrator is Candide and can he be trusted?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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It is Candide's naivety and unfailing optimism that make him such a reliable narrator. There's no lying in him, and his remarkable honesty is an expression of his generally sunny outlook on life. His very name gives us a clue as to his chief personality trait. "Candide" does not mean "candid," but rather "naive," or "innocent." That being the case, there's no reason for us to suspect that our hero is keeping anything from us.

No matter how much adversity Candide encounters on his long, eventful journey, he still remains upbeat. Whether this is the appropriate attitude to hold in the face of such an endless litany of woes is a moot point, but there can be no doubting Candide's sincerity. And so we're as certain as we can be that Candide's account of events is largely accurate.

However, Candide's innocence also means that he lacks a little something in the way of knowledge. He is astonishingly ignorant of the ways of the world, and his ignorance all too often leads him into serious trouble. This means that, although Candide reliably narrates the events as they happened to him, he is unable to provide us with a full picture of reality. For that we will need to make our own judgments, bringing to bear our own individual life experiences on the events of the story as they are—honestly and accurately—presented to us.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Candide is far too gullible to be a trustworthy narrator. He is what is called an unreliable narrator.

As with Gulliver in Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Candide is too quick to believe what he is told. For example, he buys wholeheartedly into Pangloss's flattened and absurd version of Gottfried Leibniz's philosophy that everything happens for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

It takes quite a lot of over-the-top cartoonish horror and violence for Candide to begin to think that perhaps everything is not for the best in this particular world. The comedy emerges directly from the disconnect between Candide's naive ideas and the reality the reader witnesses.

It is only after many terrible adventures and experiencing much arbitrary cruelty that Candide adopts a new philosophy, deciding that it is better to lead a life of retirement and to "cultivate one's garden" than to engage too deeply with a barbaric world.

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Domenick Franecki eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Candide is unfailingly optimistic after every disaster that befalls him. He always thinks that "everything is for the best" and that he lives in "the best of all possible worlds." He has been taught by his teacher, Pangloss, to believe that everything is for the best, so even after he is exiled from the castle where his beloved, Cunegonde, lives and is robbed and forced to fight a war and beg for food, he says in chapter 3:

It was necessary that I should be banished from the presence of Miss Cunegonde; that I should afterwards run the gauntlet; and it is necessary I should beg my bread, till I am able to get it. All this could not have been otherwise.

Even after Candide and Pangloss witness the deadly Lisbon earthquake (a real event that happened in 1755) in chapter 5, Pangloss still says that all has happened for the best, and Candide is in agreement. Voltaire is satirizing a school of philosophy called Leibnizian optimism through the characters of Candide and his teacher, Pangloss. Candide is clearly a subjective narrator who is not to be trusted as reliable.

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Candide is young and naive, making him the definition of the unreliable narrator. The reader cannot trust the unreliable narrator to convey correct information, because the narrator himself does not fully understand what is happening. Candide is overly optimistic, making trusting his judgment a problem. People take advantage of him because he is hapless and foolish, and though he is fundamentally a good person, he seems to have no control over what happens to him. Chaos follows him, and he cannot be considered a reliable narrator because he is still trying to figure out life and what is happening to him.

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