Voltaire's aim in Candide is to debunk the fashionable idea that "everything happens for the best, in the best of all possible worlds." Voltaire finds much wrong with French society and culture in his day, not least of which is the complacent refusal of the upper classes to acknowledge how troubled and evil their world truly is. However, his critique extends across European society. The fate of Cunegonde is one example of what is wrong with this society, namely, its treatment of women. Her brother does not allow her to marry Candide, though the two are in love. How could it be the best of all possible worlds if a vain, ambitious brother has the power to deny his sister's happiness? Later, Cuengonde is raped by the Bulgarians and ends up the mistress of two men, one a Jew and one a Catholic, showing the hypocrisy that runs through religious faiths. Rather than the best of all possible worlds, Candide shows us a world of cruelty, violence and hypocrisy. Through the over-the-top horrors the characters undergo in this darkly comic work, Candide critiques a French society willing to turn a blind eye to its own complicity in cruelty by using an "everything happens for the best" philosophy to justify evils that could be remedied.
Because Voltaire’s Candide is a satire, most of the critique is indirect. Rather than having a single character that is a spokesperson, beliefs are often satirized by situational incongruities or reductio ad absurdum, so that, for example Pangloss serves to critique Leibniz’s philosophy of optimism. The pessimistic philosopher Martin, of the characters in the work, most closely approximates a direct critique, as he expresses negative and pessimistic interpretations of the events surrounding them, and thus is probably the closest approximation to a spokesperson. Candide, at the end of the work, moves from a character whose situations serve as critique to voicing explicit criticisms.