In Candide, how does Voltaire show that greed is one of the main causes of evil in the world?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Voltaire's commentary on greed mostly arises from the "El Dorado" section of Candide. The streets of El Dorado are littered with precious gems and stones. Candide and Cacambo are surprised to learn that the citizens of El Dorado are not impressed with those valuable stones and treat them as though they are just rocks in the street. A wise old man who lives in El Dorado but who, unlike its other citizens, has experienced the outside world, tells Candide and Cacambo, "as we are surrounded by inaccessible mountains and precipices, we have so far been protected against the rapacity of the European states, with their irrational lust for the pebbles and mud of our land, for whose sake they would kill every last one of us" (46). This is the most blatant condemnation of European greed. The old man fears that if Europeans were able to get into El Dorado (and we know they have tried to find this legendary "city of gold"), they would murder the citizens for the sake of taking their treasures. The Europeans are depicted as having an insatiable lust for material wealth.

The condemnation of greed is furthered when Candide takes a bunch of El Dorado's sheep, loaded down with the valuable jewels, and is subsequently robbed of most of his possessions. Many of the sheep die on their journey from El Dorado, and those that are left are mostly lost when a European skipper takes advantage of Candide. Then Candide feels that "the wickedness of man now revealed itself to him in all its ugliness" (54). Eventually, the skipper's ship sinks, and Candide feels there is some kind of cosmic justice. At the end of the novel, after witnessing all forms of human vice, including greed and extreme violence, Candide and his friends retire to a quiet home to tend their garden. They realize that they must separate themselves from the world to avoid its folly.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

in the middle of his novella Candide, Voltaire portrays the Americas as exploited by the clergy and aristocracy of Spain; however, in Chapter XVIII, when Candide and his valet Cacambo arrive in Eldorado, they learn that this wondrous land, surrounded by mountains, has remained hidden from the rapacity of the Europeans and is the "best of lands" with its contented people and all its tremendous resources: gold, silver, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. 

One night they dine with the king, who is 172 years old, who advises the young men to stay where they are, "...when a man is fairly well off somewhere, he ought to stay there." But, he adds, "All men are free," so he has no control over their actions. "So the two fortunate men decided to be unfortunate" and they leave Eldorado, hoisted out by a machine created by scientists specifically for them that can lower them and their 102 sheep laden with jewels. 

However, after they leave the utopian world of Eldorado, Candide finds that his gold and jewels bring him little but misery because the swindlers, Vanderdendur and the Surinamese officers plot to relieve Candide of his fortune as quickly as they can. Thus, greed inspires evil acts against Candide. Earlier, the old king described to Candide and Cacambo how greedy some earlier visitors had been, as well as how the priests and aristocrats exploited even their own people. After Candide and Cacambo arrive in another land, the Dutch judge before whom Candide must appear fines him 10,000 piasters for various things such as noise, expenses of his hearing, and so on. "The wickedness of men appeared to him in all its ugliness" as Candide and Cacambo lose all but two of their sheep and much of their wealth.