What central theme is reflected by the lessons Candide has learned? How does this theme help Voltaire achieve his purpose for writing?

Candide's experiences help him mature and change his views about the world. He has seen so much suffering that he can't justify Pangloss' theory that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Candide's Journey shows us on a smaller scale what Voltaire was going for when writing the book. Candide's life is very similar to ours, we live in a world full of corruption and evil, but we are oblivious to it, because we are too busy just trying to survive. The only way to stay happy is by not caring about what goes on outside your own garden fence. The more you know about the world, the more unhappy you will be, so better off if you don't know anything at all.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Voltaire's aim in Candide is to disprove the philosopher Leibniz's optimism. This held that our world is the best of all possible worlds and also suggests that any tragedies in this world in some way work toward some greater good. Voltaire believed there was simply too much corruption, hardship, and tragedy in the world around him to justify such a positive perspective. In Candide, Voltaire has his title character travel across continents and experience the foibles of multiple societies in order to prove that this "best of all possible worlds" simply does not exist.

Pangloss, the young Candide's tutor and thus his only source of education, is meant as a caricature of Leibniz. Throughout the novel, Pangloss repeats his belief that we live in the best of all possible worlds, regardless of circumstances that seem to show quite the opposite. Pangloss himself suffers tremendously and sees others die and suffer needlessly, but he blindly repeats his philosophy independent of those events. Candide, for a time, also repeats this philosophy, but he eventually matures a bit through both what he witnesses firsthand and through his exposure to another philosopher, Martin, who is a pessimist (but in the world of the novel, seems to have a much more reasonable take on the world than does Pangloss). At the end of the novel, Pangloss is still spouting his theory, but Candide has changed his tune: he now only wants to "tend the garden," believing that productive work in the only way to function in this nonsensically violent and corrupt world. Candide learns that "the best of all possible worlds" does not exist, so it may be best to avoid the outside world as much as possible. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team