What did Candide mean when he said "let us cultivate our garden"?  

Expert Answers

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

The young Candide lives in the German principality of Thunder Ten Tronck and studies with his tutor, Doctor Pangloss, an incurable optimist and theorist of optimism. The equally optimistic Candide travels the world and encounters every kind of misfortune imaginable, from narrowly surviving an earthquake in Portugal, to being chased...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The young Candide lives in the German principality of Thunder Ten Tronck and studies with his tutor, Doctor Pangloss, an incurable optimist and theorist of optimism. The equally optimistic Candide travels the world and encounters every kind of misfortune imaginable, from narrowly surviving an earthquake in Portugal, to being chased out of Argentina by the Inquisition, to being enslaved by the Turks, to being imprisoned as a galley slave on a French sailing ship.

Through all of the disasters, disease, robberies, murders, and executions he's endured, Candide nevertheless remains wholly optimistic. "All is for the best," he says, "in this best of all possible worlds."

At the end of his journey and as the culmination of his many adventures, Candide settles down on a little farm near Constantinople.

"All that is very well," answered Candide, "but let us cultivate our garden."

From the time Voltaire wrote Candide in 1759, scholars have debated what these words mean. Some scholars argue that the garden symbolizes our lives and that Candide means to say that we must nurture and cultivate our lives in order to derive the best possible benefit from our labors on this earth.

Other scholars contend that the garden symbolizes our minds. We must clear our minds of all of the ideas, opinions, and beliefs that others have planted there, think for ourselves, and make our own decisions based on our own experiences. Candide might mean that it would be best for us to withdraw from the world as much as is reasonably possible and simply tend to our own business.

The Turk, himself a gardener with his two sons and two daughters, once told Candide, "our labour preserves us from three great evils—weariness, vice, and want." This could be one of the meanings that Voltaire intends by Candide's last words in the story. Perhaps after witnessing all of the episodes of religious intolerance and political oppression, Candide is simply advising us that the best thing to do is settle down, live peacefully with our neighbors, and produce something of value to others.

In his 2005 translation of Candide, American translator, poet, and educator Burton Raffel (1928–2015) translated Voltaire's final words for Candide, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin," not as “We must cultivate our garden,” but as “We need to work our fields.”

This subtle change in translation of the words imparts an equally subtle change in the meaning of those words. "Work our fields" is simply a more rustic, less refined and cultivated way of saying "cultivate our gardens," but it all comes down to the same essential gardening process, and the same essential philosophy of gardening—you reap what you sow.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

After many horrific, over-the-top adventures traveling the world that Pangloss has taught him is "the best of all possible worlds," the naive Candide begins to gain wisdom and rethink his tutor's contention that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Having experienced a panorama of slavery, warfare, rape, dismemberment, execution, torture, disembowelment, and other such horrors, Candide, while staying in Turkey, happens to have dinner at the house of an Old Turk. Candide marvels at the plentitude of the dinner, with its several sherbets and other good food. He assumes the Turk must be very rich, but the Turk tells him he and his daughters live abundantly by cultivating only twenty acres. They keep themselves busy, are content with what they have, and lead a comfortable life.

Candide ponder this and decides that "cultivating one's garden" is a better option than trying to make one's fortune in the wider world. By "cultivating one's garden," Candide means more than just planting and tending to a literal garden of plants. His point is that one should surround oneself with family and close friends and then pursue one's talents. "Cultivating one's garden" is developing one's gifts. An individual should keep busy and do what they do best. The wider world can take care of itself. One does more for the world and stays safer, Candide implies, by concentrating on quietly developing one's own gifts, rather than trying to make an egoistic mark on the world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The entire plot of Candide follows Candide as he searches the world over for confirmation of Dr. Pangloss's teaching of ultimate and all-inclusive optimism in every situation. Candide's experiences lead him to eventually renounce the optimistic attitude that "this is the best of all possible worlds," but he still continues to search for the place and situation that makes sense of the experiences he encounters.

After incredible adventures and surviving situations of extreme danger to himself and his companions, Candide eventually finds himself and the people who have become important in his life (for various reasons) together on a farm - not a very glamorous setting after all he has seen and experienced. However, Candide comes to understand that the activities necessary to sustain life on the farm provide for a safe, constructive and sustainable lifestyle - which is a good reason for the group to decide to "cultivate our garden" in what is, if not the best of all possible worlds, at least  acceptable.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team