What does Candide learn through the book?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Voltaire has his title character witness all of the ills of the world so that Candide can test out his teacher Pangloss's philosophy that "all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds." Voltaire's satire is a critique of the philosophy of optimism popularized by Leibniz during the Enlightenment. As Candide experiences and observes the worst of human behavior, he eventually learns that philosophy is useless and that humans are happier when they are more practical and work to "cultivate their gardens."

Early in the novel, Candide is very naive and inexperienced. He believes everything Pangloss teaches him and thinks the castle of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh is the best place in the world. He is in love with the Baron's daughter Cunegonde, but he doesn't seem to realize that she is of a higher class and thus is out of his league. When Candide is ousted by the Baron for kissing Cunegonde, he must find his way in the world on his own. He inadvertently becomes a member of the Bulgar army where he is abused and then witnesses the brutal slaughter of a village. Later he sees a good man die saving a bad man during the Lisbon earthquake. He even hears stories of abuse from the old woman and learns his own beloved has been disemboweled. Through all of these episodes, Candide remains optimistic.

After he kills Cunegonde's brother and another man and the company flee to South America, Candide thinks he might find Pangloss's "best of all possible worlds" there, since it's obviously not in Europe. Even though he is somewhat disillusioned, he still holds on to the hope that a utopia exists somewhere.

Candide comes closest to finding that utopia in El Dorado, a city where all the citizens get along and the streets are paved in gold and jewels that the locals do not value. However, the utopia comes at the price of isolation. For Candide, it's simply not a perfect world because Cunegonde is not with him. After leaving El Dorado and being met with the pessimism of other characters like Martin, Candide slowly begins to doubt Pangloss's worldview. By the end of the novel, he does not want to listen to Pangloss's philosophizing any longer. He tells Pangloss that they should just "cultivate the garden." Practical work can, at the very least, distract people from the evils of the world. Candide may be disillusioned, but part of Voltaire's point is that after seeing all that Candide has seen it is not possible for him to be blindly optimistic any more. 

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That's a good and tough question. In the beginning of the novel, Candide simply learns that the world is not what he had thought it was—that it was more, and more rugged. He starts naïve, and sees the world.

He then learns fate and mercy, when he is forced into the military, and then saved from a whipping.

He learns that there are more complex ways to view the world when he talks with the philosopher, and, more generally, that there are many views of the world.

His final lesson, which may not be the book's lesson, comes in the end of the novel, where he learns that this is, as Pangloss taught, the best of all possible worlds, and that we must all "cultivate our garden."

gherhino | Student

i think that candide throught the book learns that there are many diffucult situations and that it is not always for the best like pangloss says.

soyoung93 | Student

Through the book, Candide learns that all is not for the best. In the beginning, he thinks that Pangloss's idea of "all is for the best" is true, but as he suffers more and goes through more difficulties, he starts to change is mind and thinks that what he is experiencing is not the best thing that could happen.