In Candide, what does the old woman mean when she says it is better to have suffered than to sit and do nothing?

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This section of the novel comes at the very end, when Candide has finally achieved his long-awaited goal of marrying Cunegonde, and the characters have settled down to a traditional happy ending on a farm that might be argued to be well-deserved after all the sufferings they have experienced. However, Voltaire chooses to make this so-called "happy ending" a place of suffering that seems to be worse than anything else the other characters have experienced up until this point. The characters find the boredom and lethargy of their existence interminable, and they spend their days fighting and squabbling with each other over petty matters. Finally, the old woman is brave enough to reflect which is worse: to experience all the sufferings they have gone through or to do nothing. Note how the other characters respond:

It’s a hard question, said Candide. These words gave rise to new reflections, and Martin in particular concluded that man was bound to live either in convulsions of misery or in the lethargy of boredom.

This passage infers that human beings do not only suffer from external events, such as war and famine, but also from their own internal character flaws, such as their impatience and their boredom. The words of Martin suggest that boredom is something that results from a world without suffering, as there is something about an uneventful life that makes it a worse nightmare than the most horrendous of experiences.