What is the importance of the old woman in Candide?
What is the importance of the role of the old woman, and how are various themes and ideas (wealth, optimism, religion) expressed through her character?
Of all the characters' suffering in Candide, the suffering of the old woman would win the prize, if there were one. When tales of woe are exchanged, the horrors of her life are beyond imagining, including the loss of one buttock when she was cannibalized. Through her character and the epic nature of her physical trials, much satire is achieved in regard to Candide's search for truth; based on her history and the world as she has experienced it, the philosophy of optimism becomes far more difficult to defend.
The old woman had not been born to her sorry state. She is the daughter of Pope Urban X (a significant satirical religious reference in the novel) and a princess. Growing up in wealth as Princess Palestrina, she had been extraordinarily beautiful. Through a series of fantastic, horrendous events, she had become the deformed old woman Candide meets.
Despite her tribulations, however, the old woman has not given up. Although she had once contemplated suicide, she could not relinquish her life; she carries on, even though she has no reason to expect a better future--and she does not get one for quite a while after meeting Candide. More misery ensues until she is rescued by Candide to spend her days on the farm where she finds life terribly dull.
Through the old woman, life is presented as one terrifying experience after another, punctuated by periods of drudgery and boredom--yet human beings cling to it. Many pretend to be happy and optimistic to endure life; some, like the old woman, just keep living. She is developed in the novel as a very memorable satirical portrait of the human condition.