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?  

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Much of the information about the old woman comes from her biography as she provides it. Once a wealthy, great beauty and the illegitimate daughter of a pope, by the time Candide meets her she is a self-described red-eyed, long-nosed servant woman. In many respects, the old woman stands for the pervasiveness of injustice in the world, the oppression of women, and the evils of slavery–all of which she endures. Yet it is her endurance that creates the strongest impression, and ultimately bolsters the theme of optimism—the faith in life that she calls “a ridiculous foible.”

The old woman’s many qualities begin to emerge in chapter eight. During Candide’s stay in Portugal, after he was whipped and witnessed the philosopher Pangloss hanged in an auto-da-fé , the old woman takes him in, feeds and clothes him, and heals his wounds. She later reunites him with his beloved Cunegonde, who reveals that the woman is her servant, and that she had commissioned her to help Candide and to...

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