What is the genre of Voltaire's Candide?

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Voltaire’s Candide can be classified in several genres: satire, parody, picaresque, and bildungsroman.

Clearly, the book is a satire and a parody of such Enlightenment philosophers as Liebniz. Voltaire simplifies Enlightenment thinking into “everything is for the best.” No matter what happens to the characters, they maintain...

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Voltaire’s Candide can be classified in several genres: satire, parody, picaresque, and bildungsroman.

Clearly, the book is a satire and a parody of such Enlightenment philosophers as Liebniz. Voltaire simplifies Enlightenment thinking into “everything is for the best.” No matter what happens to the characters, they maintain that the world is as perfect as it could possibly be. Cruelty is justified, earthquakes are explained away, rapes are ignored—all because the world is wonderful. Pangloss’s refusal to see any bad in the world is sheer exaggeration—how could one possibly accept that syphilis is necessary so the world has chocolate? In addition to philosophy, Voltaire also takes aim at religion. The pope has a daughter, and the friar is a thief, for example. Voltaire depicts society’s innate corruption as well—money and jewels create dishonesty in everyone.

Voltaire’s tale of the simple Candide traveling from place to place, engaging in one adventure after another, is representative of a picaresque novel. Popularized in Spain, a picaresque tells the story of a rogue from a low social class who travels and lives by his wits in the midst of corruption. According to Britannica, the rogue or picaro wanders,

just barely escaping punishment for his own lying, cheating, and stealing.

Voltaire borrows some of the picaresque traits, even if he does not utilize all of them, which makes his hero likable. Candide constantly battles corrupt society, and the reader roots for him to win. From the time he is thrown out of the castle, to fighting to free Cunegonde, to settling into a life of “cultivat[ing] our garden,” Candide is the nomadic hero that everyone supports.

Despite the hardships he and his friends endure—and miraculously survive—Candide is able to come away stronger and wiser. Thus, Candide can also be classified as a bildungsroman or a “coming-of-age” novel. Candide matures by the end of the book as a result of his adventures—or rather misadventures. He learns to live simply and to work on the farm. He discovers that travel and philosophy are not necessary for happiness.

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