What is the central message Voltaire is conveying in Candide?

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At first, Candide appears to be purely a satire on optimism, in particular the philosophy of Leibniz, which is expressed by Pangloss in the famous formula: "All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds." Optimism is certainly the primary target, and is made to appear...

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At first, Candide appears to be purely a satire on optimism, in particular the philosophy of Leibniz, which is expressed by Pangloss in the famous formula: "All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds." Optimism is certainly the primary target, and is made to appear increasingly absurd as a terrible series of misfortunes overtake Candide, Cunégonde, Paquette and Pangloss himself. However, Voltaire's attack on optimism is not an advocacy of pessimism or nihilism. These attitudes are attacked principally in the figure of the Venetian senator, Pococurante. Pococurante's experience of life is the exact reverse of Candide's or Pangloss's. He lives in the midst of wealth and luxury, with a magnificent art collection and a splendid library. However, he fails to appreciate any of this, regarding his life and everything it offers him with boredom and disdain.

At the end of the book, Candide says that we must cultivate our garden. It is this piece of wisdom that Pococurante fails to appreciate, though he has an exceptionally easy garden to cultivate. This is Voltaire's positive message. He is against naive optimism. It is absurd to think that a world so full of suffering and evil could be the best of all possible worlds. However, it is not the worst of all possible worlds either, and it is rational to make the best of your circumstances, whatever they may be. Unthinking pessimism is as foolish as blind optimism. One should see the world clearly, and do whatever good one can.

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The central message Voltaire conveys in Candide is that all is not for "the best in the best of all possible worlds." The book satirizes and debunks that philosophy, which had gained traction in the mid-eighteenth century (when Voltaire wrote this work). Voltaire shows that world is a miserable, corrupt place for the people who actually encounter it and don't simply read about it safely from afar. Candide gets caught up in a series of horrible adventures that are so over-the-top terrible they become laugh-out-loud funny. To some extent, a reader doesn't know whether to laugh or cry: for example, when Candide's beloved, Cunégonde, explains, matter-of-factly, that it is possible to survive rape and disembowelment, as she has done.

Voltaire shows that the people who are supposed to make the world a better place, such as the clergy, participate in spreading the misery: Cunégonde is shared as a prostitute, for example, between a Jewish merchant and a Grand Inquisitor (Catholic priest).

When Candide does arrive in the New World, he finds a rational, Edenic society in El Dorado: in this way, Voltaire shows the world could become a better place, but sets this fine land far from Europe and its depravities.

In the end, Candide learns it is better to turn away from the wide world and "cultivate one's garden." Ours is not the best of all possible worlds, but by retreating, one can fashion a peaceful life for oneself: that is the central message of the book.

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Candide, ou l'Optimisme by Voltaire is a satirical novella or short novel published in 1759. It was written in response to three events: the publication of Leibniz's "Monadology", the Seven Years' War, and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and tsunami. Voltaire saw the brutality of war and the death of thousands of innocent people in a natural disaster as making a mockery of Leibniz's (and Christianity's) optimism. Thus Candide is a scathing satire in which the notion of divine providence and grand ideals (expressed most programmatically by Doctor Pangloss) is confronted by the reality of everything from war to colonial oppression and from the abuses of the Inquisition to natural disasters. 

The central message that Voltaire conveys is that there is no such thing as benevolent Providence and that grand providential narratives simply plaster over real human misery in a world that is a product of random, purposeless mechanical forces. The best a human can do in this real world is attempt to find personal happiness in daily life and work. Finally, echoing the philosophy and life of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, Candide famously concludes:

"We must cultivate our gardens."

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Candide is a sustained assault on the optimistic philosophy associated with the German philosopher Gottfried von Leibniz. Essentially, Leibniz argued that since God created the world, everything was as good as it could possibly be. For a reform-minded philosophe like Voltaire, this philosophy encouraged stagnation and the uncritical acceptance of existing institutions. In Candide, this philosophy is represented by Pangloss, who repeats the credo that "all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds." Candide's experiences, which entail a series of absurd misfortunes, contradict this philosophy, and eventually he comes to the conclusion that optimism is  "a mania for insisting that everything is all right when everything is going wrong." So Candide is a critique of philosophical optimism, and really of anyone who claims that a single philosophical system can encompass all of human experience.

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