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(Novels for Students)

Human Condition
The grand theme of the novel is the human condition. Candide wonders, what is the best way to approach life? In the story, Candide has been educated in the system of optimism. It is all he knows, but if Candide had been a flat enough character to accept optimism, the book would be without hope. Instead, Candide doubts the philosophy of optimism and eventually rejects it.

The quest of Candide centers on whether the doctrine of optimism taught by Dr. Pangloss is true. If it is, optimism must be reconciled with what Candide experiences. The reconciliation is not possible without some absurd postulations. For example, Pangloss says that syphilis "is an indispensable el-ement in the best of worlds, a necessary ingredient, because if Columbus, on an American island, hadn't caught that disease which poisons the source of generations ….. which often prevents generation ... the great goal of nature, we would now have neither chocolate nor cochineal." (Cochineal is a dye made from squishing millions of bodies of a certain insect native to Central and South America. The dye was used, most notoriously, to make the British Army uniforms scarlet red.) The example also shows how the attempt of a philosophical system to explain every single phenomenon leads to ridiculous connections.

Candide doesn't find such incidental and simple explanations for everyday occurrences as interesting or as valid as his big question, "Do you believe that men have always slaughtered each other as they do today, that they've always been liars ….. hypocritical and foolish?" To which Martin replies that that is the nature of the human animal. But the point is made that humans have free will, and the discussion moves beyond the realm of optimism. Candide eventually defines optimism as, "a mania for insisting that everything is all right when everything is going wrong."

The only possible defense of optimism is Candide's luck, which is regularly recited as evidence of that philosophy. For example, "if I hadn't been lucky enough to thrust my sword through the body of...

(The entire section is 703 words.)