What happens in Candide?

In Candide, Candide has a series of increasingly bizarre adventures. After being banished from his childhood home, he joins the army, flees the Inquisition, travels to South America, finds the mythical city of El Dorado, and then reunites with his beloved Cunegonde.

  • Candide grows up in Westphalia, where he's taught by the philosopher Pangloss that this is the best of all possible worlds. Despite the atrocities he witnesses in the course of the novel, Candide never truly gives up this belief.

  • When the Baron of Westphalia discovers that Candide has fallen in love with the Baron's daughter Cunegonde, he banishes Candide, prompting Candide's long and winding journey to win her back.

  • In the end, having been reunited with Cunegonde, who has lost her good looks, Candide concludes that it's enough to be content and that all one needs to be happy is a garden of one's own to tend.

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Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Candide: Or, All for the Best is Voltaire’s most widely known work and one of the most widely read pieces of literature written in the French language. Voltaire invented the philosophical tale as a means to convey his own ideas and, at the same time, entertain his readers with satirical wit and ironic innuendo. Candide (the name refers to purity and frankness) is the tale’s main character. He embodies the philosophical idea of optimism that Voltaire intends to oppose.

As the story begins, Candide is forced to leave Wesphalia because he has been caught kissing the baron’s daughter, the beautiful Cunegonde. Candide is driven from the splendid castle of the Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, where Doctor Pangloss has been Candide’s tutor and has taught him that all is well in this “best of all possible worlds.” Little time passes before the naïve Candide finds himself conscripted into the Bulgarian army. As a soldier, he witnesses firsthand the terrible atrocities of war. Escaping to Holland, he miraculously encounters Pangloss, who is himself in a pitiful physical state. From the ever-optimistic philosopher, Candide learns that his former home in Germany has been burned to the ground and that all of those inside have been massacred by the advancing Bulgarian army.

Voltaire continues to narrate his story with a cascade of adventures. He nonetheless keeps close to the principal reason for telling his tale: discrediting the metaphysical idea that all that happens on earth has been determined by Providence and therefore must be judged as being for the good of humankind. Pangloss, who has lost part of his nose and one eye to syphilis, continues to insist that all is going well in spite of overwhelming adversity. Candide and Pangloss travel to Lisbon, where they arrive just in time to experience the famous earthquake of 1755. Not only are they caught in Portugal during this natural disaster, but they also become embroiled in the Inquisition. Only by the reappearance and intervention of Cunegonde is Candide saved (Pangloss is a presumed victim of the Inquisition). In...

(The entire section is 2,940 words.)