Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Babylon. Capital of ancient Babylonia on the Euphrates River in Mesopotamia in which the novel begins and ends. Exotic and far removed from the reality of the France of Voltaire’s time, Babylon provides Voltaire with a setting in which he can plunge his readers into a fantasy world of his own creation—one in which customs, beliefs, and the turn of events can be manipulated to illustrate his philosophical ideas. No longer in familiar territory, readers have no preset expectations of what can and will happen; they are free to indulge in the fictional fantasy and concentrate on the philosophical inquiry carried on in the novel. Babylon, its court, its King Moabdar, his courtiers, and his subjects thus combine to make an excellent vehicle for Voltaire’s satire. Babylon also is an excellent setting for Voltaire’s inquiry into destiny and how an individual should react to it. Controlled by a despotic king who often rules by whim, Babylon is a place where one’s fortune can change very quickly, where good works do not necessarily bring reward, and where happiness and misfortune alternate with all too great a regularity.


*Egypt. North African land to which Zadig escapes from Babylon that Voltaire uses to satirize judicial systems. Zadig, who has slain a man in self-defense while trying to help a woman, is condemned to be sold into slavery. His camels are sold, the proceeds allocated to the city, and...

(The entire section is 489 words.)