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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

He form'd no Projects for making Silk Gloves and Stockings out of Spiders Webbs, nor of China-Ware out of broken Glass-Bottles; but he pry'd into the Nature and Properties of Animals and Plants, and soon, by his strict and repeated Enquiries, he was capable of discerning a Thousand Variations in visible Objects, that others, less curious, imagin'd were all alike.

Zadig devotes himself to philosophy after divorcing his first wife, Azora. He sees philosophy as a refuge from the disappointments of love and life. In this passage, Voltaire satirizes the philosophical pursuits of his times. During the Enlightenment, philosophers turned against unscientific pursuits such as alchemy (referred to in the quest to turn silk gloves into spiders' webs and make china out of glass bottles). Instead, they devoted themselves to classifying and understanding reality. Voltaire also satirizes this type of pursuit, as Zadig devotes himself to the tiresome and meaningless process of identifying the minute differences between similar objects.

Your greatest Uneasiness, said he, arose from the Narrowness of your Circumstances; but mine proceeds from an internal, and much deeper Cause.

Zadig encounters a fisherman who tells Zadig that he used to work as a maker of cream-cheeses but has fallen on bad times, as his wife has been stolen from him and his house destroyed. The fisherman's woes are merely financial, and Zadig gives him money to solve his problems. Zadig's problems, on the other hand, are psychological and philosophical in nature and therefore more difficult to solve. Though both men deal with the vicissitudes of fate, Zadig's problems are also related to losing the woman he loves and trying to figure out the role of fate in his life.

The Wicked, replied Jesrad, are always unhappy. Misfortunes are intended only as a Touch-stone, to try a small Number of the Just, who are thinly scatter'd about this terrestrial Globe: Besides, there is no Evil under the Sun, but some Good proceeds from it:

Toward the end of the story, the angel Jesrad reveals himself to Zadig, explaining the role of fate and suffering. He says that just men like Zadig are often tested through suffering and that Zadig is the only human who is allowed to discover this truth of reality. Jesrad tells him that suffering always produces some kind of positive effect. At the end of the story, once Zadig has won over his queen and been restored to good fortune, he reflects on what Jesrad told him. He and Queen Astarte reconcile themselves to the nature of Divine Providence, accepting that they cannot control fate and that misfortune can lead to good.

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Critical Essays