Freedom & Equality in Voltaire’s Candide

514 words | 2 page(s)

Voltaire’s book Candide deals with many themes such as the fallacies of optimism, Enlightenment ideals, philosophical ponderings versus real world truth, and freedom and equality. The part of the novel that best deals with freedom and equality is in Eldorado, Voltaire’s mythical city of freedom from materialism and relative well-being. However, discussion of these themes is found throughout the novel and in the resolution at the novel’s ending.

It seems that Voltaire does not believe that freedom and equality are compatible. One of the Enlightenment’s ideals is the freedom of trade, commerce and exchange of ideas. Yet, with freedoms, there is competition, commerce, trade and winners and losers. This societal structure will always lead to oppression because there will be people who have more and those who have less.

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Through parody, Voltaire makes severe criticism on the possibility of man’s attainment and embrace of Enlightenment ideals. Through the tragedies, war, lust, illness and violence in Candide, Voltaire argues that the baseness of human nature will not simply disappear through a philosophical awakening of a minute minority of already wealthy individuals. The Enlightenment period is characterized by the mental, spiritual and philosophical shift toward freedom as many humans desired better living conditions and to be free of tyranny and oppression. However, in Voltaire’s Candide sexual violence and rape, corruption, and moral downfall are widespread. Even though Enlightenment ideals contain basic human rights for all, the reality of 18th century Europe was the opposite of freedom and equality. European monarchies were built upon a severe class and feudal system that kept the overwhelming majority living in poverty. In feudal society, people held their station in life and could not move or change classes. However, through commerce and trade, Enlightenment ideals, and the New World, Candide finds freedom but also lawlessness.

At the novel’s end, the characters find relative peace, comfort and freedom living together in a farm. This ending suggests that Voltaire does not believe in the ideals of society and democratic involvement, but that the ideal arrangement for human life is a simple, agrarian way of life. Although many mishaps and problems occur on the farm, Candide, are happy and at peace, illustrating that true happiness, freedom and equality are to be found on individual terms not through society or even greater philosophical truths.

Voltaire himself is a study on freedom and equality. His works of satire are classics, but during his time was jailed for having written them. On an intrinsic level, all beings wish for freedom and equality. People can only be oppressed for so long before they demand, either violently or otherwise, the same basic rights and freedoms that others enjoy. In the 4th century, even Constantine was aware that Christianity was not simply going away and for the first time granted Christians the freedom to practice it by making it the state religion. Yet, in Candide and throughout modern history it seems that the two ideas of freedom and equality are mutually exclusive, but human beings strive for both which requires that society and government deal with both of these ideals.

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