Voltaire, Candide or Optimism
1. Characters. Each character can be interpreted as representing or symbolizing an idea, philosophical positions or social groups during the age of the Enlightenment. What is your interpretation of each of the following? Do you notice a change in each character as the story develops?
a) Candide d) Cunegonde
b) Pangloss e) Baron Thunder-Ten-Tonckh
c) Martin f) Cacambo
2. Geography and history. Along the story there are several references to geographical locations and historical events. Define them and describe their significance in the story.
a) Westphalia f) El Dorado
b) Jesuits g) Paris
c) priests h) Venice
d) Lisbon earthquake i) Jews
e) Englishmen j) women
3. Interpretation. How would you summarize the message of the story?
4. Essay. 4 to 5 typewritten, double-spaced, pages. If you do not have experience writing critical essays, try to follow these steps:
i) Read the whole story and take notes.
ii) Attempt your own interpretation of the meaning or message of the story.
iii) List several themes or topics that you think are relevant to the general meaning of the story (e.g. religion, state, individualism, love/passion, work/responsibility, philosophies of the Enlightenment, role of women, wealth and social groups, etc.)
iv) Among the themes you have listed choose one, and only one, theme to which you can relate the most.
v) Proceed to gather evidence from the story’s text (examples, short quotations, references to pages) relevant to the theme you have selected.
vi) Arrange your evidence following an ordered logic, which will allow you to prove your point of view step by step, from the simplest evidence to the most complex. Organize your essay in three parts: introduction, discussion of evidence, and conclusion. Give a title to your essay (examples: “Growing up in eighteenth-century Europe”, “Religion and the enlightened individual”, “The importance of passion (and/or work) in Candide’s intellectual quest”, “The significance of El Dorado for the optimistic argument”, “Obstacles in the achievement of intellectual maturity.”)