Monday, February 24, 2014

Virtuous Action

While reading Candide I was troubled by what it is was Voltaire was trying to convey to his reader since his satirical language points out the flaws in both philosophy and religion. Fate and destiny are a common theme, but I don’t think Voltaire cares much for either. The universal truth Voltaire promotes is virtue with noble characters like James the Anabaptist and Cacambo. 

James is a man that truly upholds the Christian ideal of “love thy neighbor as thyself.” He is charitable and kind; he feeds Candide when he is hungry, he heals Pangloss when he is sick. The Anabaptist refuses Pangloss’ teachings and claims that men become evil and therefore perpetuate evil. James’ death is senseless and ironic: if someone had only listened and followed his example, James would still be alive. But James is dead due to the self-absorbed sailor and the equally self-absorbed, Pangloss. 

Cacambo was once a beautiful, young and rich. Her father was a Pope. Her good fortune did not last long, for just about no reason at all: her mother was murdered and she was raped and sold as a slave. Although she is considered a daughter of the divine, she still endures a horrific fate and a life that has been nothing but unfair. I found it interesting when Cacambo said:

“A hundred times I was upon the point of killing myself; but still I loved life. This ridiculous foible is perhaps one of our most fatal characteristics; for is there anything more absurd than to wish to carry continually a burden which can always throw down? to detest existence and yet to cling to one’s existence? in brief, to caress the serpent which devours us, till he has eaten our very heart?” (29)

I find this response to so human. It could perhaps reveal Voltaire’s personal philosophy: the point of living is to live morally, it’s an innate characteristic within us all, no matter how terrible things get. Life for Cacambo has been torturous and yet she remains humble and pure. She is kind to Candide and cares for him until he is healthy. After losing everything she accepts her current state and admits that she has committed her life for the well-being of Cunegonde. She has endured hardship, but pain and suffering can only lead to a better understanding, she states she has experienced, and she tells Cunegonde to listen the stories of others. She understands the power of empathy and understanding. James and Cunegonde practice humility and are completely self-sacrificing characters whereas someone like Pangloss is caught up in his own mind that only hinders and disconnects him from the world. I think Voltaire is trying to emphasize the importance of virtuous action, and similar to the moral in Chaucer’s The Franklin’s Tale that gentillesse is important: the bonds of generosity matter. 

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