Candide Calls for Cultivating Our Gardens
Cari Gilkison, French Literature 1996
Candide takes us through a very violent and pessimistic world only to show us that there is indeed hope. While Pangloss introduces us to thinking that all is for the best, Candide adventures reveal that it is only true if we “cultivate our own garden.” In other words, Voltaire is telling us through the story that the only way to break ourselves from the situation of our existence is to quite accepting things the way they are and start questioning them.
Candide begins in Westphalia, a lovely castle, which is not unlike the Garden of Eden. Candide becomes the embodiment of every man. His lust and greed gets him kicked out his Utopia—a place where he never needed to question anything. He accepted life until that life changed dramatically. He was thrown into the violent, chaotic world where he had no choice but to question things if he was to survive.
From there he begins his journey, which ultimately leads him deeper into himself and his identity. All of us must go through this same upheaval in order to learn. These upheavals often take the form of physical challenges one must endure like being put in chains, made to run the gauntlet, weathering the storm, surviving a shipwreck and surviving an earthquake, as well as many other things. It is only through these traumas and triumphs that Candide can begin to question life and learn from these events.
Then Candide’s object of affection Cunegonde takes center stage. Cunegonde represents the perfection that mankind strives for in the physical world. Her perfect beauty is something just out of his reach, just as perfection is just out of our reach. In the end, when he reunites with Cunegonde, she is no longer beautiful or perfect. Perfect in our world cannot exist. She is old and withered, but Candide still marries her because he realized her inner beauty is what counted. If he would have refused her, he would have returned to an illusion. The journey would have been pointless. Candide learned from his journey and broke free from the illusions that he held about the world.
The idea of the Garden of Eden is examined in depth with Candide’s trip to Eldorado. Eldorado is another utopia. The people who live there are quite happy, but Candide is not. He is restless and bored. Voltaire used this scene in the book to help us see our purpose on earth. If we had stayed in the Garden of Eden or any Utopia, then we would not be able to exercise our freedom of choice nor would we be able to learn and grow like Candide. Too many people have stopped growing and are ignorant to their purpose on earth. Candide leaves behind Eldorado and leaves behind his ignorance.
The underlying message of Candide is optimistic. If Voltaire thought the world doomed with no hope, he wouldn’t have written Candide as a way to point out our faults and ways to correct them. Voltaire uses the story of Candide to help get us to question our existence and its purpose. He helps us to see that only way to change the world is to change ourselves as Candide did. Once Candide realized that he had to “cultivate his own garden” he was ready to become a better person and better the world.