Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Candide and Irony

            The main source of comedy in Voltaire’s Candide, I felt, was not solely in Voltaire’s wit (which was quite present) but a result of the irony and even absurdism Candide played with. Pangloss, I felt, was the best example of all this; even our first introduction to him is totally ridiculous—“a professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology”. Part of the humor in Pangloss, I felt, lay in the fact that the man seemed to take himself so seriously, while no one else did; it was almost as though Pangloss believed himself to be the voice of reason in Candide, but no other character was willing to accept that. Multiple times, Pangloss tried to spout philosophical questions off at other characters, only for them to abruptly cut him off or, memorably one time, slam a door in his face. Even at the end, when Pangloss has a grand revelation about all they’ve been through and how it fits into his “everything has a reason” philosophy, Candide essentially tells him to stop talking so they can “cultivate [their] garden”.  It’s amusing because of the irony; here we have a learned man who clearly knows a lot and wants to discuss life at length, but no one cares enough to listen to him, and repeatedly cuts him off every time he tries to talk. Similarly to the congruency theory, it subverts our expectations—we expect Pangloss the philosopher to be the voice of reason, and Pangloss certainly agrees, but no one else does, so we’re surprised into laughter each time.

            Another element of the humor of Candide is the absurd nature of Candide’s reality. Candide believes Cunegonde and her brother to be dead, only to find out that they’re both alive, only to then kill her brother, who then turns out to be alive and shows up with Pangloss, who Candide also thought was dead after he was hanged publicly—I half expected the Anabaptist to miraculously emerge from the depths of the ocean and start gardening with them at the end. Candide goes to a play, and the critic next to him is already planning out twenty pamphlets insulting the main actors; Candide believes he is saving two girls from monkeys, but it turns out they’re their lovers; Candide gets himself out of trouble by insisting that not only is he not a Jesuit, but he also murdered one; Candide and Conegonde and the old woman compare the horrible things they’ve endured in life as though it were a contest; Pangloss insists that a bay was made just for the Anabaptist to drown in. Even the chapter titles fit into the absurdity of it all—oftentimes they were solely “What happened to [character a], [character b], etc” as though Voltaire himself didn’t care, or at one occasion that made me laugh out loud, a touching reunion scene between Candide and Cunegonde’s brother followed immediately by a chapter titled “How Candide Killed the Brother of His Dear Cunegonde”. Like with Pangloss’s character, our reality and our expectations are completely subverted by Candide, and that’s why it’s funny; none of our laws of logic or order seem to apply, and in fact, they appear to be joyfully flouted instead. It’s the pure irony of each situation resolving itself in a way we—and the characters—didn’t expect in the slightest that makes us laugh.

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