Monday, February 13, 2017

Philosophy and Brevity

Voltaire provides us with an alternate source of comedy in his Candide. The story of a commoner turned fortunate, the central character is found in Candide and the central plot in his infatuation with Cunégonde, the daughter of a baron. After a brief fling of romance, Candide is banished from his homestead and forced to journey the world in search of his denied lover. What makes this story comical is the absurdity of situation and the skewed morality of our protagonist. Candide commits many crimes, including murder and desertion, but nonetheless remains our story’s champion. Along the way back to his beloved Cunégonde, Candide encounters a character by the name of Pangloss who has (and has yet) suffered many hardships, namely his contracting of syphilis from a chambermaid named Paquette. What is humorous about this character is his unfaltering optimism. Despite his dire circumstances, Pangloss hopes for greener pastures past the hardships he has endured and still will endure.
Midway through his journey, Candide finds himself in the land of El Dorado. The true utopia of the world, this land has no politics, nor wars nor tribulations. The only thing that this places lacks, for Candide, is his lost love Cunégonde who has been passed and sold from one country to the next. After accruing his wealth from the land, Candide ventures out again to find and marry his life’s love. Having lost and regained his fortune along the way, Candide once again meets Pangloss who he believed to be dead but proves to be alive and as optimistic as ever. It really is funny that his optimism proves to be well founded in fate as he joins Candide’s party on the final leg of their journey. With his fortune Candide buys Cunégonde’s freedom and their clan settles as farmers, relinquishing the adrenaline fueled adventures of their travels around the world for sake of serenity.

Like Shakespeare’s Comedies, this story ends in marriage. It was the primary motivation of conflict throughout the entire story and, upon its resolution, the narrative finds peace and finality. I think the final joke in this all is the content that the party experiences once they surrender to the simple life of farming. They have experienced hell and utopia alike but are satisfied with the mediocrity of tending the land. There is nothing glamorous or exciting about their newfound lifestyle, but it is sufficient. This, I believe, is Voltaire’s ultimate message: that, no matter how much thought and energy is placed into the philosophical and metaphysical tribulations of life, one may find happiness in a full stomach and family. Nothing, in the end, truly matter in the face of life’s utter brevity.

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