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Candide’s Transformation from Optimism to Pessimistic Realism

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After numerous adventures around the world that Pangloss had taught him were “the best of all possible worlds,” Candide gained wisdom and reanalyzed the philosophy of optimism, that whatever happens in the world is for the best (Voltaire 2). He saw and experienced slavery, war, executions, dismemberments, torture, and many other evils during his travels. In the end, Candide discovered that it is better to improve one’s own “garden” instead of trying to make a mark on the world. Candide’s statement about the garden is partially a response to Pangloss’s optimism, but the broader meaning is simply a statement on how to live.

Throughout Candide, Voltaire explored Candide’s transformation from optimism, represented by Pangloss, to pessimistic realism, represented by Martin. Both Pangloss and Martin influenced Candide, who maintained his optimistic ideas even through rough circumstances, only to realize in the end that life is not perfect and it’s only decent when you work to make the best of it. The philosophy of optimism appears throughout the whole story and it represents positivity and believes that the world is the best it could possibly be. According to this theory, God planned everything and everyone’s lives in the best way, and whatever happens within his plan is for the best. The downfall of optimism, however, is that its followers struggle with making their own decisions as they tend to simply let life happen to them. Not until the end of the book did Candide realize that he could have a say in his own life.

Martin represented pessimism, and he embraced the world and tried to gain lessons from it. He survived many terrible things, but he maintained the attitude that “it’s always a good idea to keep hoping” while not expecting life to get better (67). Although optimism and pessimism are two contrasting views, they do not clash with each other in the story. They both influenced Candide, who eventually realized that only hard work brings rewards and that living your life always looking forward to the future never brings fortune. Blind belief in optimism does not help the follower and even promotes naivety and ignorance. Even Pangloss could not always support his theory. An example of this occurs when Candide asked him, “while you were being hanged, dissected, lashed, and were rowing in the galleys, did you continue to think that all went as well as could be?” Pangloss responded, “I still think as I always did…I’m a philosopher, and it would be inappropriate for me to change my mind” (75). Constant happiness does not exist and it is futile to believe a philosophy that cannot be supported by real-world experience. Candide transformed from a hopeless young man who always needed advice from others to a person who decided for himself that hard work was the key to a rewarding life.

In the final passage of the novel, Pangloss was attempting to prove his theory that they lived in the best of all possible worlds, but instead of believing his theory, Candide simply said, “That’s well said…but we must work our land” (Voltaire 79). In literature, gardens symbolize nutrition and welfare for human beings. Their cultivation and success determine the fates and lives of the gardeners. Well-cultivated gardens promote fortune and health, while neglected gardens bring about hunger and despair. Working in a garden also gives the gardener physical strength and keeps them from being alone and idle. When they settled on their plot of land in Turkey, Candide and the others could control their destinies in a way that they could not before. Instead of living at the mercy of worldly evils, they literally would be reaping what they sowed. Understandably, it is surprising that this argument against optimism is presented as a happy ending. It can even be difficult to understand how this ending does not support optimism since Pangloss said, “all events are linked together in this…if you had not been driven out of a beautiful castle…if you had not been arrested by the Inquisition…you would not be sitting here” (79). But when Candide said that they should focus on cultivating their land, he implied that gardening left no time for philosophical conjectures and everyone would be happier if they simply stopped theorizing and began working.

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Candide realized that cultivating one’s garden was a better option than trying to make a fortune in the wider world. On a superficial level, Candide did literally mean they should tend their gardens and avoid philosophizing, and they would be happier. However, he also meant more than that. He believed that they needed to surround themselves with family and close friends while staying busy pursuing and cultivating their talents and gifts. Candide thought that they could do more for the world by concentrating quietly on their own gifts rather than trying to get rich, marry someone beautiful, and make an egotistic mark on the world. He rejected Pangloss’s philosophy that they needed to accept whatever happened because it was for the best, and he instead believed that life is what you make it and you can find happiness wherever you are.

The concept of the garden shares many similarities to El Dorado, but Candide overlooked it earlier in his journey. He found a city with gold in the streets where all the people got along happily, and few would have hesitated to live in this kingdom. However, he never saw it as a place to settle down because he dreamed of becoming rich and searching for his beautiful Cunegonde. The king of El Dorado even advised Candide, “I know my country is nothing special; but when you find yourself in reasonable circumstances, wherever you may be, you should settle down there,” but since he was constantly in search of the best of possible worlds and always trying to improve his circumstances, he did not view El Dorado as a place he could truly settle down (41). He thought that money and marriage would bring happiness, and since money was worthless in El Dorado, he left the city in search of Cunegonde with a large sum of money. Later, Candide was tricked out of his riches and I believe this lesson helped him realize the value of cultivating his garden at the end of the story.

Another event that changed Candide’s perspective and helped him let go of optimism was eating dinner at the house of the Old Turk. Candide marveled at the large dinner that contained very fine food and assumed that the Turk was rich. The Turk simply told him that he and his daughters live a fine life by cultivating their garden of 20 acres, as “work keeps at bay three dreadful evils: boredom, depravity, and poverty” (78). They were able to keep themselves busy, be content with what they had, and lead comfortable life. This dinner, as well as the lesson learned in El Dorado, helped Candide to mature and think beyond the philosophy that Pangloss constantly spouted. Once he was able to think for himself, his life became simpler and more satisfying because he no longer had to adjust the things that happened to him to fit his optimistic worldview. The wisdom and simplicity of the Old Turk helped Candide realize that he was chasing a dream he would never reach. He would never be a king or become wealthy, but most importantly, he learned that those things do not make the best of all possible worlds. The money he once had was gone, his wife was no longer beautiful, and the only way to carry on and forget about his painful past was to work.

Candide learned that optimism was not a sound worldview. His lessons learned in El Dorado and at the Old Turk’s house help him realize that his world is probably not the best of all possible worlds. If it was, he might have had a palace, stayed in El Dorado, or maybe even never been kicked out of his Westphalia home in the first place. At the end of his journey, he had almost nothing left except his friends, so he abandoned the optimism of Pangloss and created his own garden. This was a new beginning where everyone was equal and their primary concern was working in the garden. It may seem as if Candide’s adventures were worthless, because they brought on pain and suffering, but he learned a valuable lesson in the end that life is not what happens to you, it is the choices you make every single day.

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Candide’s Transformation from Optimism to Pessimistic Realism. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from
“Candide’s Transformation from Optimism to Pessimistic Realism.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
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