Back in the days the female population in France wasn’t treated equally as the male population and there were a lot of inequalities which disadvantaged women in front the mans. In the book Candide, wrote by Voltaire, during the whole story women are getting treated like objects and have no rights. The book shows Voltaire’s point of view towards the situation at that time and many people think that Voltaire was trying with this book to criticize the society and make people understand why it was wrong to treat women like this.
First of all, the reader can notice that the book describes how women in the 18th century played a really small role and had very few rights in society. During the whole book there are only very few female characters. The only main female characters who interact with Candide are “the old lady” and “Cunegonde”. Voltaire describes women with only weak and degrading adjectives which makes them look like objects. During the entire story women never get the right to do something to defend themselves and are treated like animals. And even when something good finally happens to Cunegonde she experiences rape and other horrific events. One example is when she escaped the Bulgarian man and still got raped and abused a lot.
Secondly, the novel describes women in a special way. In the opening chapters of the book, Voltaire insinuates the lack of importance of women. He describes Cunegonde as “appetizing” which would basically mean that he compares her to a piece of beef. He doesn’t say that she’s beautiful as a person instead he describes her body to make the reader understand society’s view of women as purely physical rather than an accumulation of her traits as person such as intelligence and personality.
Cunégonde is a name that comes from the Latin and the Latin word is a degrading term to describe a woman. Voltaire’s description of women focuses on the physical appearance of women to describe them as a human so basically it means that the mental part of a women didn’t matter at that time. The fact that he uses a degrading name for one of his main characters is a way to tell the reader that she is just a sexual object to satisfy the wants of the male population.
At one moment in the story another female character appears and she’s describes as old and not attractive but the only name Voltaire gives to her is “the old lady”.
Voltaire describes a lot of crimes committed by male characters during the whole story. But all of these crimes are described as insignificant and they are almost normal for everyone else in the story. Cunegonde gets described at the end of the story and it says that she got raped several times and got hit, abused, etc… which in the 21st century would be something horrible and everyone would take it extremely seriously. In the novel the rape of women isn’t describe as horrible and even worse it is described as natural.
Candide has the ideology that everything happens for the best so he doesn’t even really care about the rape of anyone because he thinks it had to happen. Which brings it back to Voltaire that describes the objectification of women as a normal thing.
Even though Voltaire doesn’t give much attention to women, he kind of gives the impression that they survive to everything even though they went through horrible crimes. But as he describes them as survivors he details the suffering entailed to become one. One example is when the Bulgar attacks the baron’s castle and Cunégonde gets raped several times until she dies. And Voltaire actually doesn’t say that she dies but readers just think she’s dead because of the horrible way this crime is described… But later in the story Cunégonde comes back and the reader understands she survived.
During the whole story when Cunégonde finds a way to get out of a difficult situation it’s always linked to how she looks like. She takes advantage of her physical appearance and gets secured by trying to attract important man . But during the story the reader understands that the fact of seducing people was the only way for girls to survive and find their way out of those situations and that’s probably why Voltaire qualify those crimes as “normal” because they didn’t really have the choice.
During the story, Voltaire shows that women are just objects and that they’re not really important but more than that they don’t get the chance to control their life and are basically undergoing men’s decisions.
Cunegonde, the old women and the baron all come from really good families with a lot of money and were really happy but because of a series of divers event that happened in their life they all end up being abused in different ways. Voltaire insist on women’s position in society by their confrontation with men’s and how they are treated and most important how they handle it and find a way to get out of that situation.
Although the whole story criticizes women and treats them like animals he tries to cover to story with a positive way of thinking. Despite the misfortune of those characters, Voltaire sees women’s future in society as improving. Voltaire describes the female characters from desirable in the beginning of the story to ugly and not desirable at all. But by the end they all acquire jobs and obligations with responsibilities etc… For example Cunegonde, Volatiare describes her as becoming ugly day after day but end up being a successful pastry chef. Maybe this would represent Voltaire’s ideology and perception of women’s role in society. Which would probably reflect to his ideal position of women in society, women who aren’t linked to their appearance all the time but more to their ability of doing things and intelligence.
In Conclusion, Voltaire wrote a book which through his story describes women in the 18th century. The book seems really hard on women and some scenes are pretty violent. Voltaire uses this novel to criticize society at that time and tries to show how ridiculous it was. By describing crimes as normal and under qualifying women in his novel Voltaire tries to make people understand his vision of the society and how it should be. At the beginning of the book the reader might think that Voltaire must not be feminist at all and that he treats women like he describes it in the story but by the end of the novel the reader understands that Voltaire is in fact a feminist that defends women’s right.