Naiveite, optimism, ignorance; among these few attributes lies, what Voltaire believes to be, the lackluster shortcomings of mankind. Voltaire’s, “Candide,” is a satirical novella that ridicules humanity’s flaws through quirky characters that serve as representatives of mans’ fallacious tendency to rely upon these qualities throughout life. After following the novel’s characters on a cyclical journey in which a love story is conceived, a utopian city is found, great hardship is endured, and the ridiculousness of humanity is divulged, we are left in a remote garden that’s symbolism has been debated for centuries. The summation of the novel through Voltaire’s portrayal of the garden is commonly interpreted as the characters’ submission to inevitable circumstance and as a means to escape the world and its harsh realities. This theory detracts from the more complex developments of the narrative in which the characters utilize the garden as a means to cultivate a better version of themselves as well as a better life in general. If we continue to see the garden as a portrayal of Voltaire’s fatalistic outlook on life, we will mistakenly simplify the plot in its entirety. Voltaire’s technique of summarizing the novel with the garden, in fact, establishes a melioristic outlook on life in suggesting that the world can be made a better place through human action and cultivation. Throughout this essay, I will show that Voltaire’s development of the ideas of man’s free will, the essence of work and cultivation, as well as the relationship between Adam and Eve in regard to Candide and Cunegonde, unify to establish the overarching message of leading a melioristically focused lifestyle while, “cultivating our garden”.
Voltaire initially presents the idea that the world can be made a better place through human action and cultivation as we are introduced to the main character Candide. It was a fine spring day and Candide, “took it into his head to go off, walking straight ahead, believing it to be the privilege of mankind to make use of their legs at free will”. During his walk, he was accosted by a group of men and was asked his preference of torture and execution. Upon the presentation of the horrific options he was to choose from, Candide, “decided, by virtue of the divine gift known as freedom of choice to run the gauntlet thirty-six times”. It is apparent that this is not an example of how life can be improved by man, but rather, it introduces the idea of man’s free will. In this scene, Candide is given the opportunity to choose, himself, how to approach the situation, thus guiding his life by choice and dictating the outcome of the events he faces through his decisions. Some may argue in alignment with the character Pangloss that man is merely subject to fate and that, “everything is necessarily interconnected and arranged for the best”. The ridiculousness of this argument is mocked by Voltaire when Pangloss prevented Candide from rescuing Jacque from drowning in the ocean stating that the, “harbor of Lisbon had been purposely created for the Anabaptist to drown in”.
In essence, Voltaire utilizes this scene to ridicule man’s ignorance, thus bringing to light the power of man’s free will. To further comprehend the meaning of the garden, one must examine the lifestyle and teachings of the man who is seemingly the only happy character in the novel; the Turk. Witnessing the contentment that seem to consume the farmer, Candide assumes that he, “must have a vast and magnificent estate”. Contrary to his beliefs, the Turk insists that he has a few acres that he cultivates with his children, concluding that, their hard “work keeps three great evils at bay: boredom, vice, and want”. The juxtaposition of the assumption that the man’s life is good because of the possession of material things and the reality of a good life being cultivated through work drives home Voltaire’s intended idea that the world can be made a better place through human action. The Turk’s garden serves as an ideal state for Candide as he reflects upon his encounter at the garden, assuming that, “the fine old man seemed to have secured himself a better fate than that of the six kings”.
Regardless of the plentiful possessions and excess that kings indulged in, the old man found great solace in his work, allowing him to escape from the weaknesses of boredom, vice, and want that consume mankind. Some may argue in alignment with Martin’s pessimistic belief that, “man was born to live either in convulsions of apprehension or the lethargy of boredom”, insisting that the garden serves as man’s escape from the world and as a place to bury their noses in work so that they may avoid life and its realities. This argument fails to take into account Cacambo’s argument that, “if you cannot get what you want in one world, you must get it in another” determining that, “it is always a great pleasure to see and do new things”. The presentation of this idea, once again, emphasizes the importance of man’s gift of action suggesting that it is the inevitability of man to localize responsibility and concentrate of immediate and purposeful action. If one is unhappy with their current situation within life, they have the power, of man’s free will, to change the course of their life. Essentially, Voltaire determines that pursuing new things in life, whether that be through the cultivation of a new life like the garden or seeking a newfound knowledge, will bring one happiness. Beyond the fact that Voltaire utilizes his own storyline and characters to explore his ideas, he also uses a Biblical story, that most people of that time believed to be true, to further support his arguments. At the culmination of the novel, as the characters stand in a garden of their own creation, Pangloss recognizes that, “man was placed in the Garden of Eden, ut operaretur eum- ‘in order to cultivate it’, proving that man was not born for leisure”.
In accompaniment of the introduction of the Garden of Eden, Voltaire establishes a distinct relationship between Candide and Cunegonde and Adam and Eve, however, Candide and Cunegonde conclude their adventure in a garden as opposed to Adam and Eve who begin there. This difference implies that instead of enjoying a simple life of rest that Adam and Eve were offered, Candide must work and cultivate in order to reap the garden’s benefits. Some may discount the relevance of this argument by insisting that the garden is an outlet for the characters to, “await a better destiny” given that, “all events are linked in the best of all possible worlds”. This argument neglects the idea that, within the Garden of Eden, man is the master of all things. Within the garden of their own cultivation, the characters seem to act as masters of their own fate through work and cultivation rather than acting as mere followers of circumstance.
Voltaire’s development of a melioristic outlook on life is more than evident throughout the text. The passages I have highlighted help to illuminate the garden’s intentional establishment as a sanctuary in which the characters are encouraged to cultivate a better version of themselves as well as a better life in general. Voltaire’s technique of summarizing the novel with the garden suggests that the world can be made a better place through human action, thus voicing a call to action for mankind to utilize their gift of free-will in order to cultivate a life worth living. Voltaire’s garden analogy, when applied to evaluating the human condition in society, provides a profound, timeless and highly intellectual construct relative to enhancing our global village.