Candide By François Voltaire Summary and Analysis Chapters II-III

Candide was now reduced to a state of misery as, in the freezing cold, he dragged himself toward the neighboring town, nearly dying from hunger and fatigue. At the door of an inn two uniformed men addressed him. Strangely enough, they offered to buy him food and to give him money simply because he was five feet five in height. "Men are made to help each other," explained one, and Candide was moved and delighted to hear this confirmation of Doctor Pangloss' teaching. They induced the youth to drink to the health of the Bulgarian king and then announced that he was a soldier in the King's army — a hero whose glory and fortune were assured.


Summary

Candide was now reduced to a state of misery as, in the freezing cold, he dragged himself toward the neighboring town, nearly dying from hunger and fatigue. At the door of an inn two uniformed men addressed him. Strangely enough, they offered to buy him food and to give him money simply because he was five feet five in height. "Men are made to help each other," explained one, and Candide was moved and delighted to hear this confirmation of Doctor Pangloss' teaching. They induced the youth to drink to the health of the Bulgarian king and then announced that he was a soldier in the King's army — a hero whose glory and fortune were assured.

For one so honored, the treatment Candide received was rather startling. He was placed in irons and taken to the regiment, where he was put through endless drills and nearly beaten to death. One day, he ran away, but before he had covered many miles four of his "fellow heroes" overtook him, bound him, and put him in a dungeon. Offered a choice, he understandably chose to be beaten unmercifully thirty-six times by the whole regiment rather than to be shot. As Voltaire described the punishment, the callow youth might have been wiser to have accepted death. But, just at the time when it seemed that he could not survive, the king of the Bulgarians appeared, made inquiries, and granted Candide a pardon. Three weeks later, the youth, restored to good health, was able to join his fellow soldiers in the war against the Abarians.

In the third chapter, Voltaire described the "glories" of war — the well-drilled troops, the martial music, and the "heroic" butchery, from which Candide hid himself as best he could. And while both kings were having their Te Deums sung, he decided the time was ripe for him to reason elsewhere about the cause and effect. He made his way over heaps of dead and dying men before reaching an Abarian village. It was in ashes, having been burned in accordance with the rules of international law. Candide saw firsthand how the horrors of war could be visited on the innocent civilians. Women, children, old men — none had escaped.

Candide fled to another village, which proved to be a Bulgarian one, and found that it and the inhabitants had received the same treatment. At last he escaped from the theater of war. Never did he forget Mademoiselle Cunégonde. When he reached Holland, he optimistically believed that he would be as well treated as he once had been in Westphalia, for were not the Hollanders Christian? But the starving youth found little charity. One native threatened him with prison when he asked for alms; another, a militant Protestant, excoriated him when he did not provide the expected answer as regards the Pope. It remained for an Anabaptist — a man who had not even been baptized — to play the role of the Good Samaritan. His generosity and kindness reaffirmed in Candide faith in the wisdom of Doctor Pangloss: all must be for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

At this point in the action, Candide met a beggar covered with sores. The beggar's eyes were lifeless and the tip of his nose had been eaten away by disease. His mouth was twisted and he was racked by a violent cough. He spat out a tooth with every spasm.

Analysis

These two chapters are most notable for anti-war satire. Voltaire was appalled by the slaughter and waste that characterized the Seven Years War, in progress at the time he wrote. This conflict has its place in the background to Candide and will be discussed later. The Bulgarians are the Prussians. Long since, critics and editors of the tale have pointed out that Voltaire chose that name to refer to his one-time patron, Frederick the Great, whom he suspected of being a pederast. The French word bougre (cf. English bugger) derives from Bulgare. Voltaire chose the term Abarians, the name of a Scythian tribe, to represent the French. But in Chapter II, the author first pokes fun at the drillmastership of Frederick the Great and implies that the "heroes" are made into mere automatons. Writing with studied casualness, he depends as usual on irony. His description of the slaughter and destruction incidental to war is absolutely devastating, and his irony reaches the apex when he tells how the rival kings retired to their respective camps to sing praises to God.

Notable also is Voltaire's offensive against religion as he found it practiced in his day. As the account of the Anabaptist's warmth and generosity indicate, Voltaire found the Church suspect when its clergy and laymen failed to be tolerant and merciful. It is of some relevance to recall that in his English Letters, he had kind words to say about the Baptists, whose practices seemed to him to be closer to those of the primitive Christians than did those of other sects. It is quite interesting that Voltaire should have chosen an Anabaptist as his Good Samaritan: apparently, deist that he was, he believed strongly in justification by works. Particularly he deplored the extremes of religious zealots.

In the category of anti-religious satire may be included what Voltaire had to say about free will. Basic to the Christian doctrine, certainly to Roman Catholicism, is the proposition that man, endowed with reason, can and must make his choice between good and evil. The well-meaning Candide found that, although he knew war to be evil, he had no choice as regards becoming a soldier or not. The best that he could do was to hide when the hostilities began.

To be sure that he does not neglect his major thesis — the attack upon optimistic philosophy — Voltaire inserts the introduction and description of the pitiable beggar who made his appearance at the end of Chapter III.

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