18 May 2022


The Dystopian and Utopian Perspective in Candide

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In most speculative fiction works, there exist two types of settings which are: utopias and dystopias. Voltaire’s Candide is no different. In this piece, Voltaire created two settings that represent two worlds that are very different in their characteristics. In utopias the life is perfect. There are no social evils, and everyone coexists peacefully since there is no hunger or struggle for survival. Problems like disease, war, poverty, discrimination, oppression and inequality do not exist. Everything is generally good. In a dystopia, there is chaos everywhere. Nothing goes well. There are more extreme conditions than the ones which face the world today. In dystopias, there are controlling governments, hunger, extreme poverty, inequality and propagandas everywhere. It is the complete opposite of a utopia as stated by Gottlieb (2001). In Voltaire’s Candide, the two characters; Pangloss and Martin, represent the two fictional settings. Pangloss represents a utopic world, while, Martin represents a dystopia. Voltaire describes the world that is despicable where people live in cruelty, religious hypocrisy, and enmity. The general setting of Candide is dystopic. However, both scenarios are brought out in the piece. 

Pangloss, who appears in the character of an impractical doctor, faces ridicule because he shows a great desire to cling to unrealistic beliefs. According to Pangloss, the world is at its best, and it cannot become better than it is at the moment. He claims that there cannot exist the world that is better than this one. Voltaire seems to have placed Pangloss on the receiving end in Candide. However, in spite of the obvious ridicule that has been placed on Pangloss by Voltaire, his character can still be admired from a different perspective. He looks at the world differently from most people. He can craft a utopia in earth that is dystopic in nature. DrPangloss agrees that God had the capability of creating the world where there was no evil but decided to blend the two to create a balanced universe. In his judgment, he claims that it is possible to prove that things cannot be placed in a better condition than the one they are in. If they are interfered with, there will be an imbalance causing a worse state. According to him, there is a purpose for every happening. The bad things that happen in the world serve a certain purpose and those that claim there is a possibility of having an entirely perfect situation speaks foolishly. Pangloss adds that what people should say is that whatever is happening is for the best as asserted by Regan, Snyder and Kassin (1995).

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On the other hand, Martin, who Candide hires on his way to France from Buenos, is a complete opposite of Pangloss. He is a pessimist who believes that everything on this earth is evil and even that which seems not to be is just disguised in some happiness. When Candide attempts to explain to him that a guy who was almost hanged told him that everything happens for good purpose, Martin tells him that the man was just mocking the world. That shows the pessimism in Martin. According to Martin, God does not care about what happens on this earth at all. He just sits back and watches as the world goes up in flames. Martin is the idea that being optimistic is just an illusion that has no meaning. He holds that those who think that it is good in the world are just blinded and cannot see that evil lies beneath the beautiful picture ( Slaughter, 2003)

Pangloss tries to convince Candide that in this world the good things can only be noticed through the evils. That it is only through the insane nature that one can recognize something good. If everything in this universe were glitter, it would be hard to appreciate anything good since it would difficult to recognize it in the first place. In most instances, Candide tends to agree with these claims. Pangloss is very convincing in his arguments as he explains that if the society agrees that everything happens for a purpose, everyone would agree that earth was in a state of utopia. This could only happen if individuals believed that they were living in the best possible setting. It is only a matter of content and satisfaction in such a nature would result in a utopic feeling. According to Slaughter (2003), w hen Candide listens to Martin’s arguments, he tends to question what Pangloss had convinced him. Even though Candide tends to agree with Pangloss more, there are instances when he views his arguments as too unreal. In the novel, Pangloss arguments are questioned by the terrible misfortunes that he undergoes through. It is as if the Voltaire was trying to prove that Pangloss’s claims were unrealistic and that the world is all evil. It is funny how Pangloss still holds his idea that everything happens for a reason when he contracts syphilis. He still insists that every occurrence is necessary for this life. 

Dynes (1999) believe that t he two characters; Pangloss and Martin, seem to have perceptions that are totally different from one another. Martin doesn’t apply much philosophy in his arguments, while, Pangloss uses philosophy to judge everything. In his view, Martin sees the world as that which is full of hopelessness. He constantly reminds Candide that he should wake up from his dream of a peaceful world because it doesn’t exist. He is more real and sees things for what they are without looking for a reason beyond what is in sight. He is always unwilling to pose and look at things from a philosophical point of view. Pangloss, on the other hand, is the guy who sees good in all happenings. At some point, he says that if a volcano occurs in Lisbon, it is impossible for it to occur elsewhere. In that statement, he means that things are happening perfectly the way they are supposed to. Pangloss is brought out as the man who sees no evil. According to him, God is still on the steering wheel and wants things to happen the way they do because it is right. The thought is the complete opposite of what Martin thinks. While Martin claims that God has abandoned his people, Pangloss still insists that He is still in charge. The two do not seem to agree on anything. Their thoughts are like opposite poles which repel against one another. They both bring out the two perspectives of the world; one that is positive and another that is negative. 

According to Voltaire, if people were able to look at life differently, it is possible to have a utopia. In this, Candide can be judged as both a utopian fiction and dystopian fiction. Throughout the philosophical novel, the main character, Candide moves from Europe to lands that are in the southern part of America. In this journey, Earth is shown to be a cruel place as Candide goes through all types of misery. In some instances, he is mistreated, lied to, cheated on, beaten and even taken to places where he almost loses his life. The novel depicts how bad the human nature is as well as how ill the society has turned. The journey shows various places that share the same ill character, therefore, presenting humanity to be extremely negative. The only place that is an exception is El Dorado. The statement that the writer tries to pass is clear; that a utopia can exist in this rotten world. However, the dystopic character overshadows the utopic one since humanity has been described in general to be nasty. The novel presents human beings to be slanderers, traitors, liars, cheats, deceivers, gluttons and hypocrites. Only a small part describes the good nature that human beings exhibit. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that Voltaire favours the dystopic nature over the utopic one. 

In conclusion, Voltaire can show the world that a utopia can occur on this earth. Many science fiction writers create a utopic world in their books but fail to prove to the world that it can be invented. Very few writers have managed to do so. In Candide, Voltaire describes a utopia in the land called El Dorado. During the time that the characters spend in El Dorado, the reader can read and understand how life on a utopia looks like as well as how it can be achieved. In a way, he can prove to the world that such a place can exist, where people live happily with each other without bad blood. Voltaire proves this point through DrPangloss through his ability to see things from a different perspective. Voltaire also brings out the concept that the social systems are the way they are to ensure there is a balance as asserted by Kivy (1979) . Furthermore, the novel tries to convince the readers that they should try to be as happy as possible and be contented with the state the world is in without much focus on the problems which exist on earth. In general, everyone can find their personal utopia if they attempted to view the world in line with Pangloss perception. 


Dynes, R.R., 1999. The dialogue between Voltaire and Rousseau on the Lisbon earthquake: The emergence of a social science view.

Gottlieb, E., 2001.  Dystopian fiction east and west: universe of terror and trial . McGill-Queen's Press-MQUP.

Kivy, P., 1979. Voltaire, Hume, and the Problem of Evil.  Philosophy and Literature 3 (2), pp.211-224.

Regan, P.C., Snyder, M. and Kassin, S.M., 1995. Unrealistic optimism: Self-enhancement or person positivity?.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 21 (10), pp.1073-1082.

Slaughter, R.A., 2003.  Futures beyond dystopia: Creating social foresight . Routledge.

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