Candide (Optimism) is a satirical novel about a young man trying to find his love and stay alive in the world. Written between 1757 and 1759, Voltaire used the story to bring to light his own jaded views of religion, human nature, and the works of Leibniz and Wolff.
Candide, a young nephew of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, educated by his philosopher-teacher Pangloss, falls in love with his cousin Cunegonde. The story documents many terrible events, including him being forcibly enlisted into Bulgarian military service, beaten, surviving an earthquake in Lisbon, seeing his teacher Pangloss (now with syphilis) hanged, discovering his beloved Cunegonde killed and her castle destroyed, discovering Eldorado where diamonds are dirt on the ground, thieved by a shady captain, escaping the catholic inquisition, rediscovering that Cunegonde is, in fact, alive (although she was raped and cut open), killing Cunegonde’s brother who still forbids him to marry Cunegonde due to Candide’s illegitimate birth, betraying Cunegonde by having an affair, imprisoned, freeing Cunegonde, Cacambo (a traveler who went before Candide to the New World), and Cunegonde’s brother who are all still alive but enslaved, and finally living out his life on a farm.
Several Enlightenment themes abound in the story. When Pangloss was hanged during the Inquisition due to the belief that wickedness and sorcery caused the earthquake, the reader sees how governments that punish those not of its prescribed belief system is absurd. When Candide was thrown out of the castle and prevented from marrying Cunegonde, it was because of his illegitimate blood, a ridiculous reason to prevent two human beings from being together, who according to God and nature, are equal. When Candide discovers wealth at Eldorado, he is deliberately and frequently taken advantage of by almost everyone he comes in contact with, illustrating greed and deceit, the opposites of Enlightened principles of moderation and justice.