Symbols in Voltaire’s Garden

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Symbols in Voltaire’s Garden

Sean Hsia

Mr. de Groof

Grade 12 English Literature


It was during the era of enlightenment that the public started to launch a fashion allowing innovate ideas to become immersed and spread out. Under the atmosphere that contained a wide range of standpoints, leading scholars and philosophers often enthusiastically promoted their theories and aggressively countered their oppositions. For instance, some of the prominent philosophers remained optimistic and praised God’s omnipotence. Whereas, the great French philosopher, Voltaire, presented his objection against such ideas in his work, Candide, in which he proposed the concept of the garden not only to denounce the belief in the so-called “best of all possible worlds” but also to present his own practical utopian idea. That is, by cultivating one’s garden without theorizing, humans can work innocently and pragmatically and live without public interference.

In “Candide”, Voltaire illustrated experiences of living in three possible best places, including the garden in the last chapter, in order to show that both Pangloss’ theory was not accurate and worldly matters were not as perfect as they seemed to be. Growing up in the castle of the Baron, Candide had the type of teenage life that made every ordinary person jealous. Moreover, in terms of the philosophy of Pangloss, the dedicated tutor who, by all means, advocated the idea of “best of all possible worlds”, Candide had firmly become entrenched with the belief of optimism. However, good fortune never lasts forever in the real world. Candide found himself have a crush on the beautiful Cunegonde, the daughter of the noble Baron. In one encounter, Candide sincerely kissed his lover and had intimate flirting. Unfortunately, such interaction was caught by the strict Baron who kicked Candide out of the castle ruthlessly and immediately. In just one moment, Candide was exiled from the fantasy world because he had violated the principles that established by men and society. The paragon of the “best of all possible worlds” had faded suddenly, proving that the perfection of the optimism was overly ideal and unsound.

After experiencing the bubble in the secular fantasy and witnessing dark side of the corrupted world, Candide and his servant, Cacambo, accidently entered El Dorado. El Dorado was the place that diametrically isolated from the rest of the world. The people in El Dorado worshipped same God and were grateful and satisfied with what they’ve had. Besides, El Dorado had no monks who were extremely unscrupulous in the secular area. Furthermore, there were zero jails and courts since no corruption and oppression ever took place in such wonderland. More importantly, people were treated equally in El Dorado, including the king and other officials. Everyone respected each other since there was no apparent social division and gaps. The reasons that El Dorado was such an ideal place were mainly due to the isolation from the wretched world and the innocent nature of people who applied reason and science in their living basis. By the advantage of the seclusion and the pure of people, El Dorado had become the best place among the places to where Candide had been because of its condition was corruption-free and people were in spiritual and physical satisfaction.

When El Dorado remained the exception and the unreachable mystery of world, Voltaire provided his pragmatic utopian idea in the end of the conte. After a series of harsh adventures, Candide and other characters ended up settling down on farmland. Interestingly, they first felt dull when no more worldly obstruction happened to them. After consulting with the old Turk, they found out the best way out of the boring quagmire was to work. The old man suggested to them to work in order to prevent boredom, vice and poverty. Candide was not only captured by the old man’s suggestion but also his appearance which indicated his life was better than those of the six frustrated kings Candide had met. In chapter thirty, Candide and others soon proved that, by cultivating one’s garden, people can have something to work on to prevent boredom, people can work to earn a better living, and last, people can just concentrate on their job to avoid being polluted by the corrupted world. Also, they found out that instead of theorizing, work can in fact manufacture a greater amount of outcomes. In the last chapter in the Turk’s farm, it proved that working can yield the actual products for example like oranges, lemons, limes, etc.

Therefore, cultivating one’s garden, or working not only can prevent the aforementioned three evil aspects, but also can produce goods that can sustain people’s living.

Throughout the picaresque novel, Voltaire had more than once expressed his frustration on the magnitude of the corruption in reality. He, thence, included one of the major concepts that by cultivating one’s garden, or in other words, people should attempt to work in order to prevent corruption from the sordid world. From the beginning of the novel, when Candide first encountered the real world, Voltaire soon described how the dark world rotated. For example in chapter two, Candide was tricked and brought back to the troop by the soldiers who were acting kindly to him initially. Then, the corrupted events that Candide had witnessed were literally one after another. For instance, in chapter five, the righteous and compassionate Anabaptist, James, was suffocated in the sea when he attempted to help the drowning sailor during the shipwreck. Furthermore, Candide also found out that money was a key factor that attributed to the corruption of the world. Candide had given the lovely couple, Paquette and Brother Giroflee, thousands piasters in chapter twenty four, supposing that such grant can improve their living. Nevertheless, as Martin, the cynical and experienced pessimist who travel with Candide, mentioned in the same chapter, the couple eventually had squandered all the money and ended up even more miserable than before. The boundless corruptions, including few that had been mentioned above, eventually let Candide figured to seclude himself from the world. After seeing the wealth and satisfaction of both people of El Dorado and the Turks in the last chapter, Candide, at last, had concluded that by cultivating the garden, or to work is best way to prevent vice, or evil from the world.

The other major concept that Voltaire tried to address in “cultivate one’s garden” was that working is more practical and efficient than theorizing. In the novel, Pangloss, who was a fanatic philosopher, always came to discuss and believe that all the events followed his “best of all possible worlds” theory. He examined the cause and effect of every incident as well. For example, Pangloss was busy on manifesting his optimistic theory when his life was in danger as well as when James was drowning. In fact, every time when Pangloss was arguing about cause and effect, the chance of saving the Anabaptist was slowly slipping away. From what happened to the incidence, we can further know that theorizing actually changed nothing and could even exacerbate the situation. On the other hand, Cacambo and the old woman were completely opposite to Pangloss. They both figured out pragmatic solutions when confronting troubles. Cacambo led Candide to escape immediately after killing the young Baron in chapter fifteen, and he tried to communicate with Oreillons in chapter sixteen to avoid becoming one of their meals; the old woman also made several practical decisions that changed the story. She suggested to saddle the horses to run away and took some Inquisitor’s gold in a mean time. Unlike the consequence of Pangloss’ theorizing, the old woman and Cacambo came up with the pragmatic solution for the coming crisis and found the way out of the danger successfully. Such actions directly matched what Martin had suggested in the final chapter “let’s work without theorizing”. Once again, as previously stated, by working, or taking action in a practical way that without theorizing, we can actually ended up having a substantial and favorable result.

As been noted, Voltaire contained practical utopian ideas and satirized on world by presenting the garden that symbolized to work and live without being influenced by the evil world. By describing Candide’s journey, Voltaire chronologically introduced three types of possible utopian places: the castle, which was ostensibly beautiful but can be annihilated by the society in one moment; El Dorado, which was perfect but was the exception in favor of the isolated location and innocent people who never experienced the outside world; the garden in the final chapter, which Voltaire delivered his idea on man should work to prevent boredom, vice and poverty. By working, or in Voltaire’s word, to cultivating one’s garden can also keep people away from the world that was full of filthy corruption. Moreover, Voltaire implied that man should work instead of theorizing. The result of Pangloss philosophizing when encountered incidences had proved that philosophy failed to measure up the real world. By all those reasons that were previously recorded, to meet the purpose of why men were made, like Candide’s conclusion, we must cultivate.


1. Voltaire, and Lowell Bair. Candide. New York: Bantam Books, 2003. Print.

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