Notes on Candide Themes

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Candide Topic Tracking: War

Chapter 2

War 1: Candide's forced enlistment and maltreatment by the Bulgarian army underlines the miserable conditions of a war machine. Military life is servitude, and punishment is inflicted liberally.

Chapter 3

War 2: The gay and festive descriptions of the battlefield are overstated at first; yet they end incongruously with the real and gruesome details of war.

Voltaire may be referring to the Seven Years War between Prussia and the alliance between France, Russia, Austria, Saxony, and Sweden. The Bulgarians in Candide are Frederic the Great's Prussian army, and the Abares are the French.

Both armies thank God for the carnage with Te Deums.

The narrator calls the soldiers, who rape and disembowel young girls, heroes. International law commands the soldiers to burn villages.

Chapter 4

War 3: After Pangloss describes the horrible scene at the Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh's castle, he states he is pleased the Abares treated a Bulgarian barony the same way. War is horrific, but Pangloss finds satisfaction in the fact that both sides suffered equally.

Jacques believes humans were not born to murder each other, but somehow they have become like wolves. He is the first in Candide to voice opposition to the practices of war. His observations, in contrast to those of Pangloss, seem levelheaded.

Chapter 7

War 4: Cunégonde tells Candide that she struggled against the Bulgarian soldier who raped her because she did not know that murdering, slashing, raping and disemboweling the local populace was a customary practice during war.

The soldier neglects to salute his captain and continues his sexual assault on Cunégonde. This offends the Bulgarian captain, not because he finds the soldier's rape and stabbing of Cunégonde disrespectful, but because the soldier should have interrupted his activities momentarily in order to give the captain his due respect.

Chapter 10

War 5: Candide was not as successful a soldier as the narrator suggests here. He hid during battle with the Abares, and he was punished by the Bulgarian army more often than he was praised.

References to the drilling procedures of the Bulgarian army may have been Voltaire's way of mocking Frederic the Great's Prussian army, known to be strict and meticulously ordered.

Chapter 11

War 6: The heroes and heroines of Candide witness outbreaks of war wherever their misadventures take them. That men are universally brutal and murderous is itself notable, and this fact underscores the absurdity of Pangloss's optimism.

Chapter 12

War 7: Cannibalism, like the body cavity searches performed by Moroccan pirates, or the burning of villages, is one of the absurd mandates of international law.

Chapter 23

War 8: The English admiral's execution--another example of the ridiculous and inhumane practices of war emphasized in Candide--was based on a similar case which happened in England during Voltaire's lifetime.

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