In Voltaire’s novel, Candide, there are two major themes that we, as the readers, see: fate and free will. Fate is the belief that the future is predetermined and you don’t have any control over it. No matter what you do, the same thing is going to happen because that is what is supposed to happen. It is also the idea that everything happens for a reason, things don’t happen “just because.” Free will is the concept that says you do things on a voluntary basis. When you do something, it is because it is something you wanted to do, not something that is supposed to happen. You have control over events when you use your free will and you don’t necessarily believe that things happen for a specific reason.
Both beliefs are exemplified by different characters in the book such as Candide, Pangloss, Martin, and the old lady. Some of the characters believe that everything that happens in their life is supposed to happen, and it is the best thing that could be; they believe this because they have full belief in fate. On the other hand, some of the other characters are very pessimistic and believe that things happen because that’s how people want them to happen and they don’t always think about the consequences and therefore bring bad things into the world that everyone has to face. Because of all the happenings in this story, by the end, Voltaire comes to a different conclusion, than he had in the beginning.
In this story Candide wavers back and forth between believing in fate and free will. In the beginning he is swayed by Pangloss to believe in fate, that everything happens for a reason because that is what Pangloss had always believed. “‘It is proven,’ he would say, ‘that things cannot be otherwise; for everything having been made for a purpose, everything is necessarily made for the best purpose.'” (Voltaire, 5). Pangloss was an English philosopher and Candide’s tutor who guided him through several situations. He convinced Candide to believe that things were supposed to happen, otherwise they wouldn’t have happened. He also believed that the world they lived in was the best of all possible worlds and nothing could be better, even though situations he had been placed in would make one think differently. He doesn’t necessarily believe that everything is great, but instead that everything is the best it can be. “[…] those who have proposed that all is well have spoken nonsense; they should have said that all is at its best.” (Voltaire, 5). He is saying that even though there may be evils in the world, it’s supposed to be that way and they can’t be anything better.
Candide began by believing Pangloss when he tried to tell him that everything that happened was meant to happen. He endured several experiences which made him believe so, he was shown that the world was based on fate was when Jacques fell into the water, “He wanted to throw himself into the sea after him; the philosopher Pangloss prevented him, proving to him that the Lisbon roadstead had been formed expressly so that this Anabaptist should drown there.” (Voltaire, 21). Candide was truly starting to believe that everything in the world was there for a reason and that he had no control over what happened, if it was going to happen, it was going to happen. Another event which caused Candide to extend his belief in fate was when he found Cunegonde again. “‘What! It’s you,’ Candide said to her, ‘you’re alive! I’ve found you again, and in Portugal!'” (Voltaire, 29). The fact that he found her again, showed him that it was meant to happen. He wasn’t out looking for her and still was able to find her, in a foreign land no less.
Candide didn’t keep this state of mind the entire time however. He began to see both fate and free will in his life, “Pangloss cruelly deceived me, then, when he told me that everything happens in the very best way.” (Voltaire, 35). Candide was beginning to realize that they weren’t living in a perfect world and things didn’t always seem to happen the way they should, so he blamed Pangloss for leading his thoughts astray. For awhile Candide believed that if he was supposed to find Miss Cunegonde after losing her a second time, because of fate, he would, but then realized that if he wanted to find her again, he’d have to do something about it and not leave it up to fate. He used his free will to go out and get her back, “‘We each have diamonds worth five or six million in our pockets; you’re cleverer than I; go get Miss Cunegonde from Buenos Aires.'” (Voltaire, 93). Candide realized that sometimes you need to make an effort in order to make something happen.
Martin, a pessimistic scholar, does not believe in fate and questions those who do. He always sees the worst in life and doesn’t understand how those happenings could be the best outcome of what has to happen. “‘You see,’ said Candide to Martin, ‘that crime is sometimes punished; that rogue of a Dutch captain met the fate that he deserved.’ ‘Yes,’ said Martin; ‘but did the passengers who were on board his ship have to perish too?'” (Voltaire, 101). Martin believes that certain negatives in life can be prevented if people were to be the best people they can be and live a good life, use their free will to do what will be best for them and everyone else in the world. He thinks people have always been “bad” and that they aren’t going to change any time soon, “‘Do you believe,’ said Martin, ‘that hawks have always eaten pigeons when they’ve found them?’ ‘Yes, without a doubt,” said Candide. ‘Well,’ said Martin, ‘if hawks have always had the same character, why would you imagine human beings have changed theirs?'” (Voltaire, 103). Martin is convinced that things go wrong in the world because of people’s reactions and their doings, not because fate has determined that that is what is supposed to be.
The old lady was another character in Voltaire’s novel, she was Cunegonde’s servant who experiences many hardships in life but doesn’t allow them to make her bitter and resentful. Even though she has suffered through many events in her life, she still believes in fate, and that everything that happens, happens for a certain reason, although the reason may be unknown at the time and for awhile afterwards as well. It is not easy to face many problems and still believe that everything that happens is supposed to happen but the old lady has enough strength to do so. To prove that she believes in fate, “[…] it rests completely with you to become the wife of the greatest lord in South America.” (Voltaire, 57). She believed that Cunegonde was going to marry a lord in South America, she thought this because of fate, not because she thought Cunegonde was going to go out and pursue this gentleman. She had the confidence to believe that if something were supposed to happen, it would.
In the end of the story, Voltaire shows us how in all actuality, you govern your own lives through free will. “‘That’s well said,’ replied Candide, ‘but we must cultivate our garden.'” (Voltaire, 167). The conclusion that is finally made is that you need to work for what you want, things don’t just happen, instead you have to earn them and do something to deserve what you get. People are also happier when they know that they have control of their lives and knowing that what they do actually matters and will affect the outcome, makes people want to live happier and more beneficial lives. Voltaire comes to the conclusion that people determine their own outcomes and that they must “cultivate their garden” so that it will grow and be prosperous, much like ones life, you must feed and nurture your life in order for it to become meaningful and useful.
Throughout Voltaire’s novel Candide, there are two reoccurring themes, both fate and free will. There are some characters such as Pangloss who believe in one idea and there are others such as Candide who changes his ideas throughout the novel, depending on the situation he’s in. Voltaire, by the end of the story, comes to the conclusion that people have free will and must shape their own future based on their actions in the present. This story really makes the reader think about how they view their own life and whether they think it is predetermined and leave everything up to fate, or if they have control over their life and use free will to their own advantage to make their future what they want it to be.
Volatire. Candide A Dual Language Book. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993.