Voltaire’s Candide seems to display a world of horror, one filled with floggings, rapes, robberies, unjust executions, disease, natural disasters, betrayals and cannibalism. Pangloss, the philosopher, has a constant optimistic view throughout the entire novel even despite all of the cruelty in the world. While looking back on the book I couldn’t think of many characters that displayed admirable qualities. Even though Pangloss stuck to his views that everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds, which is admirable, he is stupid and naive to still believe this after everything he and his family goes through. It was quite hard for me to find admirable characters within Voltaire’s Candide, all of the characters seemed to do harm to one another in some way.
Although as soon as James or Jacques, the Anabaptist, is introduced to us he seems different then any other character so far. Most of the people Candide meet throughout his journey are mean and cause him harm but Jacques is kind right from the beginning. In Chapter three Jacques carries Candide, someone who he had never met, into his home, washed him, gave him food and employs him in his rug factory. Jacque’s kindness revives Candide’s faith in Pangloss’s theory that everything is for the best in this world. Candide was so moved by Jacques he threw himself to his feet and cried, “Now I am convinced that my master Pangloss told me truth when he said that everything was for the best in this world; for I am infinitely more touched by your extraordinary generosity…
” (Ch. 3 Pg. 19). Jacques seems to be the only good-natured character in the whole book. His actions are kind and most admirable. Jacques finds a doctor to cure Pangloss, who loses an eye and an ear to syphilis.
He even hires Pangloss as his bookkeeper and takes Candide and Pangloss on a business trip to Lisbon. Jacques disagrees with Pangloss’s belief that this is the best of worlds and claims that “men have somehow corrupted Nature.” He said God never gave men weapons, but men created them “in order to destroy themselves.” Mankind, must in some things have deviated from their original innocence; for they were not born wolves, and yet they worry one another like those beasts of prey. God never gave then twenty-four pounders nor bayonets, and yet they have made cannon and bayonets to destroy one another. To this list I might add not only bankruptcies, but the law which seizes on the effects of bankrupts, only to cheat the creditors (Ch. 4 Pg. 23).
The Anabaptist Jacques is a notable exception. He is one of the most generous and human characters in the novel, but he is also realistic about human faults. Jacques acknowledges the cruelty, greed and violence of mankind, but still offers kind and meaningful charity to anyone who needs it. His charity isn’t just limited to people he is familiar with even, he reaches his hand out to strangers in the street, a truly admirable characteristic. Jacques is unlike Pangloss, the philosopher who hesitates when the world requires him to take action. Jacques studies both human nature and more importantly, acts to influence it, a combination Voltaire seems to see as ideal but very rare.
On their way to Lisbon Jacques tries to save a sailor who almost falls overboard. He saves the sailor but falls overboard and the sailor, who he had just saved, does nothing to help him. Although Jacques dies shortly after he is introduced to us his appearance helps us to see that there is some good in the world, it is just rare. His death might possibly have been to represent Voltaire’s criticism of the belief that evil is always balanced by good. Jacques is good and looses his life while saving the sailor who is selfish and evil. This doesn’t seem like a balance but a situation of evil surviving good.
Although Jacques is by far the most admirable character in the book, the “old woman” is also admirable. The old woman’s story was overwhelming. She is the daughter of Pope Urban X and the princess of Palestrina. She was raised with much wealth, yet does not behave like she was. At fourteen, during her wedding her lover’s mistress killed him with a poisoned drink. She went with her mother to their estate in Greta.
On the way pirates boarded the ship and raped the women and sailed to Morocco to sell them as slaves. There was a war going on in Morocco and the pirates were attacked, the old woman saw her mother and maids of honor ripped apart by men. She somehow survived, fell asleep under a tree and woke up to an Italian man trying to rape her. She met a country man who had once served at her mother’s palace he promised to take her back to Italy but took her to Algiers and sold her to the prince. She was then sold several times and ended up owned by a Muslim military commander. He brought her to Algiers to defend the city of Azov against the Russians.
Only the commander’s fort was left standing and eunuchs wanted to kill and eat her. A religious leader convinced them to only cut one of her buttocks for food. She was taken to Moscow and a nobleman took her as his slave and beat her daily for two years. She managed to escape when he was executed and she worked as a servant in inns around Russia. The old woman spoke about how she came close to suicide many times in her life but never carried it out because she “loved life” too much. She wonders why human nature makes people want to live even though life itself is so often a curse.
This woman has lived through violence, rape, slavery and betrayal and has even seen the devastation of war and greed and yet still has strength to go on. She is commendable, and admirable to still be living. This old woman defines life a misery but yet she does not wallow in self pity. She goes on with her life more experienced about the world and seems to think of that as a fortunate thing. She speaks with more knowledge then others and has come to the understanding that human beings embrace life, a stupid move she thinks perhaps but one that demonstrates passion, strong will and an almost heroic endurance. A hundred times I wanted to kill myself, but always I loved life more.
This ridiculous weakness is perhaps one of our worst instincts; is anything more stupid than choosing to carry a burden that really one wants to cast on the ground? To hold existence in horror, and yet to cling to it? To fondle the serpent which devours us till it has eaten out our heart? In the countries through which I have been forced to wander, in the taverns where I have had to work, I have seen a vast number of people who hated their existence; but I never saw more than a dozen who deliberately put and end to their own misery (Ch. 12 Pg. 50). Out of all of the characters Candide came across only Jacques and the Old Woman had truly admirable qualities.
The Old Woman only really seems admirable because she has endured and survived so much cruelty in her life. She is strong and still decided to live life even though it has been so horrible. She is wise and has learned from her awful experiences. If it wasn’t for this I don’t think she would be seen as admirable. Jacques, the Anabaptist, helped anyone that needed it, whether he knew them or not. Even in a world full of betrayal and evil he wants to take the chance and reach out to those who need help.
He cares for Candide, without even knowing him, he gives employment to both Candide and Pangloss, and he even saves a sailors life that he never met before. His death shows how good does not win out in the end and despite his kindness to the sailor he in turn does not reach out and give Jacques the same courtesy. Unfortunately, the only true admirable person in the book dies so soon into it. He was the only hope we saw that Candide’s world had.
Works Cited Voltaire. Candide. 1759. Ed.
Henry Morley. New York, New York: Fine Creative Media, 2003.