Narrative Techniques in Voltaire's 'Candide' and the Effects Achieved

Updated on November 26, 2016
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I studied film, literature and drama for 3 years and have continued to review and analyze many works, both contemporary and classic since.

A Book Review

The composition of Voltaire’s ‘Candide’ is a picaresque narrative. Voltaire recounts a tale of an adventure hero. He uses many characters to build the story such as Candide; the optimist, Pangloss; the philosopher and Cunégonde; the object of Candides’ desire. Voltaire creates the characters as two-dimensional and impractical. Candide is over optimistic and no matter what gets thrown at him, it doesn’t affect his buoyancy. This is clearly shown throughout the story. When Candide sees a beggar on the street and finds out that it is his mentor Pangloss, he doesn’t walk away and leave him, instead he asks the Anabaptist James to pay for the treatment to cure Pangloss.

A technique used often in ‘Candide’ by the author is using characters to speak his personal opinion on certain subjects. He uses Pangloss to ridicule philosophical naivety. An example of this is when Pangloss asks a man whether he thinks everything is for the best, the man replies “I believe nothing of the sort. I find that everything goes wrong in our world”. He goes onto describe how “nobody knows his place in society” and that “outside of mealtimes...the rest of the day is spent in useless quarrels”.

Another affective narrative technique Voltaire uses is to insert actual events into the story, e.g. “At Portsmouth the shore was crowded with people eagerly watching a big man who was kneeling on the deck...”. Here Voltaire is writing about Admiral Byng, who was executed on the fourteenth of March 1757. Another example of this and also of how he uses the characters to voice his opinions is when he writes about the Abbé and the Parisian Guests have supper. The Abbé mentions a ‘Fréron’ calling him a “hack journalist”. He also says “He is one of those literary vipers who feed on dirt and venom”.

Voltaire also inserts contradictions into the tale. At the beginning Candide is optimistic about everything happening around him, by the last few pages he becomes less positive. Voltaire proves this by stating “...made Candide hesitate more than ever”. The author means that Candide is questioning if it is the ‘best of all possible worlds’. Quite similarly Pangloss is described as being “the greatest philosopher in the province” at the beginning but is shown to be a fool by the end. When Pangloss asks the dervish why man was created, he responds with “Why do you meddle with the matter...Is it any business of yours?”. Voltaire is mocking Pangloss’ views. It is comparable to Cunégonde who was beautiful and sought after by many men at the start but later she turns ugly.

Sarcasm is also a writing style of Voltaire. This is felt throughout the book. It can be obvious when he talks about Pangloss that he is mocking him, this is particularly noticeable when he says “Dr. Pangloss, the greatest philosopher in the province, and, therefore, in the whole world”.

All of these writing techniques make Candide more unbelievably ironic and witty. It makes the story more relatable when the characters change opinions and grow mentally. The use of exaggeration turns terrible events into humorous ones.

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