There are many themes in Candide which resonate with a contemporary audience. One of the recurrent attacks in the book has been against religious institutions and the politico-cultural power wielded by them. Although Voltaire was a deist, he did not espouse the view of the Optimists who believed that we inhabit a perfect world in which all events happen for the good. Voltaire found this precept highly problematic, especially viewed in light of major catastrophes to have hit Europe in the decade preceding the conception of Candide. It is fair to claim that religious superstition is rife in many parts of the world even today. Indeed, and ironically, much of conflict between groups of humans has religion at its base. Currently, the ongoing War on Terror operation between the West and the Islamic fundamentalist groups can be studied as a continuation of the ancient Crusades. To this extent the military-militant confrontation can be interpreted as a veiled conflict between Christianity and Islam.
There are several reasons why Candide had withstood the test of time and attracted readership across centuries. The universality of its central themes is a major reason for this long-lasting relevance. Along with religious orthodoxy and superstition, Voltaire also attacks leading philosophical currents of early 18th century. One such current is the School of Optimism, whose chief proponent was mathematician Leibnitz. The Optimists’ popular claim that ‘we inhabit the best of all possible worlds’ is repeatedly mocked in the Candide. The lead character, Candide, through the veneer of his naïveté and ignorance often exposes the fallacies in Optimism. One mechanism through which Voltaire achieves this is by filling the plot with numerous tragic events. Earthquakes, tsunamis, epidemic diseases, mid-ocean storms and shipwrecks are all standard devices used to challenge the Optimists’ viewpoint. Not only does this technique persuasively achieve its polemical end, but also stands to reveal something fundamental to humanity – namely, the pervasiveness of suffering and tragedy. It is for this profound identification with a universal truth that Candide continues to be of relevance to modern audiences.
Since nature’s volatility is a constant theme going back to the beginning of the world, the themes of natural disasters and mass deaths found in Candide are very much relevant today. For example, despite stupendous advances in technology and science, humans are still at the mercy of natural phenomena. Atypical geological occurrences as well as cyclical climatic events continue to be factors in human survival. The tsunamis, earthquakes, torrential storms and epidemic diseases dealt in Candide are situations that modern audiences can relate to. In this context, Candide is still relevant in our times.
Another major reason why Candide offers value to contemporary audiences is its sense of humor. The plot is full of contrived tragic events, but was intended for humorous effect due to their very absurdity. In this respect, one could draw parallels between the twentieth century drama genre Theatre of the Absurd and the style and content of Candide. This connection across centuries is another reason why modern audiences would find Candide familiar. A theatrical adaptation of Candide would find resonance with the style, presentation and content of the plays by George Bernard Shaw or Samuel Beckett – both of whom were proponents of the Theatre of the Absurd.
Beck, Ervin (Summer 1999). “Voltaire’s Candide”.Explicator 57 (4): 203–4.
Walsh, Thomas (2001). Readings on Candide. Literary Companion to World Literature. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.