Since the Enlightenment period, Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism has served as the basis for many works of literature. The concept of the protagonist’s quest has been capitalized over the years in countless pieces of film and literature, including in Mark Twain’s classic novel, Huckleberry Finn. Comparing the works of Voltaire and Twain, similarities between the main characters and their journeys arise, adding to the common satirical themes on morality and human suffering, which prove to be ever-present throughout each plot. The journeys of both young Candide and young Huck Finn serve a purpose far greater than either naïve character could realize, underlining these overarching themes through each character’s developing morality.While originating from different backgrounds, Candide from a somewhat privileged class in Westphalia and Huck from the very bottom of the social ladder in the antebellum South, both characters demonstrate a similar sense of naïveté about the world. Candide is taught by the family oracle, Pangloss, that this “is the best of all possible worlds” (Voltaire,1). For Huck, he lives life oblivious of the issues in his society and, enjoying “laying off comfortable all day” (Twain 6). In contrast to Candide, Huck recognizes some of the bad things in his life, such as his alcoholic father, and makes an active decision to begin his quest down the Mississippi River. In Candide’s case, coincidence seems to play a larger role in the beginning of his quest, as he gets tricked into the military and cannot “for the soul of him conceive how he came to be a hero” (Voltaire, 2).
While both characters started out differently, both quests revolved around the concept of free will and the pursuit of choice. In the second chapter, we see Candide attempt to counter his military punishment sentence, saying, “that the human will is free”. However, he is not given a choice, and the rest of his quest throughout the story is a battle between fate and choice, as he desperately fights and continues on his search for his beloved Cunégonde, the one choice he is determined to make. Huck, on the other hand, spends his quest searching for freedom in its self, and freedom for his friend, Jim, the slave runaway. Huck is able to find some semblance of freedom in the end, after a series of fateful events, while Candide discovers free will in the end, choosing the physical farm life over philosophical musings, saying, “let us cultivate our garden” (Voltaire 30). The garden symbolizes the good he hopes to make in life.
The ultimate discovery of freedom in both stories culminates in the advancement of the moral development of both Candide and Huck. Both characters began their journeys naive and gullible, becoming victims to tricks and scams and witnessing human suffering without a semblance of worry along the way. While this satirical naïveté is metaphorical for society’s ignorance to various issues, it also serves to present a ‘fresh view’ of the developmental change the characters undergo.
Despite seeing “men covered with wounds, who beheld their wives dying with their throats cut,” it wasn’t until Candide had his fortune stolen and came across the negro in Surinam that he began to understand the cruelty of the world and to “renounce [Pangloss’s] Optimism” (Voltaire 19). On the Mississippi River, Huck encountered villainous people and was often faced with the question of morality. His journey with Jim allowed him to investigate his true belief about the current societal issue of slavery, saying that his “conscience got to stirring [him] up hotter than ever” (Twain, 16). The long and arduous journeys that each character took brought them to a new understanding of the meaning of life.
While Candide and Huck Finn differ in many ways, including the setting, plot, and general description of the protagonist, the two stories share an integral message on the state of human conditions. The use of naïve characters, the search for free will, and the various obstacles along the way serve to illuminate the underlying message. Both authors sprinkle the protagonists’ journeys with images of human suffering to open not only the characters’ eyes but the eyes of the audience as well, illuminating the issues often tucked away in society at the times (slavery, oppression, inequality). It is clear that Voltaire’s Candide issued some effect of influence over Twain years later, showing the timeless struggle against human suffering.
“Candide.” The Online Literature Library. Web. 12 Feb. 2015. <http://literature.org/authors/voltaire/candide/>.
Twain, Mark, and Emory Elliott. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.