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Satire can be considered a device used in literature for the purpose of exposing what is thought to be silly or erroneous in real life situations. It is often done by writers to express disgruntled attitudes about contemporary occurrences. It can, however, be used to bring display the folly of persons and situations of all ages and epochs, as well as all situations. Gentler types of satire are termed Horatian, based on the works of the poet Horace.

The more sarcastic and vitriolic type of satire is called Juvenalian, and is based on the satirical nature of the works of Roman poet Juvenal. In Candide, Voltaire satirizes philosophy, religion, morality, wealth and several other societal norms that have usually gone unquestioned because of their traditional value. Philosophy in the abstract is often drawn into the light and the theories tested in real-life situations. They are shown to be flawed and irrelevant in the harsh face of reality.

Several examples of this are to be found in Pangloss, who is the scholar and principal philosophical character in the novel. A significant mistake made by this character is his prevention of Jacques’ rescue when he philosophically proves that the lake in which Jacques drowns exists principally for the purpose of taking his life. Martin comments at the end: “We must work without arguing. That is the only way to make life bearable” (Voltaire, 126), and this underlines the slant against too much philosophy in favor of keeping one’s mind fixed on work.

Voltaire also detects hypocrisy in religion and morality, and the use of the name Martin to represent one who is pessimistic and believes in no justice is likely in reference to Martin Luther, who staunchly believed in the biblical justice conferred on man through faith. In addition, several of the religious characters are caught in positions that they proclaim to stand against. The Pope, ostensibly a celibate, has a daughter; a friar is also a thief; a member of the Catholic Inquisition has a mistress—all these examples are of persons who hypocritically do what they preach and talk against.

Voltaire casts doubt on the trustworthiness of these fanatics, as well as on the importance of the things they profess to be necessary. Riches too are satirized, as those who have power and money are constantly losing it and coming to depend on the mercy of those who have much less power. Candide himself is subject to such treatment as he gains a fortune in Eldorado and quickly loses it at the hands of robbers. Then, in contrast to the idea of the necessity of wealth, he remains able to accomplish his goals even without the money.

Another character that exhibits this tendency is the baron, who falls from riches to a chain gang. Gulliver’s Travels offers a satire upon holy warfare and the perceived strength comes from physical rather than internal origins. The Lilliputans, for example, have antagonistic relations with the people of Blefuscu, and this is all as a result of the differing interpretations of a passage in the holy book share. This seems to be a direct reference to the Great Schism between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches as well as the subsequent split between the Catholic and Protestant churches.

To an onlooker, the interpretations of the different passages of the Bible might seem small compared with the immensity of the arguments, sentiments and actions that proceed from their supporters. Holy war is satirized and mocked by the ridiculous actions between the Lilliputans and the Blefuscudians. One theme that Gulliver’s Travels shares with Candide is a satirical message against overly philosophical ideas.

The Laputans are contemptuous of those who choose not to live by theory alone, but are shown to be foolish when they perform silly experiments. Such ideas, like the ability to get sunbeams from cucumbers, demonstrate Swift’s desire to ridicule lives centered on thought. Voltaire and Swift alike advocate moderation in favor of the extremes that they belittle and satirize.

References Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. New York: Signet, 1999. Voltaire, Francois Marie Arouet. Candide. London: Penguin, 1947.

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