Voltaire’s “Candide” is a sarcastic account revealing blind optimism in a life of misfortune. It is showed in the close reading texts, when Candide and his valet Cacambo reach a town near Surinam, they find a negro who told them his miserable life, after which Candide is so shocked and sympathized with the negro that he claims to abandon what he has been firmly convinced of for his whole life: Pangloss’ optimism, a belief that “everything is for the best”. Candide’s response to the negro’s realistic story, which is revealed in imagery, plain personal narrative and a helpless and ironic tone, marks a turning point in Candide’s philosophy in the overall development of the narrative, awakening him to realize the world’s imperfections and renounce Pangloss’ optimism.
Voltaire uses vivid imageries to depict a poor slave to the reader by illustrating his terrible circumstances, gesture, and physical condition. The first impression of the negro makes a thundery shock on Candide’s heart, which suddenly arose his sympathy with the man. When Candide and Cacambo discover the negro, he “stretched on the ground” with only “a pair of blue drawers”, and is “missing his left leg and his right hand” (39). The negro is deprived of his social status, indicated by the literal phrase of lying “on the ground”(39). The word “stretch” (39) emphasizes his lifelessness. The “blue drawers” (39) show the humiliation and disdain toward the slave from the master, who treats the slave no better than putting a little piece of cloth on him that hardly covers his body. Also, the direct visual of the slave’s missing body parts deepens Candide’s compassion towards his misery, because of his lost of physical completeness. By showing the negro’s miserable condition in vivid and realistic imageries, Voltaire creates great sympathy towards the man within both Candide and readers.
After the description of the slave, Voltaire introduces the slave’s story via his own narratives, aggravating the misfortunes of the slave and finally prompting the disillusion of Candide’s beautiful dream of a perfect world he lives in. When Candide calls out “Good Lord” (40) after he sees the slave, the use of “Dutch” (40) is mentioned, reflecting that his mind is deeply touched since he cries out in his mother language instantly. The slave answers by calling his master “Mr. Vanderdendur” (40) while his own name is never known, which reveals his low social status again. At the beginning of the slave’s story, he says, “that’s how things are around here” (40), ruling out Candide’s chance to think that the slave’s misery might just be an unlucky special case. The slave’s only cloth, the drawers, is mentioned again in his words, with additional details, that he gets a drawer only “twice a year” and the material is “linen” (40), making him more pathetic. The explanation of the rule in the sugar mill that the slave “had undergone both these experiences” is horrible itself. But moreover, the slave says, “This is the price of the sugar you eat in Europe” (40). Voltaire links the terrifying punishment on the slaves with the comfortable life of the Europeans, producing a sharp contrast that causes a sense of guilty in Candide’s mind.
Voltaire uses a helpless tone to show the slave’s uncontrollable fate, and uses irony to show the western priest’s lack of consistency in his account and action. The helplessness and uncontrollable destiny are indicated by the slave’s background: it is his own mother who sold him “for ten Patagonian crowns” to make “a fortune”, and calls it “an honor” to be a slave of “white masters” (40). To call such a small amount of money “a fortune” shows the incredibly poor life the slave’s family lives in their country, yet they still regard the white men who torture them as “masters”, a sign of insult they bear through out their lives. Even though the slave sacrifices himself, the family’s outlook of life is still uncertain. It is showed when the slave says with a sigh, “Alas! I don’t know if I made their fortunes, but they certainly did not make mine” (40). “The dogs, monkeys, and parrots are a thousand times less unhappy then we are” (40), a statement he makes to describe his emotion clearly illustrates his helplessness in his tone. The enumeration of animals shows the inhuman practices imposed on the slave, who is treated worse than pets. Additionally, the double negation, “a thousand times less unhappy” (40), emphasizes his helplessness. In the end of his talk, the slave draws a tear from Candide and the readers by quoting the “Dutch witch doctor” (40), who claims that “we are all sons of Adam, black and white” (40). But after the slave abandons his original belief, he is still hardly treated as a human being. The slave says, “if these preachers are right, we must all be remote cousins”(40). Voltaire makes a sarcastic account on religious hypocrites who are supposed to treat everyone equally but fail to do so. The negro’s helplessness and the priest’s hypocrisy trigger Candide to abandon Pangloss’ optimism.
The slave lives a miserable life not by chance, but just because he was born in a poor family, which he could not change at all. Therefore, Candide has no reason or excuse this time to escape from the harsh reality to his optimistic world, since there is no lower standard for him to imagine. And after all, he abandons Pangloss’ optimism, jumps out of the blindness and flatness. His response to the huge discrepancy between his imagination and real world makes a turning point in the narrative story as a foreshadowing of Martin’s Pessimism showing on the stage.