The Grin that Apes a Smile
"Optimism, n. The doctrine, or belief that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly,
everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong. It is held with greatest tenacity by
those accustomed to the mischance of falling into adversity, and is most acceptably expounded with the
grin that apes a smile. It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious," writes Ambrose Bierce in The
Devil's Dictionary. Optimism is more traditionally known as the belief that everything will get better, and
that all things are for the best. Unfortunately for the characters of Candide, nothing ever works out for the
best, despite the great optimism they exhibit. As a result, they become sophisticated enough to accept
things as they are. Optimism cannot survive in the real world.
The impracticality of optimism is exhibited in many different characters and events throughout the
book. To begin with, Voltaire makes constant sardonic references to the phrase "all is for the best,"
throughout the narrative. In just four pages, he is able to use this phrase four times when describing the
horrible events that happen to Candide. Also, the idea of optimism is shown to be unrealistic when the Old
Woman states that everyone thinks they have the worst life in the world. This makes the point that one
cannot be optimistic when there is so much suffering going on around them. Additionally, optimism is
proven to be illogical when Candide is finally able to marry his love, Cunegonde, after spending much time
and money questing to be with her. By the time he gets her, she is ugly and unwanted by Candide, thus
making the entire quest for her unnecessary, and his optimism at the fact that he would soon be with her
unwarranted. Moreover, the impracticality of optim!
ism is shown when Pangloss changes from being a optimist to a realist. By doing this, Pangloss shows how
quickly optimism can be destroyed by misfortune. In addition, optimism is shown to be a nonrealistic idea
through the characterization of Martin, the pessimistic philosopher. Martin's pessimism in the book is the
only constant, while the other characters are constantly on an emotional roller-coaster. Thus, Martin is the
most stable character in the book, proving that pessimism is more practical than optimism when one has to
deal with reality. Finally, the impracticality of optimism is shown when Candide decides, rather than
continue to hope for the best, to accept reality as it is, and tend his garden. When he does this, he proves
that the only practical way to deal with life is to accept the things that happen to you, rather than to hope for
the best out of every situation.
Many bad things happen to the good people in the book Candide. Even though they have
seemingly inexhaustible amounts of optimism, things never get better for any of them. Because of this,
they eventually wise up and begin to accept things as they are, rather than wanting to have things as they
should be. In doing this, they destroy their impractical and destructive optimism for a more useful
philosophy of life.