Midway to nowhere: the refugee experience in Candide
Francois-Marie Arouet, better known by his pen name, Voltaire, is considered by many to be a revolutionary thinker who symbolized many themes of the Enlightenment Era. Best known for his novel Candide, his writing may be seen as vulgar or genius, but it is certain to provoke a response in the mind of its reader. Tales of war predate written literature itself but until the Enlightenment Era, consisted mainly of heroic or patriotic themes. However, during the Age of Reason, in part thanks to the great philosophers of the eighteenth century like Voltaire, war came to be viewed in a new light. The novel Candide, is described by Madeleine Dobie as “the first true metadiscourse on the aims and effects of war” (2009). Voltaire wrote about war from a different perspective, describing it more accurately “as violence, suffering and carnage” (Dobie, 2009). While tales of heroes and great battles may be entertaining, in reality, they misrepresent the true nature of war. For every hero of war, there are thousands of innocent victims whose lives will never be the same. Voltaire along with “a number of eighteenth-century thinkers observed that while wars might serve the interests of the aristocratic elite, they inflict suffering and privation on members of lower social order” (Dobie 1852). Candide may be most commonly described as a satirical commentary on war, critiquing institutions of power, but perhaps its legacy is that Voltaire “showed war from the perspective of its victims and invited readers to empathize with their suffering” (Dobie 1853). Hundreds of years later, wars continue to rage and while the specifics of battles have changed, the stories of suffering experienced by non-combatants remain very similar. Since the Era of Enlightenment in which Voltaire wrote, more attention has been given to these innocent victims and the field of Refugee Studies has become part of academia. It can be argued that Candide is in fact, a novel that outlines the refugee experience and through the journey of Candide and his companions, Voltaire looks to evoke compassion in the reader for refugees of war.
Presented on April 24, 2017 at Student Research Day held at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta.
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