Comparing the Social Criticism of Voltaire's Candide and Samuel Johnson's Rasselas

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Comparing the Social Criticism of Voltaire's Candide and Samuel Johnson's Rasselas

Samuel Johnson and Voltaire were both writers of enormous social conscience in the eighteenth century. It is not surprising then to discover that both men wrote short tales dealing primarily with criticism of the human condition. Ironically, these books were written and published within weeks of each other in 1759 (Enright 16). Johnson's Rasselas and Voltaire's Candide are strikingly similar in their use of the episodic and romantic picaresque motifs. The underlying purpose within each author's criticism, however, allows many differences in the two tales to surface. The author's intentions diverge beyond superficial similarities and each work
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Candide is an attack on Leibnitz's rational philosophy. This school of thought is represented through Dr. Pangloss and his maxim: "Everything is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds" (Maurois 7). Voltaire's vicious satire is relentless, criticizing human decency as a whole including sexuality, international law, justice, and morality. His satire uses exaggeration both gross and absurd to force his reader to laugh at his characters and the world in which they live. Cunegonde is raped innumerous times and supposedly killed, Pangloss is hanged but survives, and an old woman has her left buttock eaten by starving Janizaries, and yet each of them still clings blindly to Leibnitz's optimism. This is the most brutal and cunning aspect of his satire. Voltaire suggests that the common man is or can become a puppet, a grinning idiot, not unlike his characters. Voltaire's detached observation of humanity's slow descent into blind submission motivated him to lead Candide and his compatriots through their misadventures to the realization that rational philosophy is not necessarily true.

Where Candide is a biting satire, Rasselas is a running commentary (Enright 12). Johnson himself seems to strive to become a poet as defined by the wise man Imlac. He writes for man in general. Johnson wrote Rasselas to be used as a

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