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A Comparison Of The Quest For Enlightenment In Candide And Dream Of The Red Chamber

1266 words - 6 pages

Quest for Enlightenment in Candide and Dream of the Red Chamber

   Seventeenth-century Europe saw the end of the Renaissance and ushered in the Neoclassic era. During this period, which is also called the Enlightenment and "The Age of Reason," society advocated rationalism and urged the restraint of emotion. Writers modeled their works after the Greco-Roman satires and picaresque novels. At around the same time in China, the author of Dream of the Red Chamber explores a different kind of enlightenment, whose roots are in religion. Buddha is called "The Enlightened One," and one of the major concerns of Buddhism is "Why do we suffer and feel pain?"


Candide by Voltaire and ...view middle of the document...

Cao Xuengin presents a "red" motif  which contributes to the Eastern idea of achieving enlightenment through "suffering the pains of love, loss, and disillusionment."  The "red chamber" is either a room, a place where one can come and go, or else, it is a prison, a place of seclusion and captivity. Life on earth can be, at times, very much like a prison with its unpleasantness and various crises; however, it is also like a room in which a person can be happy, comfortable, and relaxed.  There are also the following occurrences of the "red" motif:  "Palace of Vermilion Clouds," "Crimson Flower," and "Red Dust." The "red dust" is representative of the earth.  Furthermore, the color "red" is a metaphor for blood, which represents the stone's incarnation into flesh. It is also indicative of the pain and suffering that must be endured to gain enlightenment. During the process, Stone meets the "Goddess of Disillusionment," who has encountered the "Realm of Parting Sorrow," "Fruit of Unfulfilled Love," and the "Fountain of Ineffable Sadness."  She personifies the path to enlightenment.


Also unlike Candide, the tone of Dream of the Red Chamber is immediately foreboding and somber, casting a hypnotic atmosphere over the rest of the story.  Images of "cloud-wrapped mountains and mist-covered seas" and "the sound of flutes and strings [which] came from every house" add to the dreamlike atmosphere. The novel is indeed similar to a dream: It is one that is not quite a nightmare but more like an unsettling premonition.  Like the Fates in the Greek plays, a monk warns Chen Shih-yin, "Rejoice not even though it be the Feast of Lanterns, /For you may sorrow at what follows in its wake."   


The characters in Candide and Dream of the Red Chamber ultimately attain enlightenment through life experience and with the help of their traveling companions. There are three philosophers whom Candide meets, each possessing a different outlook on life. (Curiously, these three outlooks may correspond to the "Rock of Three Incarnations" mentioned in Dream of the Red Chamber.)  Pangloss is representative of extreme optimism and constantly maintains that "everything is for the best" regardless of the situation. Mocking this philosophy, Voltaire concocts the worst circumstances possible in which to involve his characters, as if challenging Pangloss to utter that careless phrase. Pangloss's opposite is Martin, who is a pessimist.  He says, "[the devil] takes so much part in the affairs of this world that I might well be full of him, just like everything else" and he later asserts that the world was created in order to drive its occupants mad.  Finally, Cacambo is the realist.  Rather than being unnaturally optimistic or bluntly pessimistic in crisis, he presents realistic solutions to their problems.  The mentors in Dream of the Red Chamber, which include a Taoist priest and a Buddhist monk, do...

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