"The true test of comedy is that it shall awaken thoughtful laughter.
What is thoughtful laughter? The term almost defines itself. Thoughtful laughter is when a situation utilizes amusement or humor as a means to provoke reflection. Writers throughout history have employed such means as a way to make a statement or a point. In fact, the entire art of satire is based around this idea of provoking thought through laughter. Satire often humorously mocks a person or situation as a means of bringing attention to its faults. And anytime one thinks of affective satirists who ingeniously employ thoughtful laughter at its best, a few prominent examples come to mind: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Swift's Modest Proposal, and most certainly Voltaire's Candide.
In Candide there are endless examples of thought provoking humor, but this paper will concentrate on one character that perhaps best embodies the idea, Pangloss. Pangloss is an unremitting optimist, who from the first pages of the novel relays the basis for his ridiculous philosophy that "this is the best of all possible worlds." Later on in the story the humorous extremes to which Pangloss will take this idea will reveal a somber truth to its audience. When Candide happens upon Pangloss after years of separation he finds his old companion and teacher as a pitiful beggar ravished by syphilis. Yet, when Candide remarks on Pangloss's poor state, the philosopher simply remarks that it is for the best. He rationalizes that since the transmission of the syphilis could be traced back to the New World, and Christopher Columbus also brought back chocolate from the New World, all had worked to the best possible ends. Upon reading such a ridiculous anecdote one might laugh out loud, and while no doubt Voltaire wrote it with a dark humor, he meant it as a strong commentary and it certainly provokes consideration from its reader. The strange logic by which Pangloss justifies his bleak fate leads one into reflection about the possible absurdity of such optimism.