A Comparison of the Quest for Enlightenment in Candide and Dream of the Red Chamber

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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 Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xuegin introduce
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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
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