The sentence to run the gauntlet was a punishment for Candide’s desertion. The protagonist chose this penalty because the other variant was to be shot to death. Thus, he had to run among the military men thirty-six times while they whipped him. He endured the running only twice.
After Candide is exiled from Thunder-ten-tronckh, he stops at an inn. He meets two soldiers there, yet unaware of their intentions to bring him to their army. They comment on his height and stature, which are suitable for a soldier. Ironically, Candide is five feet tall, while the other Bulgarians are six feet tall. They wonder if Candide loves the Bulgarian King. The protagonist replies in the negative because he has never met him. Still, he drinks to the King’s health.
This meeting ends when the soldiers bring Candide to their regiment. Military training is ruthless and pointless. In addition to the exhausting exercises, it includes beating. Finally, Candide thought that “it was a privilege of the human as well as of the animal species to make use of their legs as they pleased,” and walked away. When he was two leagues away, four Bulgarian soldiers caught him.
They gave Candide a choice between execution by a firing squad or thirty-six blows from each of the two thousand soldiers. Candide did not want either. He tried to explain that he had free will, but no reasoning worked. After two rounds of the gauntlet, he asked to be shot instead. The King of the Bulgarians happened to witness the scene and forgave Candide, saving his life.