Christian is the central character of the book and the hero of the pilgrimage. Because Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress as an allegory rather than a novel, Christian is not represented as particularly complicated or conflicted and has a simple personality. Christian represents just one profound aspect of the human experience: the search for religious truth. He is his faith (hence his name). Christian’s motivation, the search for salvation in the Celestial City, clearly defines him.
Christian is deeply goal oriented. Because reaching the Celestial City has a life-or-death urgency for him, he has little time or energy for lesser matters. Even his family shrinks nearly to insignificance in his mind as soon as he leaves for his journey. He never mentions his wife or children to his travel companions. At the Palace Beautiful, he shows some emotion when one of the four mistresses of the house inquires about his family, but he does not bring up the subject himself, nor does he return to it later. This does not mean Christian lacks feeling but only that the goal of salvation far outweighs any earthly concerns a pilgrim has.
Apollyon wants to thwart Christian. Like Giant Despair, also bent on thwarting Christian, Apollyon has a physical irregularity that displays his evil. Apollyon is a hybrid being, part dragon, bear, human, and fish. He unites all four elements: the water of a fish, the air associated with wings, the fire linked to dragons, and the earth that bears live on. He also combines animal and human. These symbolic combinations convey his immense power, suggesting that he draws energy from all corners of the universe. His complex nature is the opposite of Christian’s extreme simplicity. Apollyon became one of the best-known characters in Bunyan’s book even though he appears for only a short time.
Apollyon signifies subjection to worldly forces. He represents the opposite of the spiritual freedom that Christian expresses in leaving behind his worldly existence. Apollyon’s name evokes the Greek god Apollo, lord of the beauty and form that dominates worldly values. Apollo was a pagan deity, far removed from the Christian God that the pilgrim strives toward. Furthermore, Apollyon expresses a medieval belief that Christian is his feudal subject and owes allegiance to him as protector. He believes he has the right to power over another individual, which Christian rejects with his sense of divine freedom and being subject only to God. Thus Christian’s defeat of Apollyon symbolizes a victory over all worldly power.
Christiana is introduced in Part I of the book as Christian’s wife. She and Christian are each other’s better halves, as shown by their names. Yet Christiana does not agree to accompany her husband on his journey to the Celestial City in Part I. She seems beholden to the worldly values and limitations from which Christian must break free. But, at the beginning of Part II, she develops a deep appreciation of the value of pilgrimage. Indeed, her resolution to embark on a pilgrimage carries even more weight in some ways than Christian’s decision did, since she has more responsibilities. She has four children to care for during a perilous and exhausting journey. As a woman, she risks dangers that a male traveler escapes. And her final success as a pilgrim may even outstrip Christian’s, since she and her group achieve victories unknown to him, like slaying Giant Despair. In the end, Christiana emerges as a hero at least on par with her famous husband.
Christiana demonstrates an attunement to more worldly matters, grasping more about the everyday workings of the social world than her husband cared to know. For example, she deals with sick children and babysitters. She asks Mercy to accompany her as her servant. Christian never had an employee. When she leaves the House Beautiful, she gives the porter Watchful a tip of a golden angel coin, a considerable sum. In contrast, Christian never tips anyone because he believes money is evil. Christiana shows a more worldly awareness that money can be used for good as well as bad. She understands that certain worldly things like gold and employment can be integrated into a truly spiritual existence. The way her worldliness balances her faith gives Christiana a fullness that Christian lacks.
Great-heart acts as a loyal companion and protector to Christiana on her pilgrimage. He fulfills a vital function in Part II, providing physical defense as well as spiritual guidance. Also, he seems to have an uncanny ability to sense Christiana’s needs (his sensitivity is shown by his name). When Christiana stays in the House Beautiful, Great-heart shows up to accompany her farther on her pilgrimage. Great-heart arrives instinctively, as if knowing she is ready to continue the journey. The closeness between Great-heart and Christiana is almost marital. In a symbolic way, he functions as a surrogate husband to Christiana on her journey, standing in for Christian as Christiana’s soul mate and travel companion on the road of life.
As a compassionate protector of weak pilgrims, Great-heart displays a mercy that even Christian himself did not show. When Feeble-mind declines the offer to accompany Christiana’s group, he touchingly explains that he is too weak and dull witted to be among their ranks. But Great-heart shows the compassion that he is named for, and he insists that his obligation as a spiritual guide is to protect and serve those weaker than he. His mercy toward the handicapped pilgrim Ready-to-halt displays a similar generosity. Great-heart’s example of benevolence toward the physically or mentally limited expands the model of Christianity put forth by Christian in Part I. Christian was noble and heroic, but he was focused primarily on himself and his own salvation. Great-heart demonstrates that a hero can focus on others as well.
I would take a certain issue with the observation that Bunyan invokes his own imprisonment when he writes about the man in the iron cage. Certainly Bunyan would have been sensitive to the idea of imprisonment, and this sensitivity could very well have emboldened his passion to warn others of the unwanted consequences of certain behaviors, but I believe there the similarity ends. Bunyan had been imprisoned for preaching the gospel without an official sanction from the religious establishment of the day; the unjust result of extreme obedienc
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