But must I needs want solidness, because
By metaphors I speak? Were not God’s laws,
His gospel laws, in olden time held forth
By types, shadows, and metaphors?
In these lines from the Author’s Apology that prefaces Part I, Bunyan defends the content of his work from those who might accuse him of playing with mere fantasies. Bunyan denies that his book must “want,” or lack, solidity simply because it uses a metaphorical style. He affirms that metaphors can go hand in hand with serious thought.
Bunyan’s self-defense goes to the heart of a long-standing tradition of religious leaders looking askance at literature and deeming it mere entertainment, empty of spiritual value. Religious fiction writers through the ages have defended themselves in much the same way that Bunyan does here. He notes that the Bible itself contains metaphors and “types,” or examples representing general truths. God’s gospel laws refer to the New Testament, in which Christ delivers many of his most profound spiritual statements through parables in which the actual content of the story is different from what the story seems to portray. Bunyan’s scene of the floor sweeper in the Interpreter’s house in Part I is an example of the author composing his own parables much like those of Jesus.
Here is a poor burdened sinner. I come from the City of Destruction, but am going to Mount Zion, that I may be delivered from the Wrath to come; I would therefore, Sir, since I am informed that by this Gate is the Way thither, know if you are willing to let me in?
Christian introduces himself to the gatekeeper Goodwill with these lines in the Second Stage of Part I. The quotation forcefully displays Christian’s sense of identity and his sense of who he is in the world. Christian does not think of mentioning his own name in his introduction. Partly he does not think of his name because he represents all Christian pilgrims in this allegory. Christian is an Everyman, and he does not need a name because he symbolizes all. But in psychological terms, Christian’s omission of his name reveals something more about him: he has very little self-consciousness in the book. He reflects on himself when he contemplates his own situation, but he rarely thinks about himself to review his emotions or ideas. Christian has a soul that he cares about saving but does not have a very distinct personality or sense of self. And without a self, he has no need for a name.
Despite not having much of a personality, Christian defines himself by his moral status (“poor burdened sinner”), origin in the City of Destruction, and ultimate goal to reach the Celestial City. He explains his reasons for setting out and speaks to the gatekeeper only because he needs to overcome the obstacle in his way and continue his journey. Everything he says in this quotation refers to his basic need to advance, and he defines himself solely as a traveler. In Christian’s view, his starting point and end point communicate all there is to know about him. Christian’s politeness to the gatekeeper, whom he calls “sir,” shows his cordial respect for people of all social levels, high and low. This formality remains constant throughout The Pilgrim’s Progress and expresses Christian’s deep religious belief that all are equal before God.
By this I perceive thou art one of my subjects; for all that country is mine, and I am the Prince and God of it. How is it then that thou hast run away from thy King?
Apollyon speaks these menacing words to Christian in the Fourth Stage of Part I, when the monster prince threatens to kidnap Christian and thwart his journey. Apollyon’s smooth and courtly speech contradicts his grotesque appearance, which features fish scales and bear-like feet. The disconnection between word and meaning runs throughout the book. Like Apollyon’s words, many utterances by evildoers on Christian’s pilgrimage will sound good but reveal a monstrous origin and an evil intention. Apollyon also uses logic to great effect by addressing Christian with a medieval syllogism, or logical exercise: Christian comes from Destruction, and Apollyon is the prince of Destruction. Therefore Christian is Apollyon’s royal subject. Of course Christian rejects this logic, knowing that truth must come not from rational argument but from divine revelation.
Apollyon refers to himself as not only a prince of the City of Destruction but as “god” of it as well. The bold and grandiose statement foreshadows Madam Bubble’s later reference to herself as a goddess. All such claims of divinity in The Pilgrim’s Progress have a false ring, since any good religious Christian soul knows that there is and can be only one God in the universe. No one falls prey to these false claims in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Moreover, anyone who has to tell a person in a conversation that he or she is a god must be self-conscious. A good pilgrim like Christian does not refer to himself at all, unless it is to reveal his moral condition or the progress of his journey. As a result, self-consciousness itself is linked to evil in this book.
Well, said she, my Sons, you transgress, for that fruit is none of ours; but she did not know that they did belong to the Enemy: I’ll warrant you, if she had, she would have been ready to die for fear.
Christiana delivers this reproach to her sons in the Fourth Stage of Part II, when they have been caught pilfering fruit from the devil’s garden. Christiana does not seem aware of how close she comes to repeating God’s reproach to Adam and Eve in Genesis, when the first humans were similarly chastised for their fruit-eating transgression. Her religious outlook is so devoutly steeped in the Bible that she lives out biblical verses without even realizing it. However, Bunyan alters the biblical story a bit. Christiana becomes angry with her children but cannot cast them out as God did. She is in effect a single mother for most of the book, and she must be practical as well as devout. All she can do is warn her sons of their sins and trust that they will see the light.
The quote shows The Pilgrim’s Progress shifting between an allegory and a novel.
Bunyan explains how Christiana would have felt if she had known the fruit was the devil’s. When he says that she would have died of fear, he offers an alternate version of his own tale that reveals how he treats Christiana like a character in a novel, capable of making decisions, rather than a character in an allegory. Here Bunyan struggles between writing an allegory and novel. While The Pilgrim’s Progress is clearly an allegory, there are moments in which Bunyan writes like a novelist and shows that he understands that he might have written the story another way. He says that Christiana could have behaved differently, which implies that he sees her as existing separate from his allegory.
Apples were they with which we were beguiled,
Yet Sin, not Apples, hath our souls defiled.
This rhymed couplet, spoken by the host Gaius to Christiana’s son over dinner in the Sixth Stage of Part II, demonstrates different ways of interpreting even things as simple as apples. Christiana’s son obviously has been exposed to the Bible since he knows that Adam and Eve committed the first sin by eating forbidden apples. Matthew tries to apply biblical lessons to his own life and live devoutly, and he naturally assumes that apples are evil and that he should avoid them at all costs. But here at dinner, he learns that applying religious lessons to life is more complicated than it seems. Gaius informs Matthew that there is a difference between the apples that Adam and Eve ate and the sin they committed by doing so. In allegory, an apple is sin, but in life apples are simply apples.
Gaius’s poetic meter and fancy word choice set him apart from the simpler souls met by the pilgrims on their journey in Part II. Gaius’s name is also out of the ordinary, being a noble Roman name far removed from the direct descriptions that are applied as names to Great-heart, Feeble-mind, and so on. Gaius seems to belong to another world. He belongs not in a Christian allegory but in a classical Latin poem. In Bunyan’s day a fierce debate raged about the value of the classical Greek and Roman writers. Some claimed these writers were noble and beneficial to humanity. Others claimed they were irreligious and ought to be ignored. Bunyan does not enter directly into this debate, but by making Gaius as strongly Christian as all the other good characters in the book, Bunyan seems to suggest that a character with a Latin-sounding name can contribute a chapter to a devoutly Christian book. When Christiana’s two sons marry Gaius’s two daughters, a marriage of Christian and classical seems underway.
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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