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The Pilgrim’s Progress

John Bunyan

Part I: The Fifth Stage, the Sixth Stage, the Seventh Stage

Part I: The Third Stage, the Fourth Stage

Part I: The Eighth Stage, the Ninth Stage

Summary

Christian meets up with his former fellow townsman Faithful, who fled the City of Destruction shortly after Christian left. Faithful reports that the townspeople discussed their impending doom, but that few took it seriously enough to leave. Faithful says that Christian’s old acquaintance Pliable returned to town and was mocked for the dirt on his clothing from the Slough of Despond.

Faithful says he himself escaped the Slough but was tempted by a wanton woman and by an old man named Adam the First, who promised Faithful any of his three lusty daughters if he would stay. Faithful reports that he declined the offer, knowing it would be slavery. Even though he rejected Adam, Moses appeared to strike down Faithful in punishment, Christian concludes, for secretly being attracted by Adam’s offer. Faithful reports that shame tried to turn him from his holy path, attacking religion as unmanly. Christian congratulates Faithful on his fortitude and then tells him of his own adventures.

Another townsman named Talkative joins the two. Faithful is initially impressed by Talkative’s devoutness, since Talkative likes discussing religious topics. Christian sees otherwise and takes Faithful aside to tell him that Talkative’s faith is all in words, not in deeds. He knows Talkative from his life before and knows that he has a fine tongue but little else. Rejoining Talkative, Christian asks him to explain the difference between speaking out against sin and abhorring it. Talkative has trouble seeing any difference between the two, and Christian sets him straight. Irked, Talkative leaves them.

Emerging from the wilderness, Evangelist meets Christian and Faithful and congratulates them on overcoming their obstacles. Evangelist says they will soon enter a powerful enemy city where one of them will die. The narrator identifies this city as Vanity, home of a great and ancient festival called Vanity Fair, where tawdry products are traded and Beelzebub is worshipped. At Vanity Fair, Faithful and Christian are mocked, smeared with dirt, and thrown in a cage. Given a chance to repent, they stay true to their righteous hatred of worldly possessions. They are condemned to death for belittling Vanity’s false religion. Faithful tries to speak in his own defense but is burned at the stake and carried off to heaven. Christian is remanded to prison but escapes later.

Christian continues his journey joined by a new ally, Hopeful, and a stranger named By-ends, who sees religion as a way of getting ahead in the world. Christian refuses to let By-ends accompany them unless he affirms that poverty is an aspect of faith. By-ends is turned away and joins other religious fortune hunters, who are stunned when Christian denounces them. Christian and Hopeful enter the plain of Ease, where a gentlemanly figure named Demas entices them with buried silver and dreams of wealth. They spurn him, telling him they will not be nudged from their course by riches. On their way, they notice the pillar that once was Lot’s wife who made the mistake of looking back at what she had left behind on her own path to salvation. Christian and Hopeful vow not to make the same mistake themselves.

Moving onward, they follow a man who says he knows a shortcut to the Celestial City. They realize it is not a shortcut after they fall into a pit. A storm rises, and they nearly drown when the rain floods their hole. When the rains abate, they come out and continue on. They find shelter near the Doubting Castle owned by the Giant Despair, where they sleep. The giant wakes them and says they must be punished for trespassing. His wife, Diffidence, encourages the harshest punishments. They are imprisoned and beaten and contemplate suicide, finally deciding against it as a sin. Christian remembers he has a key called Promise that will open any door in Despair’s castle. Christian and Hopeful escape and mount a sign warning future travelers away from Despair.

Analysis

Any appearance or remembrance of the past threatens to stall Christian’s spiritual development. The past returns to haunt Christian in the figure of Faithful, his former neighbor who appears with gossip about the old hometown. Nostalgia is dangerous. This point is emphasized later when Christian and Faithful are leaving the plain of Ease and see the pillar that used to be Lot’s wife. In the Bible, Lot’s wife was fleeing destruction and was told not to look back at what she left behind. When she did look back, she became immobilized and unable to journey to salvation, the very journey Christian has staked everything on completing. Unlike Lot’s wife, Christian seems strongly resistant to sentimental memories of his former friends and family. In fact, he does not even ask about his family’s welfare. Only when asked at the Palace Beautiful does Christian shed some tears over his family. This reminds the reader that Christian has feelings and misses his family. Yet when setting out on his pilgrimage, Christian knows there is no turning back, and he does not wish to. His previous life was full of townsfolk who thought he was crazy and did not understand his reason for leaving. Christian realizes this and therefore has little concern for life back home. Christian has not been proven right yet about the wrath of heaven falling on the town because no disaster has fallen. The townsfolk’s earlier contempt for Christian’s religious folly continues at present, so there can be no going back to save them.

The town of Vanity also fits the idea of dangers of nostalgia in these chapters of the book, since it is the first large-scale community Christian visits after leaving his hometown. Vanity is an echo of the City of Destruction in its irreligious attitudes, its bustling business that leaves no time for spiritual introspection, and its collective opposition to anyone who sees things differently. Christian flees from disaster in the City of Destruction, and he barely escapes disaster in the city of Vanity too. The evil of Vanity suggests that communities are dangerous places and that the safest path to salvation lies in solitude. Later, cities will appear godly and good, but for now risk lurks in them.

Faithful’s report of his encounter with the wanton woman and Adam’s three lusty daughters brings an unusually open sexual reference for the book’s time. The Pilgrim’s Progress contains so little sex that when lust is even mentioned, it carries great weight. Interestingly, none of Christian’s own adventures involve even a hint of sex, even when he spends the night with four beautiful women in the Palace Beautiful. Everyone’s path to salvation is unique, and Faithful is more prone to the temptations of the flesh. Of course Faithful resists those temptations. Still, when Moses punishes Faithful for even considering them, it is clear how dangerous sex is thought to be. Adam offers marriage to one of his daughters, but even wedded sex is evidently off limits to a pilgrim. Adam represents “natural man,” or humans without revelation or religion. His state is not neutral but sinful. To be natural in The Pilgrim’s Progress is to dwell on sexual desires, and to be sexual is to be a sinner.

The episode in the Doubting Castle demonstrates Bunyan’s style of inner and outer allegory. Allegories conjure up characters to represent abstract states or qualities, as Talkative represents an outer state of allegory because he is filled with empty chattiness. When those states or qualities appear as obstacles on the path Christian is following, they are dangerous outside ideas for him to ward off. Talkativeness is a danger Christian must stay away from. But allegorical abstractions can also represent inner states. Giant Despair is a perfect example of an inner quality of Christian represented as something outside him. Despair is of course his own despair, his own suicidal depression. Giant Despair is part of the human soul, as many obstacles to faith are inside the believer, even though they are represented outwardly in the allegory.

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The man in the iron cage

by Ewan_Wattameye, July 14, 2013

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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