The Pilgrim’s Progress

by: John Bunyan

Part I: The Eighth Stage, the Ninth Stage

Traveling onward, Christian and Hopeful discuss sin at great length. In part their discussion helps them ward off the sleepiness that comes from crossing the Enchanted Land. They ask whether any person is free from sin and agree that only Christ has been sinless. Christian asks Hopeful how he came to realize he was a sinner, and Hopeful tells of his realization. On the Enchanted Ground they fight off dangerous sleep. Seeing Ignorance again, they ask him why he lags behind, suspecting that this pilgrim does not like their company. They discuss Ignorance’s belief that good living alone guarantees salvation. Christian asserts that salvation comes through revelation, not through a good life alone. They also discuss reasons for backsliding among the devout. Ignorance insults revelation, calling it nonsense and affirming that a natural faith in God is enough to sustain a believer. Ignorance says he cannot walk as fast as Christian and Hopeful and falls behind.

Analysis

Christian and Hopeful’s experiences at the Delectable Mountains emphasize the importance of reflection. When Christian and Hopeful gaze out at the other pilgrims wandering on Giant Despair’s lands, they recall one of their own experiences from the outside and see how it is lived by other pilgrims. By looking back on their previous experience, Christian and Hopeful realize how far they have traveled and just how close they are to the Celestial City. Christian also does not long for his previous life in the City of Destruction when he watches the pilgrims, but he sees how he has progressed since leaving and feels no regret. No longer does Christian just wander hoping he’ll reach the Celestial City. When Christian reaches the Delectable Mountains, he is firmly planted in Christ’s domain and has physical confirmation of his progress.

Ignorance’s appearance emphasizes the idea that spiritual progress requires more than simply living a good life and having a natural faith in God. Progress can only be made when movement is combined with knowledge and understanding. Ignorance is a likeable pilgrim. He is friendly to his fellow pilgrims, he loves and fears God as he should, and his good intentions cannot be doubted. But Ignorance is only walking toward salvation, not progressing toward it. He cannot make progress like Christian because he has not received revelation, nor does he believe in its value or express any interest in hearing about it. He thinks the received word of God is nonsense, and so his travel is only in the body, not in the mind or soul.

The division between the Eighth and Ninth Stages, in which the narrator’s dream is interrupted, demonstrates the visionary nature of the story. This happens at a few moments in The Pilgrim’s Progress. In terms of mere storytelling alone, such interruptions seem pointless and unnecessary. After all, the narrator does nothing when he wakes up but immediately go back to sleep and start to dream again, picking up at the exact point where he left off before. The reader might question why the narrator told the reader he woke up. But from another angle the dream interruptions are important. They reinforce the reader’s awareness that none of the story is real in any worldly sense. Christian is not an actual physical human but a figment of a dreamer’s imagination. By insisting on the dreamy or visionary aspect of his story, Bunyan reminds the reader that his story consists of spiritual material.

The importance of storytelling as a spiritual aid is also communicated by Christian’s story about Little-Faith. The content of that tale is not particularly new because it reinforces that a pilgrim may lose worldly comfort but still possess the jewel of faith that cannot be lost. This point has been made before in the book when Christian loses his certificate and then recovers it. The real interest in Christian’s tale lies in the fact that Christian himself becomes a storyteller like the narrator. Telling that tale, as the narrator of The Pilgrim’s Progress tells his own tale, Christian is able to engage his audience, who asks questions and learns. Moreover, Christian tells a story about another pilgrim, so his storytelling is in some way about his own pilgrimage, just as Bunyan the Christian tells a tale about a man named Christian.

The spiritual value of vision is reinforced by the most incredible vision yet to occur in The Pilgrim’s Progress: Christian and Hopeful’s glimpse of the Celestial City through the shepherds’ telescope. Here again, words and vision go hand-in-hand. The glorious destination that has been talked of throughout the book is finally seen. This visualizing of words is what Bunyan achieved in his writing: he has taken the word of God and tried to make it a real visionary experience, so that a believer could look through the lens of his story and see the Celestial City. But however much Bunyan may aid the viewer, in the end the vision is up to each person to glimpse. The detail of Christian’s hands trembling so much that he can hardly see the city reinforces the notion that the seeker controls his or her own vision.