The Pilgrim’s Progress demonstrates that knowledge is gained through travel by portraying Christian and his companions learning from their mistakes on their journey. Pilgrimage depends on travel, and so a pilgrim must be a voyager prepared to go far and wide. Yet in Bunyan’s book, voyage in itself does not make a traveler a pilgrim. The pilgrim must advance spiritually as he or she advances geographically. The key factor is knowledge, which must increase as the pilgrim proceeds forward. Christian never makes the same mistake twice or meets the same foe twice, because he learns from his experiences. Once he experiences the Slough of Despond, he never needs to be despondent again. Other pilgrims who lack understanding may advance fairly far, like Heedless and Too-bold, who almost get to the Celestial City; however, they do not understand what they undergo, and so they only babble nonsense and talk in their sleep. They are travelers but are not pilgrims because they cannot verbalize or spiritually grasp what they have been through.
The importance of reading is emphasized throughout The Pilgrim’s Progress because the pilgrims reach salvation and happiness by understanding the Bible. The pilgrims who have not read and do not understand the Bible are viewed as disappointments, who will not gain entry to the Celestial City. For example, when Christian dismisses the good lad Ignorant, he does so only because Ignorant cannot grasp divine revelation as conveyed by the Bible. In effect, he rejects Ignorant because he cannot read. Another example is in the first stage of the book when the narrator falls asleep and first glimpses Christian, who is crying and holding a book. The book is the Bible and it strikes pain into the heart of the believer who has strayed from its message. Though pilgrims may read the Bible, they also must believe its message and apply it to their everyday lives. Reading is necessary even for death. When Christiana receives her summons to the Master and takes leave of the world, the summons is sent in the form of a letter. If she could not read it, she would never meet her maker. Reading is not merely a skill in life but the key to attaining salvation.
The value of community is portrayed in Part II through Christiana’s journey to the Celestial City with her children and a few other companions. As a result, Christiana experiences pilgrimage itself as a communal activity. Every time she makes a stop and picks up more pilgrims to accompany her, the group grows substantially. Her strengths as a pilgrim involve reaching out to others, as when caring for her children, receiving weak or disabled pilgrims into her group, and marrying off her sons. In contrast, Part I portrays pilgrimage as a solitary activity. Though Christian finds companions in Faithful and Hopeful, he never seems to need them. He could progress just as well without them. In fact, when Christian experiences his original spiritual crisis and decides to leave his home and city, he does so alone, as if solitude were necessary to feel the divine word. Yet when Christian cries after the four mistresses of the Palace Beautiful ask why he left his family, he displays a hidden longing for his family. Bunyan emphasizes here that spirituality is best when it is communal. Christian does not end up in solitary bliss wandering alone in heaven but in the Celestial City filled with happy throngs of residents. His community is a large group of similar-minded people. Yet Christiana instinctively knows what Christian learns in the end: spiritual existence should involve togetherness.
More main ideas from The Pilgrim’s Progress
Take a Study Break!