The Pilgrim’s Progress

by: John Bunyan

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

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

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.