The scene of Christian’s near drowning emphasizes the importance of knowledge gained through travel. Throughout The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian has encountered many difficulties, including falling into the Slough of Despond at the beginning of the journey. In the Slough, another pilgrim rescued Christian, but now Christian is forced to think of his own way out of the river. By learning from the mistakes of the pilgrims he’s met on the journey, Christian stays on the right path toward salvation. Christian’s strong faith and belief that the Celestial City exists pulls him out of the river. If Christian chose to accompany Ignorance on an easier path, he would have been cast out of the Celestial City. Earlier on his journey, Christian made the mistake of listening to Worldly Wiseman, but now he does not make the same error. Instead, Christian immediately recognizes Ignorance as a fool. The knowledge Christian gains on the journey aids him in his final task when crossing the river.
The Pilgrim’s Progress sometimes switches back and forth between novel and allegory. Strictly speaking, the despair that Christian feels in the river is a spiritual danger that he surpassed long ago. After all, he escaped the threat of Giant Despair and his Doubting Castle. According to the rules of allegory, Christian should never have to feel despair again. Yet a character that does not feel despair when nearly drowning would not be convincing or sympathetic. Here the author makes a decision that goes again the rules of his allegory. In this scene, Christian is portrayed as a realistic human who becomes desperate at the brink of death. This is not a failure on Bunyan’s part because the scene helps make the work a living artistic experience.
The land of Beulah and the Celestial City display a richness of sensual detail hardly seen elsewhere in The Pilgrim’s Progress. The presence of birds and flowers and the orchards and vineyards emphasize a vividness that the landscape rarely had before. Similarly, the Celestial City appears in all its grandeur through physical descriptions of its pearls and gems and its streets paved with gold. The details of the Celestial City exist simply to exist, in heavenly simplicity.
The narrator’s conclusion gives a final emphasis of interpretation running throughout The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Interpreter warned Christian at the outset about the importance of interpreting signs and events correctly and spoke darkly about the dangers of misinterpreting. The narrator delivers a similar warning here. He says that one must not play with the surface details of his story but look behind the surface to the essential meaning. The difference is that now the one who must interpret is no longer Christian, but the reader. The reader takes on the role of a reader of meanings that Christian once held. Christian’s quest for understanding is the reader’s hands now.