In this article we will study a prose narrative work in detail and decide if we can classify it as a novel. The work is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrims Progress published in 1678. The full title of the work is The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come and it is a Christian allegory. This book is seen as one of the most significant works of religious English Literature and “has been translated more often than any book other than the Bible. People of all ages have found delight in the simple, earnest story of Christian, the Pilgrim. The events seem lifelike; they follow each other rapidly and consistently” (quoted from the Book’s blurb).
In this article we will analyse one of the early major prose narrative works that preceded the English novel. The work, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is not considered as a novel but an allegory.
John Bunyan was born in Elstow Bedfordshire England in 1628. His father was a tinker, a lowly occupation but nevertheless sent him to school to learn to read and write. At sixteen, he was drafted into the parliamentary army and at the end of his service, he returned to his native village. He read the bible a lot and though he did not acquire much education, “…the bible became his textbook, and to it he owes the force, simplicity rhythm, charm and the qualities of his own prose” (Woods et al 1936, 574). In 1653, Bunyan joined a non-conformist church in Bedford; and shortly afterwards started preaching lay sermons in his own and other churches in the neighbourhood.
He was arrested and jailed for preaching without permission. He remained in jail for twelve years where he wrote with the dim light of the prison. Though he was not educated, his “stories are native, racy, realistic, simple and rugged” (Woods et al 1936, 575) The Pilgrims Progress is divided into two parts, each reading as a continuous narrative with no chapter divisions. The first part was published in 1678 while its expanded version was published in 1679 written after Bunyan was freed. The Second Part appeared in 1684. Since then there have been many editions.
The novel explores the themes of faith and steadfastness which are necessary for Christians who want to attain everlasting life in heaven. The idea of good deeds is also explored in the work. We cannot classify it as a novel because of its presentation of unrealistic, improbable incidents and characters. It is an allegory.
Christian, the protagonist of the allegory embarks on a journey from his hometown, the “City of Destruction” which represents this world. He is weighed down by a great burden which is the knowledge of his sins and realises that his burden would make him to sink into Tophet – hell, so decides to seek deliverance to avoid such fate. Tation comes from his reading the Bible referred to as the book in his hand. He meets Evangelist who directs him to the “Wicket Gate” for deliverance. Christian agrees but no member of his family agrees to go with him, so he abandons them and seeks his salvation. Obstinate and Pliable try in vain to bring him back. Obstinate returns disgusted, but Pliable goes with Christian, hoping to go to paradise with Christian at the end of his journey. Their journey is truncated as the two of them fall into the Slough of Despond where Pliable manages to extricate himself and
abandons Christian. However, Christian is later pulled out by Help, who heard his cries. He continues his journey and on his way to the Wicket Gate, he is diverted by Mr. Worldly Wiseman into seeking deliverance from his burden through the Law, with the help of Mr. Legality and his son Civility in the village of Morality. He meets the Evangelist again on his way to Mr. Legality’s home as he stops before Mount Sinai. Evangelist convinces Christian to return to the path to the Wicket Gate and that he will still be welcomed despite his sin of turning away Christian obliges. He reaches the Wicket Gate and is directed into it by the gatekeeper Good Will. Good-will (Jesus) directs Christian to the place of deliverance to be relieved of his burden. Christian reaches the House of the Interpreter, where he is exposed to images that reflect Christian faith and life.
In the end, Christian reaches his destination and is relieved of his burden and greeted by three shining ones. They give him the greeting of peace, new garments, and a scroll as a passport into the Celestial City. On this journey he encounters the Hill of Difficulty, House Beautiful, which is an allegory of the local Christian congregation where he spends three days before and leaving, he is clothed with armour (Eph. 6:11-18). He also enters the Valley of the Shadow of Death at a point and in the middle of the gloom and terror he hears the words of the Psalm 23 spoken possibly by his friend Faithful. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4.)
He also meets Faithful, who accompanies him to Vanity Fair, where both are arrested and detained because of their disdain for the wares and business of the fair. Faithful is put on trial, and executed as a martyr. Hopeful, a resident of Vanity, accompanies Christian for the rest of the journey but along the way they are captured by Giant Despair, who takes them to his Doubting Castle, where they are imprisoned, beaten and starved. The giant wants them to commit suicide, but they endure the ordeal until they escaped later.
In the next stage of their journey, the shepherds show them some of the wonders of the place also known as Immanuel’s Land where they encounter sights that strengthen their faith and warn them against sinning as in the Interpreter’s house. They get to Mount Clear from where they see the Celestial City through the shepherd’s perspective glass. They also encounter a lad named Ignorance, who believes that his
own good deeds qualify him to enter the Celestial City and not the grace of God. Christian and Hopeful try in vain to persuade him aright but he persists in his own way that leads him into hell. The Second Part of The Pilgrim’s Progress presents the pilgrimage of Christian’s wife, Christiana; their sons; and the maiden, Mercy. They take the same route which Christian took and encountered the same groups, people, visited and stopped at the same stopping places with the addition of Gaius’ Inn between the Valley of the Shadow of Death and Vanity Fair.
However, their journey was longer because they were involved in the marriages and childbirth for their four sons and their wives. The hero of the story is Greatheart, the servant of the Interpreter, and a pilgrim’s guide to the Celestial City who kills four giants and participates in the slaying of a monster that terrorise the city of Vanity. The passage of years in this second pilgrimage better allegorises the journey of the Christian life.
By using heroines, Bunyan, in the Second Part, illustrates the idea that women as well as men can be brave pilgrims. When the pilgrims end up in the Land of Beulah, they cross over the River of Death by appointment. As a matter of importance to Christians of Bunyan’s persuasion reflected in the narrative of The Pilgrim’s Progress, the last words of the pilgrims as they cross over the river are recorded. The four sons of Christian and their families do not cross, but remain for the support of the church in that place.
As stated earlier, the work is in the allegorical mode so there is no effort to fully develop the characters. The characters are mere representatives of ideas, ideals and concepts. We will list just the major characters and what they represent.
Christian: Christian is the protagonist and at some time he is called Graceless. His journey to the Celestial City forms the plot of the story. He represents every Christian in his or her journey to heaven, the struggles against sin and worldly pleasures and final triumph over those temptations and distractions.
Evangelist : Evangelist represents the religious men, pastors who introduce the bible to Christians and help them on the path to the Heaven.
Mr. Worldly Wiseman: Mr. Wordly Wiseman is a resident, and the Carnal Policy is the person who persuades Christian to go out of his way to be helped by Mr. Legality. Goodwill Goodwill is the keeper of the Wicket Gate which represents the gate of Heaven. He represents Christ.
The Interpreter: The Interpreter is identified as the Holy Spirit. He is the one who has his house along the way as a rest stop for travelers to examine themselves. He teaches them the right way to live the Christian life.
Apollyon; Apollyon is the Destroyer. He is the lord of the City of Destruction and one of the devil’s companions who tries to force Christian to return to his domain and service. He appears as a dragon-like creature with scales and bats’ wings. He takes darts from his body to throw at his opponents.
Faithful: Faithful is Christian’s friend from the City of Destruction who is also going on pilgrimage. Christian meets him just after getting through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Hopeful; Hopeful is the resident of Vanity Fair, who takes Faithful’s place as Christian’s fellow traveller. Faith represents trust in God in the present while hope represents trust in God for the future. There are many other characters.
The setting as presented in the text includes the following places:
City of Destruction is Christian’s home and a representative of the world; Slough of Despond, the miry swamp on the way to the Wicket Gate; one of the hazards of the journey to the Celestial City. In the First Part, Christian falling into it, sinks further under the weight of his sins (his burden) and his sense of their guilt; Mount Sinai, a frightening mountain near the Village of Morality that threatens all who would go there; Wicket Gate, the entry point of the straight and narrow way to the Celestial City.
Pilgrims are required to enter the way by way of the Wicket Gate. Others include: House of the Interpreter, Cross and Sepulchre, Hill Difficulty, House Beautiful, Valley of Humiliation, Valley of the Shadow of Death, Gaius’s inn, Vanity and Vanity Fair, River of God or River of the Water of Life, Doubting Castle, River of Death and so many other places mentioned in the text. The setting departs from the realm of realism which is the hallmark of the novel.
From the story, we understand that this is an allegorical work which is designed primarily to teach moral lessons. The characters are mainly abstract qualities and some of the actions take place in locations that cannot be identified in real life. It does not conform to the principles of verisimilitude which is the hallmark of the novel as a literary genre. The actions are also not possible or plausible in human realm. However, it is presented in prose narrative which is the structure of the novel. So it must have contributed to the development of the novel.
The story presented in this unit is more of a treatise for moral lessons. Bunyan used a plain style to concretise the actions of abstract qualities which are imbued with human characteristics. It presents the struggles of Christians against temptation and sin in the journey to a blissful eternal life in heaven.