Study Guide

The Pilgrim's Progress Analysis

By John Bunyan

  • Tone


    The allegorical names of characters in The Pilgrim's Progress give you a pretty clear sense of where Bunyan's sympathies lie. Introducing a character as Envy or Hypocrisy doesn't leave much room to wonder about which moral column they stand in for the author. And when a dude is called Hopeful, you know that he's going to back up his character with lines like this:

    Hopeful: I do believe, as you say, that fear tends much to men's good, and to make them right, at their beginning to go on pilgrimage. (P846)

    Basically "fear is good." How much more hopeful can you get?

    This story is out to teach a lesson and doesn't try to hide it, which is why we call it didactic. Sometimes Bunyan is in such full-on professorial mode that he has his characters act out little lectures:

    Christian: Without all doubt it doth, if it be right; for so says the Word, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."

    Hopeful: How will you describe right fear?

    Christian: True or right fear is discovered by three things:
    1. By its rise; it is caused by saving convictions for sin.
    2. It driveth the soul to lay fast hold of Christ for salvation.
    3. It begetteth and continueth in the soul a great reverence of God, his Word, and ways, keeping it tender, and making it afraid to turn from them, to the right hand or to the left, to anything that may dishonour God, break its peace, grieve the Spirit, or cause the enemy to speak reproachfully.

    Bunyan is basically saying "Listen up now, kids: this one is important. Take notes. Are you taking notes? I want to see those pencils moving."

    But he does balance this out with some awesome fight scenes and crazy monsters—these mythical elements are the spoonful of sugar that really helps the didactic medicine go down.

  • Genre

    Parable, Quest

    In a way, The Pilgrim's Progress unites two things that might not otherwise seem to go together: adventure stories and religion. But hey, there are lots of great things that seem like they shouldn't mix well and do: peanut butter and bacon, chili and chocolate, and princess-y popular girls and bad-boy delinquents.

    This "you combined what now?" response was also a part of Bunyan's whole idea, as he explains in the Apology. The really engaging elements of a death-defying, goal-seeking journey help him to present moral and spiritual dangers in a more captivating way.

    Sin, hypocrisy, vanity, despair—by making these moral ideas into real flesh-and-blood threats, Bunyan is able to get his readers pumped up. For a Puritan, after all, these sins and the prospect of hell are even more dangerous than physical blows to the body.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    If you're imagining the kind of pilgrim who landed at Plymouth Rock, you're… well, close. Bunyan was an important figure in the 17th-century Puritan community, which, due to persecution in England, moved in large numbers to America. Some of 'em came over to North America on the Mayflower. The term pilgrim, however, goes back much farther.

    Since the 11th century, travelers, wanderers, and particularly those on spiritual journeys have been known as pilgrims. Just think of the travelers in The Canterbury Tales or even people who go on "pilgrimages" today to Jerusalem, Mecca, or even Graceland.

    Calling his story "The Pilgrim's Progress," Bunyan is generalizing in an important way. The "progress," or journey, that he's going to narrate is every man's journey who sets out on a pilgrimage. But he's especially shouting out to those who are searching for Christ and trying to act as good Christians.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    The ending of The Pilgrim's Progress is a strange mixture of the utterly predictable and the utterly bizarre. We know that this is an allegory for the Christian journey toward eternal life. To Christians, this means that they must accept Christ as their savior and live according to the Gospels (the four biblical accounts of the life of Jesus).

    If they do these things, then they are rewarded after they die with eternal life in heaven, or, as Bunyan calls it, the Celestial City. From the first pages, Bunyan has set up the Celestial City as the great goal. Everything the pilgrims do is with getting access to the C.C. in mind.

    So, here is heaven, the Celestial City. In many ways, it's just what you would imagine: golden streets, singing, trumpeting angels, gleaming white robes. But there's also a sternness to Bunyan's heaven that might catch you off-guard. Even when they make it across the river, demonstrating the strength of their faith in God, the Pilgrims still have to hand over their "certificates" in order to be admitted through the gates.

    The certificates were given to them when they realized Jesus's sacrifice. These all-important pieces of paper symbolize that the pilgrims' conversion was authentic and that they understand why sacrifice is necessary in order to be welcomed into heaven. Just like the importance of staying on the narrow road or beginning from the Wicket Gate, there are no substitutions or shortcuts possible. The Celestial City is full of welcome and mercy for those who have checked off all the requirements. But miss one, and, as Ignorance's situation demonstrates, "there was a way to Hell, even from the Gates of Heaven" (P907).

  • Setting


    Who is our narrator? Why is he in jail? What is he taking to make him sleep so long? Ah, unanswerable questions. Because the "real life" setting of the jail only enters for two sentences in the whole story, however, they're also not all that important. The real setting of Bunyan's story is the dream world where the pilgrim, Christian, journeys from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.

    There are allusions to non-allegorical places throughout, like the Holy Land mentioned at the Delectable Mountains and the European countries represented at Vanity Fair. These allusions allow Bunyan to comment on the politics of his time even when he's guiding us through his very trippy dreamscape.

    But he set his story in an unidentifiable dream-setting for a reason: he wants this to be relatable to the lives of all his readers, no matter what countries or time periods they live in.

    Bunyan is writing about aspects of life and Christian truths that, to him, transcend time and place. For this reason, he also needed a setting that transcends time and place. This is the function of allegory, and the situation of a dream fits this purpose like a glove.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (6) Tree Line

    The toughness of this book really lies in the allegory. Not only are characters themselves allegorical (which their names immediately tell us), but the dramatic action and description are as well.

    Because Bunyan's allegory is so complex, The Pilgrim's Progress does take patience. However, there is genuine feeling and humor here, and Bunyan—as he says in the apology—is more interested in readers feeling the moral meanings of the book than simply getting it in a textbook kind of way.

    That being said, this book is old. And it reads like it. You have to wade through a veritable Slough of Despond of "thys" and "thous" to get to the heart of the story. But once you do, you'll find that it has a very alive, beating, and blood-filled heart. There are passages here that challenge Game of Thrones for gore, and some really epically aww-inspiring bromances.

  • Writing Style

    Simple; Symbolic

    Bunyan intended this story to be easily accessible and digestible, and his writing style reflects this. The sentences are easy to understand, especially when the message is extra important, like this:

    For God can love him, and forgive his sin. (P110)

    Yup. Hard to get any more straightforward than that bad boy.

    The fact that the whole story is an allegory, however, means that every simple sentence, every description and line of dialogue is pointing toward something more abstract and profound.

    Saying, for example, that Christian was trapped in Doubting Castle until Hopeful helps him remember that the key, Promise, will set him free is a lot more loaded than saying that John was trapped in the shed until Billy reminded him of the key next to the watering can. Or, for a more gruesome example, check out Faithful's torture scene:

    They therefore brought him out, to do with him according to their law; and first they scourged him, then they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after that, they stoned him with stones, then pricked him with their swords; and last of all, they burned him to ashes at the stake. Thus came Faithful to his end. (P500)

    Your first response is probably "Yowch." Your second, if Bunyan is doing his job, is to think of a few things. One important thing that this paragraph is pointing toward is the crucifixion of Christ: he was tortured at length before dying. This suffering is integral to understanding Christ's love for mankind, and Bunyan wants you to think about this.

    These tortures also symbolize the hardships of living a good Christian life. Being stoned, especially, harkens back to the idea of judgement—historically (as well as in the Bible), people who were stoned were often being punished for going against cultural norms. So Bunyan is telling the reader that Christians will be up against a whole lot of judgy nonsense in this world, and a lot of it will hurt.

    Pretty much every action and detail in this book demonstrates and defines a larger concept. Finding and constructing these meanings in your own head can take a bit of patience, but, well, that's probably just what the Rev. Bunyan had in mind for you.

  • The Journey

    The Pilgrim's Progress is an all-allegory turducken.

    This book is composed of allegory… and allegory inside allegory. And holding all of this allegory together is the larger allegory of the literal "progress" or journey that Christian undertakes. That's right. Instead of a chicken inside of a duck inside of a turkey, we have allegory inside of allegory inside of allegory. Wrapped in bacon.

    We'll carve and eat this delicious bird feast... um, we mean we'll break down the literary importance of this book.

    So the journey—the "turkey" part of the turducken that keeps this whole shebang together— is Bunyan's allegory for the Christian life—for what it means to set out and stay on the road to salvation.

    Like most quest stories, this one has an ongoing dynamic between deep conviction/certainty about the goal and the unknown. When Evangelist first finds Christian walking in the fields and despairing over his impending doom, he hands him a scroll that simply says "Fly the wrath to come" (P6). This kick-start symbolizes what Bunyan sees as an important aspect of Christianity—running headlong toward obstacles.

    Christian's literal running from the city (and frequent running throughout) symbolizes the Puritan eagerness for heaven and escape the sinful world. It's this duality—heaven vs. worldy sin—that allows Bunyan to make such clear allegorical categories of good and bad in the story. Whenever Christian is distracted from thoughts of heaven (such as when he falls asleep on the Hill of Difficulty) he is drawn into sin... and vice-versa. He can't ever let his guard down, as Evangelist reminds him:

    "… you are not yet out of the gun-shot of the Devil: you have not resisted unto blood, striving against sin: let the Kingdom be always before you, and believe steadfastly concerning things that are invisible… and be sure that one or both of you must seal the testimony which you hold, with blood." (P462, 464)

    Basically, there are dangers at every turn. This journey (much like a Christian man's or woman's life—allegory alert!) is one long string of dangers and temptations. You're not safe until you're dead. Literally. You're also not done learning until you're dead.

    In this way, the goal of heaven is progressively defined by its opposites: Christian learns to fly toward what he loves (and grows to love it more) through learning what he hates (and continually discussing why).

  • The Burden

    We will never complain about lugging around a heavy backpack again. Compared to a typical satchel, Christian is essentially lugging around a VW Bus on his back.

    In our first image of Christian in the narrator's dream, he is described as having "a great burden upon his back" (P1). This burden, also referred to as his sack or pack, is something that neither he nor anyone else can remove, and it stays with him until he comes to the cross. Here, the narrator explains,

    [...] just as Christian came up with the Cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from his back; and began to tumble, and so continued to do until it came to the mouth of the sepulcher, where it fell in, and I saw it no more. (P180) 

    The idea of allegorizing Christian's sins, shame, and guilt as a burden on his back comes, in part, from the way sin and Christ's redemption are discussed in the New Testament. Verses like "He takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) or "his yoke is easy and his burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30) reflect the Christian belief that Christ took on the sins of the world when he was crucified. It's for this reason that Christian's adoration of the cross causes his burden to fall off and roll away. 

    The way in which others along the way, such as Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, offer alternate suggestions for removing the burden symbolizes how we try to deal with our sense of sin, shame, and guilt in other ways than acknowledging Christ's redemption. "Morality," or what Bunyan represents as social norms and forms of good behavior, is one of these alternate conscience-clearing attempts. But Bunyan thinks this is bogus—along the same lines as eating a few spoonfuls of your roommate's ice cream and thinking, "Hey, there's plenty more. They'll never miss it."

    Christian's (and Bunyan's) sense of the burden is deeper. They're concerned with the original sin that everyone besides Christ (and Mary, for some) has carried since Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It's for this reason that only Christian's coming to the cross allows the burden to fall. No longer "loaden with sin" (P182) as he sings, Christian is able to continue the journey more easily. Probably his knees feel a lot better, too.

    By making the character's sin literal in this way, and continually reminding us of the pack's weight, Bunyan is able to really dramatize Christian's delight when it falls away. It's literally the lightness of this feeling at the cross that makes him first feel love and reverence for "the man that there was put to shame for me" (P182).

  • The House of the Interpreter

    The House of the Interpreter is sort of like school for Christian. "The Interpreter" who lives there takes him from room to room, showing the new pilgrim images representing Christian principles. You can also think of it as your own training ground for reading the allegories of the story as a whole. The Interpreter tells Christian before he leaves to "keep all these things in thy mind, that they may be as a goad in thy sides, to prick thee forward in the way thou must go" (P177).

    Mmm. That sounds pleasant. Christian is like a horse, and these images are like spurs.

    You can almost imagine Bunyan saying the same thing to you as a reader. Like the allegories of the novel, the allegories of the Interpreter are active. In other words, rather than static or ambiguous symbols of "innocence" or "wisdom," they represent complex states of being.

    This is particularly poignant and meaningful in the case of the caged man, who tells Christian:

    "I am what I was not once… I am now a man of despair, and am shut up in it, as in this iron cage. I cannot get out, O now I cannot." (P158)

    Oh my.

    Simply seeing the image of a man in a cage is not enough to make Christian understand the nature of despair. Instead, he has to question him to understand that God (who Christian reminds him is all-forgiving) has not locked the man up, but that, as he says "I have so hardened my heart that I cannot repent" (P160). Basically, if the caged man could just repent, he'd be set free.

    The way Christian interprets the things he is shown (with the help of the Interpreter) is a model for how we can interpret the allegories of The Pilgrim's Progress. This could also be an good moment to look back at the Apology, where Bunyan defends his use of allegory as a style. How do the Interpreter's words seem to support Bunyan's argument about teaching through images?

  • Landscape

    In our everyday speech, we constantly use metaphors of space, distance, and landscape to describe other things: how we're feeling, our progress in our work, or how we look at the world: "I seem to have hit a rough patch"; "The grass is always greener"; "I took a shortcut in the math problem"; "This argument's going nowhere."

    In a way, it makes abstract things feel more concrete. This is precisely what Bunyan does with the landscape of Christian's journey.

    Take The Slough of Despond, for instance. This place name is totally descriptive. Despond basically means depression. A slough is another word for a swamp. It's stagnant and murky, and you sink when you step in it (think of the Fire Swamp from The Princess Bride). So it seems like what Bunyan is saying is that feeling depressed is much like being stuck in the muddy waters of a swamp.

    Of course, the landscape allegories that Bunyan gives aren't limited to their names. Rather it's in how the characters interact with the landscape that fully describes the idea Bunyan's representing. Think, for example, of the way Formalist and Hypocrisy choose to take easier routes around the Hill of Difficulty (P197).

    In Bunyan's landscape, these two easier ways lead to the Forest of Danger and the Cliffs of Destruction… pretty neatly implying what happens to people who try to take shortcuts by only seeming religious or following formal ritual. Using features of landscape, Bunyan can really convey his sense of where certain actions, attitudes, and choices lead.

  • Vanity Fair

    Not the magazine. Or the novel. Or the movie adaptation of the novel. We're talking here about the original Vanity Fair, the allegory that these and many other cultural productions are referencing. It's basically Sin City—half Vegas, half Amsterdam, and all trouble.

    In The Pilgrim's Progress, there's an unusual narrative shift when the narrator himself (as opposed to one of the dream characters) enters to explain the history and character of Vanity Fair. It's the setting for one of the longest stops on Christian's journey, the place where Faithful is martyred, and, as the narrator tells us, one of Beelzebub's special real estate holdings. Reading Bunyan's description of the place, however, it's a little hard not to get sucked into the allure. It's glamour, glitz, fashion, and power, and everything is buyable.

    Bunyan's inspiration for the allegory of Vanity Fair comes from Ecclesiastes, which opens with the lines: 

    Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. (Ecclesiastes 1:2-4

    Instead of personal vanity (like saying "Oh, he's so vain about his hair"), the word here means something more like "worthless" (like "All his efforts were in vain: the man remained bald"). The things of the present moment in life—possessions, wealth, power, even our own bodies—mean nothing since they'll only pass away.

    To the Puritans, the things of this Earth weren't nearly as valuable as the everlasting life they believed they'd be rewarded in heaven. They thought that placing any kind of value on material things was mutually exclusive to valuing the gifts of God. This is the situation at Bunyan's Vanity Fair, and it's the source of the hostility between the townspeople and the pilgrims.

    Through this conflict, Bunyan is able to express the ideological conflict between Christian values and the influence of the material world. The people of Vanity Fair think Christian and Faithful are completely insane, calling them "bedlams" (Bedlam was the name of a notorious insane asylum, and is also a synonym for Hell or chaos). The pilgrims' clothing and speech (P473) make them really stick out in Vanity Fair, in the same way that the Puritans totally stuck out in 17th-century English society. Bunyan and his fellow Puritans were constantly mocked for their complete disregard of fashion—you might remember the white bonnets and black clothing from The Crucible. 

    Who lives there? In a way, it sort of sounds like everyone in Europe. This is one of the few places in the story where Bunyan references actual places (see "Setting" for more on this): "here is the Britain Row, the French Row, the Italian Row, the Spanish Row, the German Row, where several sorts of vanities are to be sold" (P469). Bunyan also talks some smack about the "the ware of Rome." With this, he's taking a shot at the Catholic Church, saying that it is just as "vain" and greedy as any power-hungry nation.

    The situation of Vanity Fair, then, when Christian and Faithful step into it, is the real world in miniature. As Bunyan saw it, all of Europe was vain, worldly, and completely at odds with the principles of real Christians... just like Vanity Fair.

    This opposition is dramatized in the trial of Faithful and Christian. To Lord Hategood (who is modeled off of the real Lord Kellynge who presided at Bunyan's own trial), Faithful owns up to the accusations brought against him. Like the Gospel accounts of Jesus's own trial and crucifixion, Faithful makes no attempt to justify himself and keeps his calm.

    This attitude is itself justified, of course, by the way his soul is triumphantly carried to heaven in the chariot:

    They therefore brought him out, to do with him according to their law; and first they scourged him, then they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after that, they stoned him with stones, then pricked him with their swords; and last of all, they burned him to ashes at the stake. Thus came Faithful to his end. Now I saw, that there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had dispatched him) was taken up into it, and straightway was carried up through the clouds with sound of trumpet, the nearest way to the celestial gate. (P500)

    This final moment underlines the vanity of Vanity Fair, literally demonstrating that there is a very real life after death that outlasts all the money, pleasure, and power of all the Vanity Fair merchants combined. What happens in Vanity Fair stays in Vanity Fair... until it goes to Hell.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Peripheral)

    The pronoun "I" occurs so rarely in this story that it's sometimes easy to forget that it's all "just a dream." And this is for good reason.

    The dream is Bunyan's pretext for presenting these Christian teachings in allegorical form. Telling us that the content of the story is a dream, Bunyan has the freedom to be as non-specific as he likes about time and place while at the same time using images of the physical world to flesh out his story.

    In this way, Bunyan is able to both refer to the Real World and to his Dream World—he's able to let us immerse ourselves in the story and be aware that a story is being told.

    You'd think that this would dumb down the events of the main story; that it would make Christian's journey less believable. But instead, the reader becomes very invested in two stories and, in a larger way, invested in the idea of stories.

    That may sound like lit-nerd gobbledygook, so let's use the insane 1980s classic movie The Princess Bride as an example of a similar setup. (If you haven't seen it, you simply must. This is an Official Shmoop Announcement.) In The Princess Bride, we get two stories: the rollicking fairy tale full of pirates and scary rats and Andre the Giant and the frame story of a granddad reading his son a bedtime fairy tale about—you got it—pirates and scary rats and Andre the Giant.

    We don't believe in the main pirate-rats-Andre story any less because of this frame story. But our attention is brought to the fact that a story is being told—and thus to how stories are important to everyday people like the granddad, his grandson, and even us as viewers.

    This is what Bunyan is doing—a) he's giving us an allegory, b) he's directing our attention to the fact that it is an allegory, c) he's also directing our attention to the fact that the Bible is full of allegories, and d) he's asking us to think long and hard about what we can absorb from these allegories.

    Phew. If that sounds like a lot it's because it is a lot… but it's also a lot of fun to read. Because although The Pilgrim's Progress doesn't have scary rats or pirates, it does have chained lions, fights with the Devil, and a giant who is way less lovable than Andre.

  • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

    The Quest

    The Call

    All he knows is that something ain't right. Alone and sure of some impending doom, surrounded by people who think he's simply crazy, Christian's state of mind at the start of the story is a unique mixture of surety and confusion. Something awful is coming, but what? He needs to leave, but where to? And how?

    It's this dynamic of urgency and bewilderment that makes him particularly susceptible to the advice of Evangelist. Directed toward the Celestial City, with a couple of clear road-marks to start him out, Christian begins his quest…

    The Journey

    While this may all be an allegory for the spiritual development and struggles of a Christian, the concrete, geographical way that Bunyan depicts this journey is uber-important. The aspect of a real, trekking sort of journey across unknown terrain with unknown help and dangers on the way reflects how we all can sometimes feel blind-sighted in life—when troubles come, it can feel like a monster suddenly sweeping in from out of the blue.

    The journey of Christian tunes us into the vulnerability of the hero, as well as the importance of perseverance. These are pretty helpful things for Bunyan to dwell on in his lesson/story of faith—how to cling to it, why it matters, when it is most challenged.

    Christian himself is always in the middle of his life as it's happening, but we, like the dreaming narrator, are given a more bird's eye-view of the road. Seeing approaching dangers that Christian may not, you might be forced to think of the blind spots in your own life. 

    The Final Ordeals

    There's one source of trouble that rises above the rest in the final ordeal at the river: self-doubt, or despair. Yeah, this self-doubt makes even giants and being assaulted by lions seem like child's play.

    Christian makes many mistakes along the way, of course (like falling asleep at the arbor, taking the shortcut through the meadow, stopping to talk with Flatterer). But the real problem is when he can't let himself off the hook for these errors. In front of the Celestial City, however, Bunyan shifts and renames this problem of self-doubt: when Christian begins to sink in the river, his self-doubt is shown to really be a more serious doubting of Christ. Luckily, Hopeful reminds him that, "Jesus Christ maketh thee whole" (P897).

  • Plot Analysis

    It might be weird to say that this book—being old, adventure-ridden, and full of crazy intrigue—doesn't follow a "classic plot." But it doesn't.

    Sure, we have a beginning and a end. And they tick all the boxes of a "beginning" and an "end." In the beginning, there is chaos; at the end, there is death and a happy deliverance to Heaven.

    But the middle bit? Well, the conflict, complication, climax, suspense, and denouement are all sort of rolled into one. This is for two reasons.

    The first is because this is kind of a picaresque novel, where the main character just roams around and meets people (think On The Road).

    The second is because The Pilgrim's Progress is, in no small part, an attempt of John Bunyan's to convert people. He wants to throw in a ton of action that shows people that whatever kind of lives they lead, they too can be Puritans.

    So he keeps the body of the story kind of muddled. This is a smart move—the middle bit of a story coincides with the life of a person. We all are born (initial chaos!) and we all die (conclusion: womp womp) but our lives become individualized because of what happens in the middle. So Bunyan is keeping this story applicable to all readers by not adhering to "classic" plot.

    Initial Situation

    We are confronted with a mysterious image: a man standing alone, distressed, with a book in his hand, and saying "with a lamentable cry," "What shall I do?" (P1).

    Who is this man? Where is he? Unlike most stories, this one doesn't begin by explaining the situation or letting you know where you are. Since this is an allegory, in a way, none of that matters. What does matter is the emotional situation and that's what Bunyan confronts you with in this image of his protagonist, Christian, before he even has a name.

    In the next few paragraphs, we learn that this distress is due to the impending destruction of his city (conveniently named the City of Destruction). Christian is desperate—desperate enough to leave his family (never a crowd-winning move)—and follow Evangelist's vague advice to go find the Little Wicket Gate. Here, Bunyan is saying something about the way that journeys toward salvation begin: with a deep, body- and soul-shaking conviction that something's wrong and a willingness to go against the tide (and one's own preferences) to change things. 

    Conflict / Complication / Climax / Suspense / Denouement

    The Pilgrim's Progress is structured with a one-conflict-after-another dynamic. This also, of course, is a part of Bunyan's message about what the Christian life entails—one conflict after another—and the danger of ever thinking the worst has passed.

    Christian has guides for what he should do and where he needs to walk to get to his destination, but the real-life obstacles he faces often complicate this knowledge. Because he's a human being, not just a concept of a "Christian," Bunyan's hero still has very human needs and temptations.

    What all of this means is that a clearly rising and falling plot would be at odds with what Bunyan is trying to show: the nature of being a Christian in real life. The fact that there are so many mini-plots in this story shows that the more Christian goes through, the more faith he can have that things will turn out fine. This is Hopeful's logic with him at Doubting Castle. Because they have survived so much already through their faith, how can this one challenge defeat them?

    So you see, there's a way in which the episodic, non-conventional plot structure is Bunyan's means of simulating the real-life experience of faith—its challenges, victories, and simple days of plugging on—in the experience of his reader. 


    It's hard not to think of The Wizard of Oz as the pilgrims finally reach the Emerald—or Celestial—City.

    Like any great journey-story, the goal is surrounded by an aura of awe and charm. After a story-long (or in this case, remembering the allegorical mode, life-long) struggle, the destination seems all the more fulfilling because of the way we've longed for it. The pilgrims' arrival at the Celestial City is the perfect example of this.

    However, remembering that this is an allegory, it's also a bit more complicated. See, facing the river in front of the gates, Christian and Hopeful are really facing death. As their last "challenge," crossing the river means getting through the pangs and fears of death without losing faith in God. The fact that death is just a river that they wade through, though, really emphasizes the continuity of life into the afterlife.

    The final vision of Ignorance in the conclusion also highlights this. Poor Iggy is forbidden from the city because of how false his devotion to Christ was in life. In this way, passing through death with faith may be the final test of a Christian, but it's an exam that he will have been studying for his whole life—if he's really doing the whole Puritan thing right.

  • Three-Act Plot Analysis

    Act I

    With the guidance of Evangelist, Christian leaves the City of the Destruction.

    Act II

    Accompanied in turn by Faithful and Hopeful, Christian encounters strangers and challenges on his way to the Celestial City.

    Act III

    Christian and Faithful reach the gates of the Celestial City and are admitted into it.

  • Allusions

    Literary and Philosophical References

    • Mr. Sinai (P75)
    • "Though I walk in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear none ill, for thou art with me" (P326). This verse is taken from Psalm 23.
    • Lady Wanton (P363) is also referred to by Christian as Potiphar's wife, who tried to tempt Joseph (a slave to her husband) in Genesis 39.
    • Faithful tells how his "flesh was weak." This is a reference to Proverbs 5:5, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."
    • Moses says "I know not how to show mercy" (P373)—a reference to Judaic law (or at least Christian views of it) such as "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (Leviticus 24:20 and Exodus 21:24).
    • Vanity Fair is described by quoting the verse from Ecclesiastes 11:8 "All that cometh is vanity" (P465).
    • Vanity Fair is described as having been founded almost five thousand years ago by Beelzebub. Beelzebub or "Baal-zebub" is first referred to in 2 Kings 1:2.
    • "Remember Lot's wife" (P579) refers to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19.
    • The pilgrims come to the River of God (David's name for it) or the River of the Water of Life (John's name for it). "The River of God" refers to Psalm 46, and "The River of the Water of Life" comes directly from Revelation 22:1.
    • At the edge of the Celestial City, Bunyan writes that the pilgrims are "sick" for love of the God whom they feel is so near. This phrasing comes from the "Song of Solomon" (or the "Song of Songs"). Verse 2 of Song of Solomon reads (beautifully) "Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love." Verses from this Song are often (and with good reason) read at weddings, but the Song literally refers to the author's love of God.
    • When Christian is finally crossing the river to the Gates of the Celestial City, he says "I sink in deep Waters; the Billows go over my head, all his Waves go over me, Selah" (P895). This is sort of an amalgam of verses from Psalms 42 and 69.

    Historical References

    • When Christian and Faithful enter Vanity Fair, they stick out like sore thumbs. Dressed in the clothing from the Shining Ones, speaking a spiritual language, and completely uninterested in the wares of the vendors, Christian and Faithful dumbfound the people of the Fair. The strangeness of their appearance and habits is an allusion to the way Puritans themselves stuck out in 17th-century England, wearing very simple clothing and speaking in a way heavily influenced by Biblical language.