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The Pilgrim’s Progress is written by John Bunyan and is considered one of the most important works of English literature. This paper shall try to point out the allegorical functions and relationship to the social realism of Christian’s companions and Christian’s antagonists in The Pilgrim’s Progress. A comparison will also be included.
The Pilgrim’s Progress is the story of a Christian representing any human character who makes his way from the “City of Destruction” or Earth to the “Celestial City” or Zion which may be considered as Heaven. He is, however, burdened by reading a book which could be the Bible. He interprets that he may sink into Tophet or hell and an obsession was formed: deliverance. The character Evangelist appears to direct Christian to the “Wicket Gate” indicated by a “shining light” interpreted as that which is written by evangelist John, which Christian thought he saw. When Christian cannot persuade his wife and children, he leaves home to save himself.
Christian leaves home but on his way to the Wicket Gate, he is confronted by Mr. Worldly Wiseman. Mr. Wiseman proposed that he will be saved by the Law but with the help of Mr. Legality and his son Civility in the village of Morality. But Evangelist crossed path with the already confused Christian when he was before the mountain, Mount Sinai. Christian was on his way to Legality’s place. At this time, Evangelist points out that Christians had sinned.
However, Evangelist said that he is still welcome to go to the Wicket Gate (Bunyan, 1965 ed). When Christian enters the Wicket Gate, he was taken to the straight and narrow road which is called the King’s Highway. Christian was directed by the gatekeeper Good Will and Christian’s query about being done with his burden, Good Will takes him to the place of deliverance. From there, Christian went to the House of the Interpreter. The Interpreter presents him pictures and tableaux that show the aspects of the Christian faith and life.
Christian then reaches the place of deliverance or that which is interpreted as the cross of Calvary and the open sepulcher of Christ. Here, the straps binding Christian to his burden were destroyed and it is thrown into the open sepulcher. After that, he is met by three shining ones with the greeting of peace. He was also brought new garments and a scroll which is the passport to the Celestial City. At the Hill of Difficulty, Christian spends the night at the House Beautiful.
This represents the local Christian group or church. He spends three days there, and when he left, he was adorned with armor. This shields him in the battle against Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation where Christian was able to inflict a wound on Apollyon. At night time, Christian already found his way to the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Here, he heard the words of one of the passages in Psalm said to be recited by Faithful until a new day comes.
Faithful accompanies Christian to Vanity Fair. Here, they were arrested and detained since they ignored the objects and business of the place. Faithful was executed but Hopeful, a resident of Vanity, replaced Faithful as Christian’s companion. To keep away from the rough road, Christian and Hopeful traveled on By-Path Meadow which is paved better. But there, a rainstorm had them spend the night where they are captured by Giant Despair the following morning. They were imprisoned, beaten, and starved to Doubting Castle because the giant aims to make them commit suicide. Christian discovers a key called Promise that opened the doors and gates of Doubting Castle.
They were presented with the beautiful Immanuel Land in Delectable Mountains. Christian and Hopeful met the lad Ignorance. Ignorance believed that he can enter the Celestial City through righteousness. Then, the ferryman Vain Hope sails the lad across the River of Death. Ignorance was rejected at the gates of Celestial City. There, he was thrown into hell.
Meanwhile, Christian and Hopeful passed through the Enchanted Ground where they were in peril. They were able to get to the Land of Beulah and will cross the River of Death. They will do it by foot to Mount Zion and the Celestial City. Hopeful helped Christian to make it to the Celestial City.
The Pilgrim’s Progress proceeds to the Second Part. This is the pilgrimage of Christiana the wife of Christian, their sons, and Mercy, a lady who is not yet married. The group proceeded to the same places Christian passed through. Gaius’ Inn was added between the Valley of the Shadow of Death and Vanity Fair with longer accommodation as there happened the marriage and childbirth for the sons and their wives. Greatheart is the main character. He is the servant of the Interpreter and guides the pilgrims to the Celestial City. Greatheart slew four giants and helped kill a monster in Vanity.
Social Realism: Comparison
There are a lot of characters and settings in the story that provides realistic as well as Biblical parallelism from during Bunyan’s time to the present day. Ian Watt (1957) noted the Calvinist tract as widely disseminated as well as a backbone for many literary works to come including Little Women by L. M. Alcott (Dutton, 1978) Mark Twain regarded it in Huckleberry Finn as, “About a man that left his family it didn’t say why. I read considerable in it now and then. The statements was interesting but tough,” (p 159).
The story infused Greek mythology style-narrative and biblical texts and passages of presenting allegories from characters to their role, thoughts, conscience, and the places they go through. Roger Sharrock (1965, Introduction to Bunyan’s book) commented that “A seventeenth-century Calvinist sat down to write a tract, and produced a folk-epic of the universal religious imagination.”
Winslow (1961) also noted that Christian’s journey was almost the same as Moses, Ulysses, or even the quest for the Holy Grail, suggesting that, “It is the universal quest of man to the goal of his supreme desiring, his passionate search for an unseen perfection, unattainable on earth,” (p 146). Nevertheless, Dutton (1978) suggests that the book is, “about the race of saints – the Puritan elect – not ordinary mankind,” (p 443). In this manner, the journey of Christian becomes tightly related to Calvinist Christianity or belief, and no longer “everyman”. The receipt of a scroll made him special or singled out and there is the destiny issue pursued. In fact, it was suggested that he is not “conventionally heroic, since his final triumph is none of his making,” (Dutton, 1978, p 445).
It is arguable as to the Christian faith denominations the story allegorizes. While many Protestant groups mostly related to Calvinism, highly disregard “other” interveners except “God” on salvation, the story obviously is filled with “other characters” representing human traits or ideals. But what may be disturbing about these characters is that they, instead of the person/pilgrims and their actions, act for the pilgrims’ salvation.
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Ignorance here represents “Catholics” who believe that good works can help them towards salvation. There is also a contradiction of God freely giving election, as Christian said, “If we are truly willing to have it, he will bestow it upon us freely,” (p 14). The proposition must be noted at most so that the giving of God needs a condition.
As Dutton (1978) may argue. Is far from evangelical in conception and that salvation of souls and good work rests on God alone although men become secondary agents in god’s purposes. This becomes a deeper Christian and faith issue as non-Christians will argue that if there is predestination, there is no longer the need for human effort about salvation. Dutton (1978, p 445), “It is unlikely […] that Bunyan intended the book primarily to convert or convince unbelievers even though, like Christian, he may have felt the call to attempt it.”
Ignorance’s own argument puts it, “Would you have us trust to what Christ in his own person has done without us? This conceit would loosen the reins of our lust, and tolerate us to live as we list: For what matter how we live if we may be justified by Christ’s personal righteousness from all when we believe it?” (p 148). Of which, Bunyan through Christian retorted, “…to bow and win over the heart to God in Christ, to love his Name, his Word, Ways, and People, and not as though ignorantly imaginest” (p 148).
This exchange of words itself presents contradicting Calvinism belief about “faith” standing alone. There is a need to embrace “Ways and People” so that there is no way “righteousness” be waylaid of no importance as righteousness becomes the embodiment of God’s ways and love itself.
In reality, there are a lot of contradictions when it comes to religion and faith. Socially, these cannot be separated as people interacting with one another forms the social relations and actions that are manifested allegorically in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.
It is therefore arguable as to the representations Bunyan might have with Christian, his family, and the Pilgrims in general together with their companions. As such, the companions already represent at most “good acts” and traits, which, Ignorance already believes beforehand to be relevant to get across the River of Death. To place a literary piece as a tool to gather believers made this book’s intention and thrust questionable.
While Bunyan’s The Pilgrims may be a valuable reference for faith and ways of living in his time or even today as many of the characters and places provided reflect existing challenges and personalities people and individuals encounter, their beliefs as well as the insistence of faith-based on certain religiosity or knowledge become hopeless attempts to propagate confusion.
People of this time already had enough.
Bunyan, John. (1965). The Pilgrim’s Progress (edited with an introduction by Roger Sharrock) Harmondsworth: Penguins Books, Ltd.
Dutton, A. Richard (1978). “Interesting, but Tough”: Reading The Pilgrim’s Progress Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. Restoration and Eighteenth Century (Summer) Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 439-456.
Twain, Mark. (1973). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Harmondsworth.
Watt, Ian (1957). The Rise of the Novel. London.
Winslow, O.E. (1961). John Bunyan. New York.