March 28, 2017

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan: Logic and Rhetoric Stage Inquiry

I've decided that I don't want to invest my time into reading the second part (Christiana's journey), as I've had enough preaching already in the first part. Bunyan is immensely irritating, and I think that reading the first part is more than enough to form an opinion of his novel.

I'm not sure why this novel has become so popular, but I admit that maybe I'm not seeing the appeal it might have to a religious person. Being a non-believer, I'm in no place to judge. So bear with me as I share my ignorant opinions here and correct me if I'm wrong :)

Is it a "fable" or a "chronicle"?

The Progress is a fable. Christian's sally is an allegory of a christian's spiritual journey to salvation

What does Christian want? What's in the way? What's he doing to overcome it?

Ch. wants to get to the Celestial City (reach salvation). In his way stand the usual temptations and difficulties facing a christian through life. Ch. overcomes the obstacles by reading scripture, following good advice and with some help from fellow pilgrims.

Who is telling the story?

Bunyan himself tells the story as if he's seen it in a dream. The novel is in 3d person omniscient - B. knows what all his characters think and explains the meaning of the terrain they cross to the reader.

Where is the story set?

The story is set on a fictional allegorical landscape. Locations represent either states of mind (Despond), temptations (Vanity Fair) or life lessons (forking paths, statues, etc.)

What style is it written in?

Lengthy sentenses with a lot of logical constructs (therefore, etc.) The dialogues are in the form of a debate or a lecture; sometimes Bunyan goes as far as to provide lists of "what is correct"

Images and metaphors

Is there anything but? The burden is an important metaphor representing sin. The path is an image of life. When it's forking, a choice must be made. Sometimes it's harsh to follow, sometimes pleasant, as life is.

Beginning and ending

B. begins and ends with pointing out to the reader that the story is his dream. He also reminds the reader of that regularly throughout the story. I think that's his way of underlining the allegorical and maybe even divine-inspired nature of the story. The ending is a resolution: Ch. reaches salvation.

Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones? Why?

I sympathize with Ch. in the beginning of his journey, when he's desperate and lost and has no idea what to do. Every time he's unsure of himself or afraid, I can sympathize because I often feel like that about the future too. However, in the end Ch. turns into an overly-confident, preaching, gossipy and judgemental prick. See how he treated Talkative and Ignorant on the way? He's passed his judgement on them based on hearsay only and rudely dismisses them. This a truly shitty behavior.

Does technique hint at argument?

I think that the form of a similitude underlines the philosophical nature of the book. That author presents it as a dream ay hint that he wants to say it was "sent" to him and is thus undisputable.

Is the novel self-reflective?

A scroll with some divine writing helps Ch. a lot along the way. I think B. may hope that his book will be of similar help to somebody.

Is there an argument in this book?

That the life of a christian is full of challenges, but if he's adamant in his intentions and follows the scripture to a t, he'll find salvation.

Do you agree?

The picture Bunyan paints of the world is too brutal, unpardoning and unfair. I can't agree that a small misstep deserves a beating and that people with different world views should be shunned and despised. I don't need eternal glory if it means I have to be a boring prick. Maybe the novel worked in Bunyan's day, but it looks hopelessly outdated now.

All in all, reading The Progress this was not a pleasant experience. I hate being preached at, and Bunyan does it with teeth-wrenching boredom and self-righteousness. I gave it two stars only for the battle with Apollyon (still not sure what he was meant to represent). Now that was rather cool!


  1. I think I know why it was so popular in its day. (I don't know anybody who reads it for fun now, only for historical-type reasons, like you)

    1. It's from before 1700 -- not a lot of novels, and this is pretty much early fantasy for Protestants!
    2. It doesn't have a ton of literary merit, but regular people loved it. They could read it as an adventure that also gave virtue points. It became so popular that many households had two books: the Bible and PP.
    3. If you were a kid, it was the only fun book you could read on a Sunday, and there wasn't much else to do on Sundays at all. So everybody grew up with the Giant Despair, like a 1700s version of Star Wars, only not nearly so fun...

    1. Gosh what a bleak picture you're painting here... Nothing to read except this?? I'd have gone crazy) also, I can't imagine how one can live in a world without Star Wars, but that's another story) I guess you're right: if the only other book you're able to compare PP with is the Bible, it is really fun))

  2. I just learned last week that the burden on Christian's back was his guilt of sin, not necessarily his sin.

    Bunyan wrote PP as a descriptive allegory of his personal conversion. He was gratefully converted from his life of darkness, thanks to his wife; the guilt of his sin was a great burden. He understood the urgency of his salvation and need to tell others of the impending doom of destruction.

    The times in England were unfavorable for (Protestant) Christians, which is why Bunyan was imprisoned for his faithfulness. The Gospel spreads faster when Christianity is under fire or when Christians are persecuted, and maybe that is why PP was immediately popular. The Western World was more faithful then, unlike today.


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