Summary: John Bunyan's the Pilgrim's Progress as a Precursor of the Eighteenth-Century Novel

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      The Pilgrim’s Progress is a supreme classic novel of the English puritan tradition, it has the power to reach everyone, Christian or not. The novel is written in the late sixteenth century by the author and preacher John Bunyan, an English reformer. The novel and the author’s life are both exemplary of the puritan faith. Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress based on his conversion to Christianity. It is a journey from Bunyan’s atheism and losing faith to restoring his faith once more, a journey from spiritual doubt to spiritual assurance. After conversion to Christianity, John Bunyan emerged a new man, who preaches Christianity and aims to convert others and comfort them. Because the Pilgrim’s Progress recapitulates the story of Bunyan’s own conversion in symbolic form, there is an intense, life-or-death quality about Christian’s pilgrimage to the Celestial City in the first part of the book. 

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The seventeenth-century England is reflected in The Pilgrim’s Progress in many aspects; the places presented which are typical to the 17th century English sceneries, the language used is prose and simple and the dialogues are vivid, Bunyan’s use of satyr on the upper class throughout the novel, the vivid picture of vanity fair is a striking satyr on the English society at that time, and lastly, the symbolic reflections of the English restoration society through the protagonist’s unfortunate experiences.  The theory of the novel as conceived by Bunyan, with the influence of Calvinism; life is a confrontation between the powers of light and the powers of darkness. Life is the adventurous journey of the armed and vigilant Christians through hostile territory. In this life, man is a prisoner who seeks his liberty through salvation. Despite the purely Christian and puritan nature of the novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress is read throughout the world for its detailed observations and description, storytelling skill, and humor. The Pilgrim’s Progress has an immeasurable impact both directly on the literature of the eighteenth century and indirectly on the English conscience.It was instantly popular with all social classes upon its publication. Until the decline of religious faith in the 19th century, The Pilgrim’s Progress, like the Bible, was to be found in every home in England and was known to every ordinary reader.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is unlike any other work of its time, it is not the work one would expect of a puritan preacher, of a man from the working class, of an uneducated man, yet John Bunyan was all those things. Bunyan knew only one book, which is The Bible. His style and his use of allegory and imagery are based on the style of the bible. In his greatest book, Bunyan somehow freed himself completely from dogma and the restrictions of his class and background. For many years scholars have wondered how this poorly educated man managed to overcome such barriers of class culture and dogma, but Bunyan himself supplied the answer, for he was as surprised just as much as anyone else by that book which he developed. Bunyan has originally intended to write a treatise, a formal and systematic account of the Christian life, but as he wrote, he experienced a rapid multiplication of ideas, in his words: “like sparks that from the coals of fire do fly.” These ideas led him to put the treatise aside and to free his imagination. Bunyan’s own misgivings about the book caused him to delay publishing it for several years. The outcome is a work that has gained more popularity in the seventeenth-century literature than any other literary work, except the bible and no other work from a writer of his social class in any period; no other puritan or even committed Christian work has had such fame. Writing this novel, John Bunyan realized the strength of an allegory or simile in conveying a message.Because he allowed himself to be lifted above the constraints of theology, he created work hat is also lifted above the entire body of other seventeenth century literature. Bunyan used nothing of the literary culture of his time; he had not studied the works of authors like, John Donne that all serious writers of that period studied. This was a disadvantage that he turned into his advantage, as he was free to discover his own genius. It was also his preferred way since he had considerably less respect for learning than he had for experience and illumination. When Bunyan creatively represented the real experience of Puritanism in The Pilgrim’s Progress it startled the readers. The realism presented in the novel is another reason the book is considered to be so unique. It is an imaginative and very persuasive allegory but at the same time it is authentic. 

The Pilgrim’s Progress is considered a religious allegory, a story like a fable, in which a moral principle is presented through fictional characters and events. Allegories are more common in poems, short stories, and spiritual works and scriptures like the bible. The Pilgrim’s Progress is a spiritual work as the pilgrim in its title is the spiritual seeker, and his progress is the path towards his salvation and redemption or enlightenment, but it is also a novel with a continuing plot and continuing characters. The characters in The Pilgrim’s Progress have allegorical names like Christian, hopeful, faithful, giant, despair, and evangelist. The places have names as well like, City of Destruction, wall of salvation, hill of difficulty and chanted ground, Vanity Fair, and Celestial City. The plot itself, although an enchanting myth, is also the ultimate plot of human destiny. Once you set out on your journey to read The Pilgrim’s Progress, you will soon discover that Bunyan’s Book is a gateway through which you have accessed a world full of adventure. With every turn of the page, you will come across fascinating and vivid characters, imaginative places, and thrilling drama punctuated with some of the most enlightening and life-transforming dialogue ever conceived. 

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is regarded as a classic example of allegory. While literary critics tend to minimize allegory’s value as a mode, The Pilgrim’s Progress demonstrates a proclivity for genre-transcending techniques that encourage looking at allegory in a new light. The straightforward embodiments of aspects of human nature and abstract concepts, through such characters as Christian, faithful and hopeful and such places as Vanity Fair and the Slough of Despond in The Pilgrim’s Progress, are typical examples of the techniques of personification allegory. In allegories some of his greatest imaginative successes are due to his dreamlike, introspective style. In this style, which is rich in powerful physical imagery, the inner life of the Christian is described; body and soul are so involved that it is impossible to separate bodily from mental suffering in the description of his temptations. He feels “a clogging and a heat at my breast-bone as if my bowels would have burst out.” 

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