Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Part 1, Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Though bereft of his friend Faithful, Christian is now joined by Hopeful, a former resident of Vanity who was inspired by Faithful's pious example. The two of them are joined briefly by Mr. By-ends, who represents the idea of being religious only when it is convenient. Christian sharply criticizes him for his attempts to treat religion as a tool for worldly profit or career advancement. They next visit Hill Lucre, where a man named Demas has set up a silver mine. The mine is dangerous, yet many adventurers are lured to it and end up losing their lives. A pillar with the inscription "remember Lot's wife" reminds the pilgrims not to "look back" to worldly things as they are fleeing to the safety of heaven.

The path to the Celestial City now runs parallel to a river for a while. The scenery is so pleasant and the going so easy that Christian and Hopeful are tempted to follow a side trail, not noticing that it curves away from the true way. The trail leads them to the domain of Giant Despair, who, with his wife, Diffidence, keeps the pilgrims prisoner in Doubting Castle. He seeks to convince them, through starvation and beatings, to give up on life and commit suicide. They escape, however, when Christian recalls that he has had a key, called Promise, to get out of the dungeon all along. Returning to the main road, the two pilgrims post a sign to warn others of the dangers of Doubting Castle.

Analysis

Here, as elsewhere, Bunyan juxtaposes two dangers to Christian life: one blatant and one insidious. The pilgrims have little trouble avoiding the deadly silver mine because they have been warned repeatedly and in many ways to avoid it. The inscription on the pillar in particular ("remember Lot's wife") is The Pilgrim's Progress equivalent of a "Danger!" sign. It hearkens back to Genesis 19, in which the wife of the biblical patriarch Lot is transformed into a pillar of salt. She met this fate as punishment for looking back at her hometown of Sodom as it was being destroyed by fire. As Christian and Hopeful muse, this act of disobedience seems a small offense given the magnitude of the punishment. The traditional explanation is a symbolic one: Lot's wife is an archetype of those who "look back" at the vanishing things of this world when their eyes should be on heaven. The juxtaposition here of salt and silver is interesting because both are types of lucre, or monetary gain. The silver mine is in Lucre Hill (related to the word lucrative), and as a precious metal silver has long been used as money. But here Bunyan has tied in a biblical reference to an older type of renumeration that was probably still in use among the poor of his time: salt. For example, soldiers of the Roman Empire were sometimes paid in salt, and it is from this practice that the word salary is derived.

Even without the pillar, though, Christian and Hopeful should be well versed in the dangers of greed. They have only recently come from Vanity Fair, a massive, town-sized festival of buying and selling. The denizens of that city were not just materialistic but also warped by materialism to a shocking extent, as can be seen when their way of life is challenged and they clamor to execute the offending party. Having witnessed the evil that comes of a preoccupation with such "vanities," these two pilgrims are better able to resist the temptation posed by the silver.

When it comes to By-path Meadow and Doubting Castle, however, the pilgrims let down their guard—and pay dearly for it. The idea here is that greed, like most of the deadly sins, is a powerful but fairly obvious source of temptation. The seven deadly sins including greed (or selfishness) were sloth, vanity, pride, avarice, lust, and wrath. But each of these sins is matched with a counteracting virtue, which, if a person applies it, grants the ability to overcome the vice. It is by application of the virtue of humility, for example, that the sin of pride can be overcome.

There are numerous stories in the Hebrew Bible about the dangers of an attachment to material things, the tale of Lot's wife being just one example. There are multiple biblical proverbs on the theme of greed and its perils, and several letters and parables in the New Testament sound the same theme. But the danger of the by-path is a more abstract one, not to be found among the seven capital sins. The pilgrims do not even realize they are going astray, as they certainly would if they took a sharp detour to visit the mines. The religious doubts represented by the meadow and the castle sneak up on them. Bunyan here efficiently offsets the perils of doubt—in the form of a confining castle—and despair—a giant—that might lead the pilgrim to take his own life (one of the most grievous sins a person can commit against the life God has gifted is "self-murder") by providing a key. If only the pilgrim will recall that the key, or the promise of redemption from sin, is already in his possession, then there is nothing in doubt or despair that can reach the soul. The pilgrim can, with this key, release himself from it.

Thus, in a short space Bunyan sketches the outlines of a story he cannot tell in complete detail, challenging the notion that the road to hell is necessarily paved with good intentions. Here, as throughout The Pilgrim's Progress, he shows instead that there are many roads to hell, the paving materials of which vary as much as silver does from soil.

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