Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Part 2, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

Christiana, her sons, and Mercy set out from the City of Destruction. Mercy says she would gladly go along for the entire trip if she thought she would be admitted at the Celestial City, and Christiana encourages her to trust in the merciful nature of the city's king. Mercy remains doubtful but agrees to go as far as the Wicket-Gate, where Christiana will speak to the gatekeeper on Mercy's behalf.

The pilgrims arrive at the Slough of Despond and find it even worse than when Christian passed through, but they step carefully and manage to get over without falling in. They make their way to the Wicket-Gate, and Christiana knocks for admittance. Hearing the menacing bark of a dog, they are briefly paralyzed with fear, but they knock even more energetically in the hope of escaping through the gate.

The gatekeeper admits Christiana and her children, though Mercy lingers outside, fearful of being rejected. Eventually, Mercy works up the courage to knock, but by the time the gate is opened again she has fainted. Reviving, she is overjoyed and relieved to be brought safely inside. The gatekeeper explains that the dog they heard is kept by the devil for the purpose of scaring off pilgrims.

Analysis

Mercy's doubts about her salvation form part of an important recurring theme in The Pilgrim's Progress. For Bunyan, those who are most anxious about the state of their souls are, in fact, the most likely to be saved. This idea is voiced in Part 1, Chapter 10, where Hopeful reassures Christian that his fears at the point of death are actually a good sign: only the foolish and the damned, he suggests, can go to their deaths easily.

Part 2 makes a similar point regarding Mercy's anxiety about whether she will be saved. Her soul would be in more danger, Bunyan implies, if she were not continually asking this question. Christiana's son James will put it concisely in Part 2, Chapter 6: "No fears, no grace," though he proceeds to explain that fear itself does not necessarily indicate divine favor.

Moreover, Bunyan draws a line between a healthy, pious fear and a morbid, paralyzing dread, though he makes it clear that the latter is still preferable to foolish overconfidence. James's remark follows the account of Mr. Fearing, whose entire pilgrimage is made unnecessarily difficult by his inability to trust in God's loving kindness. Mercy will, understandably, recognize something of herself in this character, who serves almost as a parody of her own timidity. Mercy might also be inclined to be especially fearful of attack by a dog, which shows no mercy to any stranger as the traditional guardian of property. This might be all the more true in Bunyan's time, since the risk of rabies as a result of being bitten by an infected dog was an additional threat.

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