Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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

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Summary

The pilgrims now continue beyond the Wicket-Gate. Christiana's sons pluck fruit from a tree whose branches overhang the wall, unaware that the tree is planted in the garden of "the enemy" (the devil). Two ugly ("ill-favored") men come down the road and attempt to assault Christiana and Mercy, but the women's shouts attract a Reliever, who drives the men off. This man asks why the women did not ask the gatekeeper for a guide to protect them. Christiana explains that they were so happy with the "blessing" of being let in the gate that they forgot about the "dangers" that might await them inside. Christiana tells of having dreamed of the ill-favored ones' assault and chides herself for failing to prevent it.

Soon, the group reaches the Interpreter's house, where all are overjoyed that Christiana has "turned Pilgrim." The Interpreter shows Christiana and company the various allegorical scenes he showed to Christian in Part 1. He then takes them into a room with a man who, busily raking straw and dust, cannot see the crown that dangles above his head. This, Christiana surmises, is a "man of the world," too bent on earthly things to contemplate heavenly ones. The next room is empty except for a spider clinging to the wall, emblematic of the way in which sinners must "take hold" of faith. Out in the yard various plant and animal images are presented: a hen's different calls, for instance, represent the different ways in which God calls his people.

At supper the pilgrims are entertained with music, and the Interpreter asks Christiana about her travels so far. Mercy tells of her last-minute invitation to join Christiana, and the Interpreter commends her courage. In the morning the pilgrims bathe and are given new white garments, and a seal is placed on their foreheads as a final adornment.

Analysis

"Ask and you shall receive," Jesus famously declares in the Gospel of Matthew 7:7. Here, and throughout the remainder of Part 2, Bunyan sets out to explain the necessity and benefit of asking for God's help. When the Reliever comes to the pilgrims' rescue, he explains that they might have had a protector from the get-go if they had thought to ask for one. They respond, naturally enough, by asking why God did not provide a protector in advance if he knew that there would be trouble—and if he knew they would forget to ask.

The chicken reference is interesting in that one of the symbols of a call to the spiritual life in the Bible is the crowing of a rooster first thing in the morning well before the sun rises. However, since Christiana is a woman, it may have been inappropriate to refer to a rooster, so Bunyan brings in a hen instead. As is observed by anyone who has kept chickens, it is the rooster who marshals the hens, summons them to eat first thing in the morning, drives them into the roost at night, or leads them to safety when threatened by a predator. Bunyan may have used the hen here by way of illustrating that Christiana's husband has gone before, and is now, like the rooster to his hens, calling her to follow to safety.

Reliever's answer is illuminating: when God bestows favors without asking, those favors are often underrated or taken for granted. That is, God does not have to wait for a person to pray before granting blessings, but there is value for the believer in having to pray before blessings are received. This message will take a while to sink in for Christiana and Mercy, not just because they are forgetful, but because they will be afraid to ask for too much. The second lesson here, one learned in later chapters, is that there is no "too much" where prayer is concerned.

The bath that the pilgrims take before setting out has baptismal connotations, but it should be noted that Separatists, unlike some other English nonconformists, practiced infant baptism. Thus, the symbolism here should not be taken too precisely. Instead, the bath can be seen as a more general metaphor for the purification that one must undergo before setting out toward heaven. The seal and white garments the pilgrims then receive are, though described as beautiful, a somewhat ominous touch. The gesture of sealing hearkens back to the Book of Revelation, where God commands his angels to seal the foreheads of the saved before proceeding to bring about the apocalypse (7:2–8). Those sealed are then "clothed with white robes" (7:9) and proceed to take their places before the throne of God as the world is destroyed by fire, flood, and earthquake.

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