Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Part 2, Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

Amid sunshine and birdsong, the pilgrims set out once more. They carefully make their way down into the Valley of Humiliation, which they find much more pleasant than Christian did. A shepherd boy alongside the path breaks into song, extolling the virtues of the simple life. Great-Heart explains that Jesus was also very fond of the Valley of Humiliation and once kept a "country-house" here. The pilgrims pass by the place where Christian fought with the demon Apollyon and behold the marks left by the battle on the landscape.

Next comes the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Here, earthquakes and strange sounds frighten the travelers, especially James, the youngest. Darkness falls, and the group prays for deliverance. Soon the darkness is lifted, but snares and pits make for rough going right up to the end of the valley. Just as they are about to emerge, they are accosted by a giant named Maul, who calls Great-Heart a kidnapper and challenges him to a fight. The ensuing battle is drawn-out and dramatic, but Great-Heart prevails and beheads the giant. The women and children celebrate as Maul's head is fastened on to a pillar as a warning.

Analysis

The word humiliation in modern English has a meaning akin to extreme embarrassment or shame. In Bunyan's time it meant something more like "humility," which is why Great-Heart can speak of so many people living contentedly in the Valley of Humiliation. These people, including the singing shepherd boy, chose the secure blessings of a simple life over the precarious gifts of worldly power and status. Reading "humility" for "humiliation" also helps to explain why Christ would have a "country-house" (but not his main residence) in this valley. The Incarnation—God becoming human—was a profound act of self-humbling; thus, figuratively speaking, Jesus during his time on earth took up residence in the valley.

In the next valley Bunyan introduces a third giant at the cave previously occupied by Pope and Pagan. Maul represents a different, more insidious kind of threat than the doctrines of other religions (Pagan) or of Catholicism (Pope). He is a sophist, using high-sounding philosophical argument to trap pilgrims and dissuade them from their faith. By positioning Maul here, Bunyan suggests that sophistry is a modern "successor" to paganism and Catholicism—a new but no less deadly allurement away from the true path.

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