Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Part 2, Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

The pilgrims pass through and beyond the town of Vanity, past the silver mine of Demas, and through a green pasture where sheep graze. When they reach the By-path Meadow, Great-Heart and Honest, together with Christiana's sons, decide to destroy Doubting Castle and kill its master, Giant Despair. They succeed, freeing the captive pilgrims Despondency and Much-Afraid in the process. These "honest people" thank their liberators and accompany them back to the womenfolk, who have been left in the road. Music and dancing ensue.

The party's next stop is the Delectable Mountains, where they are greeted by the same shepherds who welcomed Christian in Part 1, Chapter 8. After a meal and a rest, the shepherds show the pilgrims some suitably allegorical wonders, including Godly-man, whose clothes remain clean no matter how much dirt is thrown at him by Prejudice and Ill-will. The pilgrims also glimpse the horrifying By-way to Hell, with its smoke and shouts of torment. Mercy is given a magical mirror ("the word of God," Bunyan clarifies in a note) that, held at a particular angle, allows her to see Jesus. The shepherds bestow a further gift of jewelry on the women, and the pilgrims go singing on their way.

Analysis

In light of Bunyan's Puritan sympathies, the celebratory scene after Giant Despair is slain deserves some comment. This is not the first time that music or dancing is seen in The Pilgrim's Progress, but it is the most conspicuous. Christiana plays the viol, a kind of precursor to the violin, and Mercy accompanies her on the lute, a plucked-string instrument. More important than the instrumentation here is the fact that Bunyan finds nothing unseemly in singing and playing after liberation from a great evil. Moreover, he sees nothing indecent about near-strangers such as Ready-to-halt and Much-Afraid dancing together.

This is just one way in which The Pilgrim's Process complicates the traditional and highly unflattering picture of the Puritans and, by extension, their Separatist brethren. Bunyan, himself, in earlier life shunned such pastimes as dancing, and a few of his pilgrims follow suit. Yet music and dancing, along with feasting and drinking, are not categorically forbidden and are in fact even presented in a positive light, here and elsewhere. To the extent that Bunyan's work can be taken as representative of Puritan attitudes, the prudish "fun police" stereotype doesn't hold much water.

The Delectable Mountains function, as they did in Part 1, as a sign that the narrative is drawing toward its close. The pilgrims have gotten accustomed to the rigors of travel, but they are about to enter the most hazardous part of their journey. Resting and refreshing themselves with the shepherds will allow them to cross the Enchanted Ground without succumbing to weariness.

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