Pilgrim's Progress | Study Guide

John Bunyan

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Pilgrim's Progress | Plot Summary

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Summary

Part 1

Christian, a resident of the City of Destruction, learns that his city is soon to be destroyed by fire. He is dismayed by this news until he learns from a messenger named Evangelist that safety can be found in the Celestial City. Over the objections of his wife, Christiana, and their children, Christian decides to make a pilgrimage to the Celestial City, which means he must first pass through the Wicket-Gate—he proverbial "narrow gate" of salvation mentioned in the Bible. On his way there, Christian briefly becomes stuck in the Slough of Despond, a boggy area representing feelings of regret and hopelessness. He next meets Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who convinces him to take a detour and abandon his difficult trek to the Celestial City. The detour proves dangerous and futile, and a chastened Christian finally makes his way through the Wicket-Gate.

Inside the gate, Christian is guided to the house of the Interpreter, who shows him a series of allegorical scenes and artworks depicting principles of Christian living. He next arrives at the foot of a cross, where the burden he has been carrying (and unable to remove) suddenly falls off and rolls away. Clothed in new garments by a group of "Shining Ones" (saints or angels), Christian continues on his journey up a hill toward the Palace Beautiful. He is initially frightened off by a pair of lions there, but after learning they are chained, he enters the palace without harm. There, he is entertained by a group of virtuous maidens and shown about the palace grounds. Just before he leaves, he is equipped with armor, which comes in handy when he reaches the Valley of Humiliation. There, he fights with the fiend Apollyon, whom he drives off with a stroke of his sword. He next proceeds through the Valley of the Shadow of Death—a place every bit as forbidding as it sounds, filled with monsters, pitfalls, and dark, gloomy fog.

After reaching the end of the valley, Christian encounters his friend and fellow townsman Faithful. The two walk together awhile, comparing notes about their respective pilgrimages and are joined for a time by the aptly named Talkative. They part ways with him when they discover he is interested in talking about faith but not living it. Soon afterward, Evangelist reappears to warn Christian and Faithful about the dangers they will face in the next town, called Vanity. Arriving there, they find that Vanity is home to the vast year-round Vanity Fair, which is devoted to the pleasures of this life. As obvious misfits in this worldly setting, they are ridiculed, locked up, and eventually put on trial. Faithful is sentenced to death and executed; Christian escapes and proceeds on his way.

Having lost one companion, Christian gains another, named Hopeful. The two travel past a perilous but alluring silver mine, called Hill Lucre, and then wander into a pleasant meadow that leads them out of the path they are supposed to be traveling. They are captured by Giant Despair and brought to his home, Doubting Castle. Again they escape and make their way to the Delectable Mountains, a pleasant country from which they can just barely see the Celestial City. After the mountains, the next major stop is the Enchanted Ground, where pilgrims are lulled to sleep by earthly comforts even as they near their celestial goal. Struggling over this dangerous terrain, the two travelers arrive in the holy Land of Beulah. They cannot remain here, however, but must cross over the River of Life. With this final feat accomplished, Christian and Hopeful arrive in the Celestial City, where they are welcomed by the king himself.

Part 2

The pilgrimage of Christiana, Christian's wife, runs parallel to that of her husband, with many of the same stops along the road. She and her sons start on their journey after learning of Christian's happiness in the Celestial City. They are mocked by their neighbors, but Christiana's young friend Mercy decides to go along with them. When they reach the Wicket-Gate, they are appointed a protector and guide called Great-heart, who defends them from assault numerous times during their journey. They visit the Interpreter's House, the Hill of Difficulty, and the Palace Beautiful just as Christian did, in each case receiving a warm welcome because of their ties to the now-famous earlier pilgrim. They stay longer than Christian did in Palace Beautiful, conversing with the maidens who live there. Mercy is ineffectually wooed by a worldly man called Brisk and afterward marries Christiana's oldest son, Matthew.

When they leave Palace Beautiful, Christiana and company find the Valley of Humiliation much easier to traverse than Christian did. They also fare better in the Valley of the Shadow of Death because, unlike Christian, they have the good fortune to travel through it by daylight. Great-heart fights and beheads a giant named Maul, then places his head on a pillar as a warning to passersby. Outside the valley, the group meets up with the crotchety but good-hearted Honest, who joins their company. As they travel, Great-heart tells them all about the many other pilgrims, both wise and foolish, whom he has guided over the years.

In Vanity, where Christian met with such trouble, Christiana and her group likewise have an easier time. They are welcomed by a small contingent of pious people who live in the town without succumbing to the worldly excesses of Vanity Fair. When they reach Doubting Castle, the men in the pilgrim party slay Giant Despair and demolish his home. From here the pilgrims travel over the Delectable Mountains—where they are welcomed by the same shepherds who greeted Christian—to the Enchanted Ground, where they meet a new friend named Standfast. Together, the group arrive in the Land of Beulah, after which several of them are summoned to cross the River of Life. Crossing, they arrive at their permanent home in the Celestial City.

Pilgrim's Progress Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action

Introduction

1 Warned by Evangelist, Christian flees City of Destruction.

Rising Action

2 Christian gets stuck in the Slough of Despond.

3 Christian passes through the Wicket-Gate.

4 At the Interpreter's house, Christian is shown wonders.

5 Christian sojourns at Palace Beautiful.

6 Christian endures the Valley of Humiliation.

7 Christian survives the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

8 An old friend, Faithful, joins Christian on his journey.

9 In Vanity Fair, Christian is jailed, and Faithful is killed.

10 Christian and Hopeful are captured by Giant Despair.

Climax

11 The two pilgrims reach the Delectable Mountains.

Falling Action

12 Christian and Hopeful arrive in the Land of Beulah.

13 At their final trial, the pilgrims cross the River of Life.

14 The pilgrims are welcomed into the Celestial City.

Resolution

15 Ignorance is rejected from the City and cast into hell.

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