The Pilgrim's Progress Essay - Critical Essays

John Bunyan

Critical Evaluation

The seventeenth century’s literary greatness began with such dramatic works as William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (pr. c. 1600-1601, pb. 1603) and The Tempest (pr. 1611, pb. 1623). To the seventeenth century belongs the height of Jacobean drama, the flowering of the sonnet, and the achievements of Renaissance lyric poetry. Such works may all be considered literary products of a Humanistic century—they are the high-water mark of Humanistic philosophy with its belief in the importance of humanity and of human interests. In the middle of Humanism’s great artistic accomplishment appeared John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. The full title of the work published in 1678 is The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is Come. In 1684, Bunyan published The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is Come the Second Part.

The Pilgrim’s Progress reaches back to medieval literature for its dream-vision form; Bunyan’s narrator goes to sleep and dreams his fable of the Christian religion. Bunyan’s “novel” is a classic example of the multifaceted nature of a literary century, reflecting as it does the popularity of the conversion story during the time. What is more significant, the work shows with much skill one of the most attractive qualities of the age, for Bunyan draws on his Humanist contemporaries and their techniques to make his tale of the salvation of a soul one of the unique masterpieces of English literature.

The Pilgrim’s Progress is usually classified as a novel, but according to traditional definitions of the novel genre, The Pilgrim’s Progress is decidedly too predestined in the outcome of its plot to make it engaging, as a novel should be. The work is also so allegorical that one may decide that it is not a novel, since novels generally are somewhat realistic. It is Bunyan’s literary genius that endowed the book with classic appeal. The success of The Pilgrim’s Progress, as distinguished from the countless other stories of personal salvation that were written at about the same time, is its ability to show the Christian experience through the character Christian’s eyes. By making all the pitfalls, the specters of doubt and fear, and the religious terror that Christian experiences real to this believable, impressionable narrator, Bunyan makes them just as real to his reader. Therefore, the reader of the book is really not any more sure than Christian that his salvation is assured. Bunyan has struck a true and profound...

(The entire section is 1058 words.)