John Bunyan World Literature Analysis - Essay

John Bunyan World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Beginning with the publication of Some Gospel Truths Opened (1656), a tract directed against the Quakers, Bunyan was to produce numerous published works during his lifetime. All were religious in nature, though there is considerable variety within the general subject. Some are polemical and controversial, and a few concern broad religious doctrines; some are handbooks or guides for adults, while others instruct children. Since Bunyan did not publish his sermons, little evidence remains of his preaching, though two of his published titles appear to be sermons. Literary historians agree that only four of his works are of lasting interest, and three of these—The Pilgrim’s Progress, The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680), and The Holy War (1682)—are allegories of religious life that center on the plight of the individual soul.

Bunyan’s first significant prose work was his spiritual autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, a prominent example of a genre that goes back to the fifth century Confessiones (397-400; Confessions, 1620) of Saint Augustine. In simple and muscular prose, Bunyan gives a dramatized account of his spiritual development, his conversion, and the beginning of his ministry. Details of his daily life are scant, and his autobiography serves to illustrate the workings of God on Earth. To Bunyan, salvation is essentially a gripping drama featuring God and the Devil struggling for the individual soul. In accounting for his spiritual development, Bunyan lists evidences of his wickedness, actually trivial infractions, and attempts to elucidate the stages of his conversion.

At the center of Bunyan’s narrative lies a recurring cyclic pattern of psychological interest, for life’s journey does not occur in a direct line. Always anxious about salvation, the narrator falls into a deep depression, convinced that he is lost or, in one memorable instance, that he has committed the unpardonable sin. These periods last for days, weeks, or months. He sometimes hears voices telling him to “sell Christ” or urging him to doubt or curse God. Occasionally he hears a stern and wrathful voice from Heaven issuing a warning. Efforts to find support and reassurance from others prove fruitless. On one occasion he confesses to a wise old Christian man that he believes he has committed the unpardonable sin, and the old man agrees. After a period of profound gloom, however, he reads or recalls a biblical verse that gives him hope or relieves his anxiety. The depression passes, and he is reassured for a time, only to experience a later recurrence of the entire cycle. Finally, sometime during his late twenties, the cycles end. Assured of salvation, he begins his ministry.

With the publication of The Pilgrim’s Progress, a richly imaginative depiction of the quest for salvation, Bunyan achieved lasting fame. The work saw numerous editions within his lifetime and, through translations into many languages, attained the status of a world classic.

In contrast to Christian’s successful journey to Heaven in The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan’s next allegorical work chronicles the destruction of a sinner. The Life and Death of Mr. Badman is cast in the form of a dialogue between Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Attentive, who does not simply listen but injects comments of his own and asks pointed questions. A notorious sinner from childhood, Mr. Badman seeks wealth through marriage, defrauds...

(The entire section is 1438 words.)