John Bunyan Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

ph_0111201523-Bunyan.jpg John Bunyan Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Between 1656 and 1688, John Bunyan (BUHN-yuhn) published forty-four separate works, including prosenarratives and tracts, sermons, and verse; ten posthumous publications appeared in a folio edition of 1692, which the author himself had prepared for the press. A nearly complete edition of the prose works, in two volumes, was printed in the period 1736-1737, another in 1767 by George Whitefield, and a six-volume Edinburgh edition in 1784. The best of Bunyan’s verse can be found in a small collection (c. 1664) containing “The Four Last Things,” “Ebal and Gerizim,” and “Prison Meditations.” In addition, Bunyan wrote A Caution to Stir Up to Watch Against Sin (1664), a half-sheet broadside poem in sixteen stanzas; A Book for Boys and Girls: Or, Country Rhymes for Children (1686); and Discourse of the Building, Nature, Excellency, and Government of the House of God (1688), a poem in twelve parts.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The spirit of seventeenth century Protestant dissent burst into flame within the heart and mind of John Bunyan. He attended only grammar school, served in the parliamentary army at age sixteen, and returned to Bedfordshire to undergo religious crisis and conversion. Imprisoned after the Restoration of Charles II for refusing to obey the laws against religious dissent, he turned to his pen as the only available means of performing his divinely ordained stewardship. He wrote his most significant work, the vision of The Pilgrim’s Progress, while in jail, and the piece became a companion to the Scriptures among lower-class English Dissenters. His limited education came from two sources: John Foxe’s Commentarii rerum in ecclesia gestarum (1554; revised 1559; revised and translated as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1563; also known as Actes and Monuments of the Christian Church), containing accounts of the martyrdom of sixteenth century English Protestants, and the Authorized Version of the Bible, the content and style of which Bunyan skillfully applied to his own prose.

Bunyan’s art grew out of his natural abilities of observation and analysis. He was a Puritan and a product of the Puritan movement, yet, as can be seen clearly from the autobiographical Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, he was chiefly interested in actual human experience, not in religious doctrine for its own sake. His allegorical characters—Mr. Timorous, Mr. Talkative, Mrs. Diffidence, Mr. By-ends, Lord Turn-about, Mr. Smooth-man, Mr. Facing-bothways—originated in everyday life. Similarly, the Valley of Humiliation, the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, and Fair-speech can be found by all people everywhere, no matter what their cultures or religions. In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan universalized his Puritanism, depicting every earnest Christian’s search for salvation, every upright person’s attempt to achieve some degree of faith. He wrote to awaken conscience, to strengthen faith, and to win souls—the last being the true object of his evangelical mission. At the same time, he managed to write tracts and narratives worthy of recognition as literature—even, in certain instances, as masterpieces.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Bunyan possessed few, if any, of the early advantages many prospective writers possess. What resources buoyed the literary capacity of this tinker’s son?

Explain how Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners rises above its autobiographical form and becomes a book about the challenges of a religious quest.

Give instances from The Pilgrim’s Progress to exemplify Christian as a “wayfaring, warring Christian disciple.”

Characterize the “progress” of Bunyan’s pilgrim.

Full-blown allegory is not popular at present. How does one account for the forcefulness of Bunyan’s allegory today?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Batson, E. Beatrice. John Bunyan’s “Grace Abounding” and “The Pilgrim’s Progress”: An Overview of Literary Studies: 1960-1987. New York: Garland, 1988. Offers criticism and interpretation.

Brown, John. John Bunyan, 1628-1688: His Life, Times, and Work. 3d. ed. Eugene, Oreg.: Wipf & Stock, 2007. This is the third edition of what is generally considered the definitive biography of Bunyan. Devotes two chapters to The Pilgrim’s Progress, including an assessment of its literary reputation. Contains several appendixes, including one listing editions, versions, illustrations, and imitations of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Collmer, Robert G., ed. Bunyan in Our Time. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1989. Collection of distinguished literary criticism and appraisals of Bunyan includes essays on his use of language, satire and its biblical sources, and The Pilgrim’s Progress as allegory. Of particular interest are the essays on Marxist perspectives on Bunyan and a comparison between Bunyan’s quest and C. S. Lewis’s quest in The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933).

Davies, Michael. Graceful Reading: Theology and Narrative in the Works of John Bunyan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Interprets The Pilgrim’s Progress, Grace Abounding to...

(The entire section is 590 words.)