The Pilgrim's Progress

by John Bunyan

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Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 757

Christian

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Christian, an example of all God-fearing Protestants, whose adventures are recounted as events in a dream experienced by the narrator. Originally called Graceless, of the race of Japhet, Christian becomes distressed with his life in the City of Destruction and insists that his wife and four children accompany him in search of salvation. When they refuse to leave, Christian determines to set out alone. Henceforth his life story consists of hardships, sufferings, and struggles to overcome obstacles—physical, human, and emotional—that beset his path. At the outset, Christian’s family and neighbors, Pliable and Obstinate, try to dissuade him from breaking away from his sins of the past. Then Evangelist appears with a parchment roll on which is inscribed, “Fly from the Wrath to Come.” On his long journey, Christian finds that human beings he meets offer distractions and hindrance, even bodily harm and violence. Mr. Worldly Wiseman turns him aside from his set purpose until Evangelist intervenes. Simple, Sloth, Presumption, Formalist, Hypocrisy, Timorous, and Mistrust seek to dissuade or discourage Christian because of the rigors of the straight and narrow way. The Giant of the Doubting Castle and his wife beat and torture Christian and Hopeful. In the Valley of Humiliation, Christian engages in mortal combat with a monstrous creature named Apollyon for more than half a day but at last emerges triumphant. In many times of peril, Christian is fortunate in having companions who can assist him: Evangelist, who gets him out of difficulties or warns him of impending strife; Help, who assists him to get out of the Slough of Despond; Faithful, who is by his side at Vanity Fair; Hopeful, who comforts him at Doubting Castle and encourages him to give up bravely at the River of Death. In this narrative of a pilgrim’s adventures, Christian must constantly overcome temptations and dangers that will thwart his goal, impede his progress toward eternal life, or prevent him from reaching Heaven; but with the aid of his religious fervor and the advice and counsel of a few true friends, he achieves salvation.

Evangelist

Evangelist, Christian’s adviser and guide, particularly in times of danger. Evangelist shows him the way to avoid destruction, directs him to the Wicket Gate, and warns him of such people as Mr. Worldly Wiseman and of the dangers at Vanity Fair.

Apollyon

Apollyon (uh-PAHL-yuhn), the fiend in the Valley of Humiliation. Apollyon has scales like a fish, feet like a bear, wings like a dragon, a mouth like a lion; he spouts fire and smoke from his belly, and he discourses like a devil in his attempt to persuade Christian from honoring his religion.

Giant Despair

Giant Despair, the giant owner of Doubting Castle. He imprisons Christian and Faithful, beats them, and threatens them with death until Christian uses a key of Promise to make their escape.

Faithful

Faithful, Christian’s traveling companion. Imprisoned, tortured, and put to death by the people of Vanity Fair, he is transported to the Celestial Gate in a chariot.

Hopeful

Hopeful, another wayfarer. He joins Christian at Vanity Fair and accompanies him through various adventures on the way to eternal salvation.

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Good-Will

Good-Will, who tells Christian to knock and the gate that is blocking his way will be opened, so that he may see a vision of the Day of Judgment.

Ignorance

Ignorance, a native of the country of Conceit. Refusing to accept the beliefs of Christian and Hopeful, he continues on the journey until he is seized and thrust into Hell.

Mr. Worldly Wiseman

Mr. Worldly Wiseman, a dweller in the town of Carnal-Policy. He advises Christian to go to Legality and get relief from the burden of sins that Christian carries on his back.

Three Shining Ones

Three Shining Ones, who clothe Christian with new raiment after his burdens fall off before the Cross.

Obstinate

Obstinate and

Pliable

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Latest answer posted June 30, 2021, 12:52 am (UTC)

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Pliable, neighbors of Christian. Both try to keep Christian from leaving the City of Destruction. Obstinate remains behind, but Pliable goes with Christian until he deserts him at the Slough of Despond.

Interpreter

Interpreter, who instructs Christian in the mysteries of faith.

Discretion

Discretion,

Prudence

Prudence,

Piety

Piety, and

Charity

Charity, virgins who arm Christian with the sword and shield of faith.

Pope

Pope and

Pagan

Pagan, giants whose caves Christian must pass after reciting verses from the Psalms to protect himself from devils issuing from one of the gates of Hell.

Knowledge

Knowledge,

Experience

Experience,

Watchful

Watchful, and

Sincere

Sincere, shepherds who point out the Celestial Gate to Christian and Hopeful.

Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 665

The characters in The Pilgrim's Progress fall into different categories, suggestive of the themes in the work. The first category is the pilgrim. Christian is not the only character who is traveling to the Celestial City. Faithful and Hopeful also find a way to the city, and in the second part, Christiana is accompanied by her four sons and maid Mercy. By the time they reach the gates of the Celestial City, they have encountered Feeble-mind, Valiant-for-truth, Despondency, Honest, and Stead-fast, all of whom gain admittance. As their names suggest, the traits of these pilgrims vary, and their paths to the Celestial City differ. Significantly, there is more than one way to the kingdom of God, and the human qualities needed for the journey are not limited to one personality type.

For all the characters who successfully complete the journey, far more do not make it. Some are obviously opposed to the idea of pilgrimage and have set themselves on courses which keep them trapped in the affairs of this world. Characters with names like Obstinate, Atheist, Prejudice, and Ill-will are committed to the earthly world. But there is a third category of character: people whose errors are not as immediately obvious as those of the enemies of pilgrimage, but whose failings nonetheless condemn them to perdition. Perhaps the most poignant figure in The Pilgrim's Progress is Ignorance, who arrives at the gate to the Celestial City only to be bound hand and foot and put in a doorway that leads to hell. In his earlier scenes, Ignorance seems possessed of an engaging good will, as do Talkative, Pliable, and others. However, all these characters lack the requisite knowledge, understanding, or commitment to make a pilgrimage that requires complete devotion to the teachings of Christ.

In this modern, pluralistic age, the uncompromising nature of Bunyan's work may be partially responsible for its loss in popularity. Indeed, many critics see the damnation of Ignorance as an artistic flaw in Bunyan's scheme. Not only is his punishment cruel, it also seems an anticlimax to end the work with the damnation of a relatively minor character rather than the triumphant entry of Christian into the Celestial City. Other critics have come to the defense of Bunyan's presentation of Ignorance, pointing out that Bunyan's art enables readers to see the poignance of Ignorance's situation. Bunyan does not condemn Ignorance; rather it is Ignorance's own failure to fully come to grips with his human limitations which leads to his damnation.

In addition to the characters who represent different human types, there are two other categories of characters. The first consists of monsters and giants who would keep Christian from reaching his destination. The most celebrated of these is the "foul fiend" Apollyon, who is "clothed with scales like a fish" and has "wings like a dragon, feet like a bear," "the mouth of a lion," and smoke coming "out of his belly." It takes Christian nearly half a day before he vanquishes this monster; he then proceeds with drawn sword, ready for any enemy he might encounter. The second consists of guides who stand ready to help Christian and Christiana on their journeys. It is Evangelist who points Christian in the direction of the Wicket Gate. Once on his way, he encounters figures like the three sisters Piety, Prudence, and Charity, who serve as religious instructors. In the second part, Christiana is shielded from the worst temptations and snares that Christian passed through on his journey. The implication is that most men need help and guidance. Christian is unusual since he makes the journey more or less on his own. In long sections he appears isolated from and alien to the rest of humanity, whereas Christiana always has about her people who think and act as she does. Christian's humility is balanced by his courage and daring in setting out on his own; part of his appeal to the general reader is the heroism inherent in his act of pilgrimage.

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