Bunyan’s two-part allegory covers the spiritual lives of a Christian convert and his family. The main character, Christian, is converted by Evangelist, who instructs him to leave the City of Destruction through the wicket gate on his way to the Celestial City. Christian’s family misunderstands him and his neighbors attack him, but Christian leaves his home with a burden on his back and a book in his hand.
Before finding the wicket gate, Christian succumbs to the Slough of Despond and Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who leads him to comfort in the village of Morality. Fortunately, Evangelist steers him to the wicket gate, where Christian climbs a hill to a cross. There Christian loses the burden and is outfitted for travel to the Celestial City.
On his way there, Christian encounters the Hill of Difficulty, Humiliation, Vanity Fair, and By-Path Meadow. Christian gets lost at Doubting Castle, where the giant Despair imprisons him. Remembering his key of Promise, Christian escapes and ascends the Delectable Mountains, where he first sees the Celestial City.
One more temptation awaits Christian: He almost drowns in a river when he contemplates his sins. He is rescued by Hopeful, and the two of them enter the Celestial City together.
In the second part of this allegory, Christian’s wife and sons, who had refused to accompany him to the Celestial City, are converted at his death and decide to journey to the Celestial City themselves. They take the same path but have different experiences because by this time there are more pilgrims to help them. They find help in Mercy, Mr. Greatheart, Mr. Honest, Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, and Mr. Steadfast, among others. They encounter their fair share of temptations, but their journey is easier than Christian’s because his courage was inspirational and instructive.
Furlong, Monica. Puritan’s Progress. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1975. Although dated, this is an excellent starting point for research. A good summarized discussion of both parts 1 and 2 of Pilgrim’s Progress. Includes a solid introduction to John Bunyan and the life of the Puritans. Excellent bibliography.
Hill, Christopher. A Tinker and a Poor Man: John Bunyan and His Church, 1628-1688. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. Examines John Bunyan, his writings, his life, and the turbulent times in which he lived. Gives an extensive list of publication dates of all of Bunyan’s work.
Luxon, Thomas, H. Literal Figures: Puritan Allegory and the Reformation Crisis in Representation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Good discussion of allegory, specifically in relation to Puritanism, and a solid starting point for study. A modern interpretation of Bunyan, his work, and its relation to allegory.
Newey, Vincent, ed. “The Pilgrim’s Progress”: Critical and Historical Views. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1980. A wonderful collection of concise essays. Essays cover Bunyan, symbolism, and theology in relation to Pilgrim’s Progress.
Sadler, Lynn Veach. John Bunyan. Boston: Twayne, 1979. Good summation of Bunyan’s life with excellent explanations of Pilgrim’s Progress. Includes an extensive bibliography and chronology of Bunyan’s life.