The Pilgrim's Progress

by John Bunyan

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How do the characters Vanity Fair, Obstinate, Pliable, Help, and Faithful in The Pilgrim's Progress represent abstract qualities and impact Christian's journey?

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Christian, the main character of the allegory and a sort of Christian "every man," desires to travel from the City of Destruction (the Earth) to the Celestial City (Heaven). He seems, at first, apprehensive about going but is convinced by Evangelist that he must seek his own deliverance and salvation. Even as his family calls to him, Christian runs toward the shining light and wicket gate. His neighbors are called Obstinate and Pliable, and they threaten to run and force Christian to come home. When they catch up with Christian, he warns them of the trouble to come and invites them along. Obstinate—whose name refers to his own stubbornness—refuses to "'leave [his] friends and comforts behind'" him, though Pliable—whose name refers to his complacency—declares his intention to "'go along with [Christian] and to cast in [his] lot with him.'" Pliable, however, is easily persuaded to go home when the pair reaches the Slough of Despond. Once he gets himself out, he leaves Christian behind and returns home. Luckily, Help comes along to help Christian out of the Slough.

After journeying for some time, Christian and Faithful, who has been traveling with him and helping him along, arrive in the town of Vanity, where there is a fair that is "kept all the year long," called Vanity Fair. Many millennia before, evil beings set up the fair when they saw that the path of pilgrims would go through the town; the fair sells all manner of desirable things like "houses, lands, trades [...], honors preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts [...]." It is designed to compel pilgrims to leave the path and to stay in Vanity instead of reaching the Celestial City. Despite the fact that Christian and Faithful are mocked and cajoled and tempted by sellers at the fair, they "received the wrongs and shame [...] cast upon them with so much meekness and patience [...]." This angered some locals, who threw them in the stocks. Faithful and Christian are tried, and Faithful is put to death while Christian escapes. Faithful dies a martyr, never having lost his faith despite his trial by a corrupt court and his execution.

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The Pilgrim's Progress was written by John Bunyan as an allegory. It is a story with metaphors and symbols, picturing a man on his spiritual journey to Heaven, facing troubles and adversities all along the way. Christian, the main character in the plot, makes his pilgrimage to the Celestial City.

For example, Vanity Fair is a city filled with pleasures and parties and is meant to distract Christian from his journey with its alluring, glamorous enticements. It represents the world that offers temporary trinkets and treasures that will soon pass away. It is owned by the Landlord, Beelzebub, another name for the Devil.

Obstinate and Pliable appear early in the story to convince Christian to return to his city. Obstinate stands very stubbornly, and though Christian urges him to join him, Obstinate's concrete feet adamantly refuse, and he tenaciously retreats back into his city.

Pliable, however is a fickle, feeble, fair-weather follower. He changes his mind frequently, and after accompanying Christian a short distance, he turns back when the way gets too hard to travel.

Help and Faithful are two loyal friends that assist Christian on his journey. Their names demonstrate their character. Faithful is martyred at Vanity Fair for refusing to take part in their vain materialistic merchandise and fashionable festivals. His dying testimony is that he is faithful to the end. Help rescues Christian when he is sinking fast in the Slough of Despond and proves to be a trustworthy friend.

The many allegories and symbolic characters in The Pilgrim's Progress are meant to remind a Christian that all the treasures of this world will soon pass away and that there is a life after death for which one must prepare.

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Vanity Fair is a fair, or a carnival, that sells all kinds of worldly goods. According to scripture, this is all vanity—as in purposeless, superficial, and without lasting merit. Vanity Fair is a moment of temptation for Christian, but he walks through it buying nothing.

To be obstinate means to be stubborn. The character named Obstinate is offered an opportunity to travel with Christian on the journey to glorification, but he stubbornly refuses and returns to his own house.

To be pliable means to be bendable, malleable, or easily persuaded. Pliable hears the same argument to leave as Obstinate, and he takes the opportunity and goes with Christian. Unfortunately, Pliable is changeable with circumstances as well as language: at the first sign of trouble, he turns and heads back to his house.

Help provides (guess what) help to Christian! He helps him out of the Slough of Despond.

Faithful is a loyal friend to Christian and, most importantly, faithful to God, even to the point of death. This brings us back to Vanity Fair, where Faithful is arrested and tried with Christian and becomes a martyr. Christian sees Faithful carried away by the saints into heaven—a clear message to those reading The Pilgrim’s Progress about what true loyalty will reward you with.

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The Pilgrim's Progress is indeed an allegory and John does use the names to express qualities in his characters.

In the story, Vanity Fair is a place where Christian (the main character who is attempting to assess his place in the world and how he should behave) is completely ridiculed. In fact, John has the people who live in Vanity Fair mock Christian and his friend and smear mud on them. Why? Because even though the people in Vanity believe that they are good people and strive for excellence, they are truly servants of Beelzebub and are trapped by their own pride.

Obstinate is just how he sounds--stubborn. When Christian first decides to leave on his adventure, Obstinate completely refuses to join him, even though he is his neighbor. This demonstrates the stubborness some people have--some sort of aversion to change of any kind. In other words, Obstinate clings to his comfortable life instead of attempting to change himself for the better. 

Pliable is another neighbor of Christian's. This neighbor, instead, decides to join Christian on his journey. However, when he does join Christian, he finds himself quickly discouraged and turns back. The word pliable literally means something that bends easily--and pliable certainly does and gives up.

Help and Faithful are very different from Obstinate and Pliable. Help is another pilgrim (another Christian, if you would) who assists Christian when he falls into the Slough of Despondency. Meanwhile, Faithful joins Christian on his journey. When Christian and Faithful enter Vanity Fair (remember, Vanity is full of those who believe they are just when they are not), Faithful stands up for his faith (because he is faithful) and is then killed for his faith.

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