- New introductions commissioned from todays top writers and scholars
- Biographies of the authors
- Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
- Footnotes and endnotes
- Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
- Comments by other famous authors
- Study questions to challenge the readers viewpoints and expectations
- Bibliographies for further reading
- Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
Faith, Hope, Mercy, Envy, Ignorance, Guilt: These are not abstract concepts, but the names of vividly imagined, sharply drawn human characters encountered by Christian, the hero of The Pilgrim’s Progress. In John Bunyan’s seventeenth-century allegory of the soul’s search for salvation, each step along the way becomes a dramatic rendering of an inner state of the human psyche. As Christian journeys from “the wilderness of this world” to the glory of the Celestial City, he confronts a seemingly endless array of temptations, threats, and dangers, including the nearly irresistible allure of material splendor at Vanity Fair; the crushing psychological burden of depression and despair in the Slough of Despond; and the fear and uncertainty that eats away at faith in Doubting Castle.
This edition includes both the first and second parts of The Pilgrim’s Progress, which collectively reflect the feverish intensity of Bunyan’s religious beliefs. What remains significant is Bunyan’s ability to transform this intensity into an allegory that speaks to people of all faiths and all eras.
David Hawkes is Associate Professor of English at Lehigh University. His books include Idols of the Marketplace (2001) and Ideology (second edition 2003), and he has contributed articles to The Nation, the Times Literary Supplement, and the Journal of the History of Ideas.
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About the Author
John Bunyan (1628-1688) was an English writer and Baptist preacher best known for his Christian allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. He wrote more than 60 books and tracts in total. Buynan spent many years in prison because of his faith, and it was during this time that he began writing The Pilgrim’s Progress. Part One was published in 1678; Part Two in 1684.
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From David Hawkes’s Introduction to The Pilgrim’s Progress
To understand fully The Pilgrim’s Progress, we must remember that it was written in prison. Imprisonment is its major theme, and escape from prison is its primary purpose. Although Bunyan was without a doubt incarcerated in the literal, physical sense while he composed his work, he did not believe that he was truly in jail. He was convinced that, as Richard Lovelace had written in “To Althea, from Prison” (1642), “Stone walls do not a prison make, / Nor iron bars a cage,” and Bunyan echoed the sentiment in his own “Prison Meditations” (1665; quoted from The Works of John Bunyan, edited by George Offor, vol. 1, p. 64; see “For Further Reading”):
I am, indeed, in prison now
In body, but my mind
Is free to study Christ, and how
Unto me he is kind.
For though men keep my outward man
Within their locks and bars,
Yet by the faith of Christ I can
Mount higher than the stars.
As far as Bunyan was concerned, the real prisoners were outside the walls, in the world. The Pilgrim’s Progress aims to establish two deeply counterintuitive propositions: that its author is not in jail, and that its readers are. But while Bunyan argues that the world is the prison of the soul, he also offers us a way to escape from the world. The book’s subtitle, From This World to That Which Is to Come, indicates our ultimate destination, but the world “to come” is to be reached by a way not measurable in space or time. The pilgrim’s progress is not a literal journey along a physical road, but an exercise in semiotics: a reinterpretation of the world. As Stanley Fish puts it, Bunyan’s work teaches us that “the truth about the world is not to be found within its own confines or configurations, but from the vantage point of a perspective that transforms it” (Self-consuming Artifacts, p. 237).
In the course of his journey the hero, named Christian, learns to understand the world as an allegory. He comes to perceive his experience as a series of signs that point toward nonmaterial, spiritual referents, and this constitutes his liberation. But before he can escape from prison, he must become aware that he is in one. The progress toward an allegorical interpretation of reality is simultaneously a process of alienation from the mundane world of experience. The Pilgrim’s Progress shows us a man who becomes a stranger to the world, to the extent of rejecting empirical sense perception, as well as the laws, morality, and behavioral standards of society. The first lesson Christian learns after his conversion is that “Mr. Worldly Wiseman is an alien.”
Allegory has often been described as a suitable mode to represent the alienated, objectified character of worldly experience. This line of reasoning originates with Walter Benjamin’s seminal analysis of the genre in The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1928). Benjamin argues that allegory’s purpose is to teach us that the experiential world—the “carnal” or “fleshly” dimension, in Bunyan’s terms—is fallen into a disharmonious relation with its Creator: “Allegory itself was sown by Christianity. For it was absolutely decisive for this mode of thought that not only transitoriness, but also guilt should seem evidently to have its home in the province of idols and of the flesh” (p. 224). Plato had argued that, because the material world is transitory, it is also illusory, and to take empirical appearances for reality thus constitutes a philosophical error. But Christianity introduced an ethical dimension to this argument. From the Christian perspective, taking appearances for reality is not only erroneous, but also sinful, and in The Pilgrim’s Progress, understanding this fact is the first step on the way to redemption. This is a paradoxical operation, however, for the process of understanding that creation is alienated from the Creator simultaneously involves the recognition of another, spiritual, realm to which the carnal world points the way.