John Bunyan – “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (fragments)

After Samuel Pepys comes a man who in many respects is Pepys’s polar opposite: working-class, spent a big part of the Restoration years in jail, with apparently no time for theatres, chasing women or caring about his home decorations. But as we could see in the previous post, Pepys was in his own way a sincerely religious man, even though his flesh was notoriously weak. And only because Buyan did not describe his every hook-up in as much detail as Pepys did, can we assume he led a spotless life? Although taking into account how much time he spent in prison, he simply may not have had as much opportunity for sin. And Bunyan called himself “the chief of sinners” in the title of his autobiography, although that’s what every Puritan would have done, so we can’t really rely on that.

One characteristic feature of Bunyan’s writing is that he gives you book, chapter, verse for almost everything he writes. I don’t see that kind of intimacy with the Bible often nowadays outside of The Watchtower. Bunyan’s use of biblical allusions is also quite interesting: sometimes he just indicates where he lifted whole expressions from the Bible and put it in a different contexts, sometimes his text is like an illustration of the biblical passage, like when Christian is fleeing his sinful family and the biblical siglum sends us to the line in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tells his disciples you have to hate your father and your mother to be his disciple.

But from the start: the text is a throwback to the classical medieval dream vision, which begins with the narrator falling asleep and relating to the readers the contents of his dream. He sees a man reading a book, with a burden on his back and a book in his hand. What he reads in the book apparently disconcerts him, because he sarts to cry and ask “What shall I do?” He goes home and tries to hide his sorrow from his family, but finally he can’t contain it any longer and he tells them he has it on good authority that their town is going to be destroyed and they together with it. They first think he is just “tired and emotional” and tell him to go to bed, but when the next day he doesn’t change his views, they start to make fun of him or ignore him. During one of his solitary walks in the fields he meets “a man named Evangelist” who asks his about the reasons of his distress. He tells him that he has learnt from the book that he is doomed to die and then come to judgment, and he is neither willing to do the former or able to do the latter. Evangelist asks him why he is not willing to die, and the yet nameless man (later identified as Christian) tells him that he is afraid that the burden upon his back is going to drag him to hell. Evangelist asks him whether he sees a wicket gate but he can’t. Evangelist then asks him whether he can see a shining light, and when answered in the affirmative, he tells him to follow the light which should lead him to the wicker gate, and there he will be told what to do next. So the man runs toward it, putting his fingers in his ears so that he can’t hear the cries of his wife and children.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s