Pilgrim's Progress

Pilgrim's Progress Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Explore the role of dreaming and sleeping in The Pilgrim’s Progress.

    A good essay will note from the very beginning the critical difference between dreaming and sleeping. Dreaming, for Bunyan, is about seeing God's truth and communicating directly with God. Throughout the text, he reminds the reader that all of this he knows to be true precisely because he dreamed it. The fact that a dream happens only in a person's mind highlights the importance of the internal and personal aspect of pilgrimage. Bunyan also draws from the historical Christian tradition of dreaming, especially prevalent in the Old Testament. Bunyan describes sleeping, on the other hand, as blindness to God's truth. Christian loses his mark of election when he falls asleep, and other pilgrims that are asleep miss out on God's message. Bunyan describes pilgrims as awakening to the truth. This shift from sleeping to waking marks a transition between worlds and consciousness.

  2. 2

    Describe and Comment on the prisons that Bunyan depicts.

    Firstly, the essay should note that Bunyan wrote much of Pilgrim's Progress while he was in prison. That physical imprisonment served to reveal to Bunyan his own spiritual imprisonment, and he employs this same tactic in his allegory. Usually, the prisons in the text highlight some kind or personal limitation or fetter of the world that still weighs on the pilgrims. What is perhaps most notable about these different prisons is the way the characters escape from them. Faithful escapes from prison by martyrdom, for instance. He is liberated from the world when he is punished for his faith, and after his death, moves into his eternal life. Christian escapes from the prison in Vanity by means of divine intervention. His escape with Hopeful from the Doubting Castle is not much different. He remembers (by the grace of God, we are to assume) that he has the key in his bosom (which is to say, in his heart) to escape. On a broader level, the whole narrative is about escaping the prison of the temporal world for the kingdom of God.

  3. 3

    Assess the way that Bunyan communicates theology and other religious truth in The Pilgrim’s Progress.

    A good essay will delve into the multiple layers of theological communication in the book. First, there are the scriptural allusions and direct quotations that appear throughout the book. Given the importance of reading the Bible to the puritans, the frequency with which Bunyan invokes biblical texts is not surprising. Second, theologists take the written word very seriously, and there is no room for error in the communication of this information. For that reason, when Bunyan has a particular theological truth to communicate, he does so directly. Often, he groups his information in threes (a significant number in Christianity, which believes in a triune God). Another way that Bunyan marks the different register of truths, theological or doctrinal or otherwise, is by switching into verse. After each allegorical incident, one of the pilgrims sings something, and through these songs, Bunyan is able to impart and summarize certain truths.

  4. 4

    Explore and comment on the role of women and the way Bunyan employs gender roles in The Pilgrim’s Progress.

    The essay has a lot of material to draw from in the text. Firstly, there is a marked difference between the married women (with the exception of Christiana) in Bunyan's work and the damsels. The married women, (particularly Christiana's neighbors) are unenlightened and distract from Christian's work. On the other hand, the unmarried women, like those at the Beautiful Palace, are teachers and beacons of light and truth. These women are learned in matters of faith. Secondly, the essay should explore the tension between women as educated leaders capable of religious truth and women as weak followers. A large focus should be placed on the relationship between Christiana and her husband and Christiana and Mr. Great-Heart, who is her spiritual guide and protector. This essay will be strongest if informed by the historical role of women in the Puritan Church, which was rather complicated and sometimes contradictory.

  5. 5

    Consider the role of materialism in The Pilgrim’s Progress.

    Bunyan and other Puritan leaders of his time were particularly critical of what they saw as an excessively material world. Quite generally, Bunyan's prose tends to disparage the material and consumer world and exalt the spiritual and interior aspects of life. Puritan churches were mostly unadorned, and their leaders placed a great focus reading the Bible, as opposed to participating in elaborate rituals. Bearing all this in mind, it is interesting to note the material way in which Bunyan describes the pilgrims and the theological truths that attend them. For instance, drawing on scripture, Bunyan describes the Celestial City as encrusted in pearls and gems. Moreover, when Hopeful and Christian arrive there, they are given glorious and sumptuous white robes. A good essay will explore this tension between these schools of thought and say something about the nature and limitations of allegory.

  6. 6

    Many of Bunyan’s characters are very one-dimensional (as evidenced by their names). Do you think his characters would benefit from development? Or would that detract from the structure of the allegory?

    The names of Bunyan's characters indicate what kind of people they are without any need for explanation. Real people, on the other hand, are quite complex, particularly with regard to the interplay of their vices and virtues, a fact with which Bunyan would have been intimately familiar. A good essay on this topic might explore the balance between single character traits and the sheer volume of characters that Bunyan includes in the text. That line of reasoning might hold that Bunyan introduces almost two hundred characters over the course of the novel in order to cover the widest swath possible of humanity. An assessment of whether or not this is effective should be included in the discussion, particularly when considering Bunyan's intent.

  7. 7

    In reading The Pilgrim’s Progress, what is Bunyan’s view of Restoration English society? Consider his descriptions of class, government, the Church, and other Christians.

    Bunyan makes his critical views of the aristocracy and the English government quite clear over the course of the novel. Regardless of the scope of the essay, a large focus should be placed on Vanity, as a great deal of social commentary unfolds there. Some scholars suggest that Vanity represents London at the time Bunyan was writing, and that Lord Beelzebub represents the king. In Vanity, we see a typical Bunyan-esque depiction of the aristocracy as particularly immoral and malicious. When analyzing the religious climate, the dialogue between the pilgrims and figures such as Talkative and Shame are very telling. Bunyan was quite critical of the religious change occurring in England that, in his estimation at least, missed the truth of the Gospel.

  8. 8

    Explore the significance of Faithful’s death.

    Faithful's death occurs just after the mid-way point of the first volume, which was originally published as a stand alone book. His companion's death marks a momentous transition for Christian. After Christian takes up on the way with Hopeful, he assumes much more of a leader/teacher role. Moreover, Faithful is put to death by the government of Vanity, which likely represented Restoration London. The wanton cruelty and absurdity of Faithful's trial comprises a very powerful indictment of the seventeenth century powers that be. Finally, the essay should note that Faithful's death is the catalyst for Hopeful's conversion, and thus, was not in vain. Faithful is a martyr, and that concept is an integral one when thinking about Christianity.

  9. 9

    Consider the Evangelist and Mr. Great-Heart. How do their roles in the allegory parallel each other? How do they differ?

    The essay should start by exploring the physical presence of these two men. The Evangelist only visits Christian occasionally when he really needs help. Mr. Great-Heart, on the other hand, though he says he is only going to get Christiana and her fellow pilgrims on their way, actually stays with them for the entirety of their journey. His role in the group is also much more comprehensive than the Evangelist's. Great-Heart he is a teacher, a protector, and a guide. His character is the symbolic pastor of this traveling church. Meanwhile, the Evangelist really leaves Christian to fend for himself. The differences between these men are due, in part, to puritan gender norms, alluding to the fact that Christiana would have needed more guidance than her husband.

  10. 10

    Consider and comment on the topography of the pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the City of Zion. What is the deeper significance of Bunyan's depiction of the journey?

    There are many different things a good essay might discuss. Height is important in the book: Generally, one ascends towards godliness, while descent represents a weakness or failure. Light is also important. The essay might discuss the width of the path, the high walls and gates that keep the reprobate from following it. The width comes from scripture. There are many significant detours that present temptation to the pilgrims, particularly the detour to the Doubting Castle, which Christian takes because that way looks smoother. An essay might compare the fictional topography of the pilgrimage to Bunyan's real world (e.g. Vanity as London), and the world of scripture (e.g. the River and the River Jordan). Finally, the essay might consider the significance of the place names that Bunyan assigns and how they mark different moments in the pilgrims' physical and emotional journeys.