Pilgrim's Progress

Pilgrim's Progress Summary and Analysis of Part II, Section III


Having come thus far, Mr. Great-Heart leads Christiana and company to the Beautiful Palace. Mr. Great-Heart tells them that he will now leave them to return to the Interpreter's house, as his Lord only tasked him with bringing them this far. Watchful the porter rings the bell so that the pilgrims can enter the Palace. Though weary, they feast on a supper of lamb and fall asleep to the joyful sound of music. The next morning, Christiana asks Mercy why she was laughing in her sleep. Mercy shares that she dreamt that an angel came down and brought her to heaven, and she thought she saw Christian there. Christiana believes that dreams are messages from God himself. After the pilgrims have decided to stay at the palace for the next month, one of the maids, Prudence, asks Christiana for permission to quiz her sons on their catechism. We learn their names are James, Joseph, Samuel, and Matthew. Prudence quizzes each boy and is subsequently impressed by the education their mother has given them. She encourages them to keep listening to their mother, and offers them further religious education during their stay in the palace.

After the pilgrims have been at the Beautiful Palace for a week, a man named Mr. Brisk tries to woo Mercy, thinking her a good housewife. The other women in the house know of him, and they tell her that he only pretends to be religious (250). Mercy heeds their advice and rejects his overtures. Prudence warns Mercy that Mr. Brisk might slander her as a result, but Mercy is strong in her decision to refuse him. She vows that she will not compromise her principles for any man, even if it means she dies an old maid. Mercy tells the story of her sister, Bountiful, who married a without good values, and after many arguments, he threw her out.

While they are still at the palace, Matthew, Christiana's oldest son, falls ill. Mr. Skill, a doctor, comes to see him, and they discover his illness is from the forbidden fruit he ate at the beginning of their pilgrimage. Because the fruit came from Beelzebub's orchard, it has been poisoning Matthew from within. If he does not purge, he will die. Unfortunately, Matthew is too weak to do so, and so the Doctor makes some pills for the boy, which he must take "three at a time fasting, in half a quarter of a pint of the tears of Repentance" (253). Christiana purchases several boxes of these pills, which the doctor says cure all the diseases that a pilgrim might face. When Matthew is feeling better, he peppers Prudence with questions about topics ranging from nature, to psychics, to candlelight. Through her pious answers, Prudence helps augment the young boy's understanding of the faith.

Around the time when they are getting ready to depart the palace, Joseph reminds Christiana to ask the Interpreter whether Mr. Great-Heart might join them on the rest of their journey. She sends for him. Before the company of pilgrims takes to the road, the damsels at the palace show them the apple that Eve bit and Jacob's Ladder carrying angels to heaven. They give Christiana a Golden Anchor in case she meets with turbulent weather and finally, take the group to see the place where Abraham almost sacrificed his son, Isaac.

Mr. Great-Heart arrives at the palace with fruit and wine, and the pilgrims set out on their way, joined by Piety and Prudence. As they get down the Valley of Humiliation, Mr. Great-Heart explains that pilgrims are often afraid of the Valley of Humiliation, but it is not a haunted place, it's actually quite beautiful. However, other pilgrims fail to recognize that 'it is for the fruit of their doing that such things do befall them there" (268). He explains that the Lord had a country-house in this valley, as it is peaceful and removed from the confusion of everyday life. Mr. Great-Heart shows them a pillar which warns them of Christian's slips going down the hill into the valley. He then shows the boys the place where Christian had fought Apollyon, and they all experience a sense of grace in that hallowed spot.

Having passed safely through the Valley of Humiliation, the pilgrims now enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, which is filled with the sound of painful groaning. They are quite afraid in the valley, James in particular. His mother gives him the pills that Mr. Skill gave them, as well as the spirits the Interpreter gave her. Very afraid, they continue on with Mr. Great-Heart, through the darkness, the fire, the smoke, the terrible smells, and the fiends. Joseph reminds every one that this experience will make them all appreciate the comfort of their own homes. They are stopped by a giant named Maul who tries to accuse Mr. Great-Heart of kidnapping women and children. They duel, and after an hour, Mr. Great-Heart is victorious. The pilgrims fasten the giant's head on an inscribed pillar before successfully crossing the valley.


Christiana’s stay at the Beautiful Palace provides an additional insight into Puritan gender roles. She and her party are identified by their relation to Christian. The damsels in the palace welcome and host her not because of who she is, but because of who she is married to. Underscored here is that whatever relative advantages Puritan women had in terms of education and literacy, they were expected to maintain the traditional gender role of female subservience.

Once the group of pilgrims have entered the palace, the scope of the welcome moves beyond Christiana’s husband, and they are announced as “vessels of the Grace of God” (244). This conception of the human as a vessel for God’s grace is a very Lutheran construction, and its usage here is evidence of the considerable influence of Luther on Bunyan. Literarily speaking, it is an interesting use of metaphor that highlights the body/soul duality particularly well in that it conceives of the body as a vessel, a shell, in which the soul, or God’s Grace, can exist. The two are distinct entities that can be tied together by piety.

Not long after the PIlgrims' arrival at the palace, Mercy has a dream. Though the contents of her dream are symbolically rich, if rather unimportant to the plot itself, it is the fact that she dreams at all which is interesting from a literary point of view. At first, Mercy does take the value and potential of the dream seriously. Christiana sets her straight (see an analysis of her speech in the Quotes section of this guide), and Mercy soon comes to realize the importance of what she has seen in her subconscious. This moment is one of those instances in the text where Bunyan seems to be speaking directly to his readers in a veiled way. Christiana’s speech about the value of dreams lends authority to the whole text, which is “in the similitude of a dream” (this is also part of the extended title of the book).

Also at the Beautiful Palace it is important to note the catechism quiz that Prudence gives to each of Christiana’s sons. Prudence’s questions move very straight-forwardly through the catechism, which comprises the basic tenets of the Christian faith. On the whole, the tone of the second part of the The Pilgrim’s Progress is, if possible, even more didactic than the first. This fact makes a good deal of sense, as Bunyan wrote the second volume to address specifically the points of Christian faith that he did not feel he had adequately represented in the first volume.

Mercy’s resolution to put her faith and her principles ahead of conjugal felicity is another important episode that takes place at the Beautiful Palace (251). She feels (in line with Bunyan's own beliefs) that her role as a bride of Christ is more important than a temporal marriage (this idea in the Puritan church has a scriptural basis in 1 Corinthians). She describes the sorry fate of her sister, who serves as a foil to Mercy herself, as proof of her sound reasoning. Mercy's sister stuck to her principles, which annoyed her husband, and he ended up “crying her down at the Cross” (251). Hawkes notes that this phrase refers to a seventeenth-century practice in which a husband could legally sell his wife at the market under certain circumstances (362-363). Mercy has clearly learned from her sister’s experience and vows not to make the same mistake.

It is while they are staying at the Beautiful Palace that the devil’s fruit finally rears its ugly head. Matthew falls ill, and the doctor avows that he must be purged or he will die. The meaning of such a statement is not heavily obscured; Bunyan means to tell his readers that they will die (and not have everlasting life) if they do not purge their souls of the evil within. Once again, Bunyan creates a physical manifestation of a spiritual condition .

After Matthew’s brush with death, he poses a series of additional questions to Prudence about the religious symbolism of seemingly ordinary things, like clouds, and vomit, and candle flames (255). There are two points of importance here. The first is that Prudence, the woman, is the one with the answers for Matthew, the child (though he is very nearly a man). Once again, the Puritan traditions of gender is prominent. The second point speaks to the power and ubiquity of religious metaphors. Prudence shows Matthew that even the most mundane occurrence or object can be an occasion to reflect on the saving power of God’s grace.

Whereas the passage through the Valley of Humiliation and the Valley of the Shadow of Death were quite momentous for Christian, they are relatively uneventful for Christiana, her sons, and Mercy. Mr. Great-Heart leads them through these obstacles unscathed. It is important to note the allusion to Hercules, a great figure Greek mythology, Hercules (264), and the monument to Christian’s battle with Apollyon. Like Christian, the band of pilgrims is quite frightened in the Valley of the Shadow Death, but they overcome their fear with prayer. James becomes physically ill because of his fear, providing yet another example of the fluid boundary between spiritual and material in the text, and the mapping of one by means of the other. Christiana shows a particularly maternal side in the Valley as she tends to James, and her role as a woman and a caregiver is further clarified.

The pilgrims' final encounter in the section is with the gaint Maul, who says he tricks pilgrims with sophistry. He demonstrates his methodology, trying to convince the pilgrims that Great-Heart has kidnapped them. Great-Heart attacks the monster with his sword, and their battle is over an hour long. That Great-Heart attacks and wins can be seen as a victory for truth over falsehood, but the length of the battle communicates to readers the difficulty of dismantling and vanquishing arguments that appear to have some credence. As Bunyan had many critics, many of whom had arguments that were, on some level, grounded, it was especially important for Bunyan to make his readers understand the danger of being taken in by these lies.