John Bunyan’s book, The Pilgrim’s Progress, is an allegory. Webster defines allegory as “the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence.” That’s a lot of words to say that the characters and activities have meaning. Bunyan’s meaning is not hidden, but sometimes a reader has to work for it. It’s not a true story but the story reveals truth.
The story is about a man named Christian and he’s on a journey after leaving the town of Destruction. Evangelist guides him to the Cross where the burden of his sin rolls off his back into a sealed tomb. (It’s an actual burden he’s carrying on his back.) Along the way he meets people who either help or attempt to obstruct his travel to the destination. The names of these characters reflect their inner strengths or weaknesses: Faithful and Hopeful as well as Pliable and Lord Hate-good. [I’ll tell you more about Bunyan’s characters in a later post.] Christian’s way is not easy; for while others may hinder him, he must also deal with his own faults and failings, such as pride and doubt. After a number of detours, Christian and his friend Hopeful reach the Celestial City. Soon to follow him are his wife, Christiana, and their sons (part two).
Examples of the allegory in the story line: Not far into his journey, Christian falls into the Slough of Despond. Perhaps we can relate to that situation when our determination gives way to a season of doubt. Being rescued by Help, Christian meets Mr. Worldly Wiseman who tempts him to take a shortcut by way of the city of Morality where he will be instructed by Mr. Legality. It’s the oft-repeated option (however wrong) of attempting salvation by works.
And that’s only the beginning. This thread of truth runs throughout the story and we can easily see our own story in Christian’s journey.