The Pilgrim’s Progress( Vanity Fair ) Summary and Questions

The Pilgrim’s Progress – Vanity Fair


The Pilgrim’s Progress is a Puritan story told in the form of an allegory by the English author John Bunyan, published in two parts in 1678 and 1684. The work is a symbolic vision of the great man’s pilgrimage through life. At one time second solely to the Bible in reputation, The Pilgrim’s Progress is probably the most well-known Christian allegory nonetheless in print. Generically, thematically and structurally too, the work by Bunyan evades any type of specifications. You may call it an allegory, or even a theological tract within a framework of fiction.


Bunyan began writing The Pilgrim’s Progress when he was behind bars after the Restoration, and the first part thus written was published in 1678. Bunyan”s assurance in the validity of all his personal visions underlies The Pilgrim’s Progress, which he disguises as a dream. The second part was published in 1684. In the six years between Parts I and II, his confidence as a writer grew visibly. The text is so fresh and original partly because Bunyan knew no great fiction writers to copy. Early editions of his work were often on cheap and coarse paper, bought mainly by the poor. Bunyan thus had a hand in educating the class from which he himself came. The characters have no individual personality but are embodiments of moral qualities as illustrated by their names: Christian, Christiana, Great-heart, and Hopeful, to name a few. This might remind you of the naming of characters in medieval morality plays.

Generically The Pilgrim”s Progress is regarded as a prose allegory. Its full title is lengthy – The Pilgrim’s Progress from this world to that which is to come. The entire text is divided into two parts. The first part describes the religious conversion of Christian, and of his religious life in this world, his visit to the river of Death, and the Heavenly City which lies beyond it. The second part is concerned with Christiana, the wife of Christian, and their children. Like Christian, they also undertake a similar type of journey with a group of friends.

The plot structure is episodic and several episodes symbolise real-life experiences. For example, the episodes of Slough of Despond, the valleys of Humiliation and the Shadow of Death represent the different stages of despair and depression, spiritual despondency and terror. Christian is also confronted with the derision and anger of public opinion, symbolised by the Vanity Fair The full text and its symbolic implication will be explained to you very shortly.

At first sight, The Pilgrim’s Progress allegorises the Puritan faith. Christian and his wife Christiana belong to the Puritan sects, of which in real life Bunyan himself was a member. Historically, the Puritans were to undergo the toughest and severe punishments in the reign of Charles II. Yet, The Pilgrim’s Progress is much more than merely a dramatisation of the Puritan spirit. Because of its allegorical content, it may be related to the tradition of Middle English dream and allegorical literature, as we have already mentioned. These aspects make it closely aligned with the popular traditions of culture to an extent unequalled by any other major literary work of the period.

Another element of popular culture that Bunyan integrates and assimilates within the prose narrative in his use of the Bible, which was a popular household reading during the time. The significance of The Pilgrim’s Progress is thus multi-dimensional. Within its allegorical framework, its characters – abstractions and moral virtues or vices personified – are reminiscent of the medieval tradition of Morality plays. The pronounced presence of dream elements makes it comparable to other specimens of dream literature, chronologically both before and after Bunyan. In the introduction of dialogues in the lips of the characters, or the actions, reactions and interaction between and among different persons, and in specifying a distinctive storyline, The Pilgrim’s Progress is a work of fiction in its germinal/embryonic form. It is also part and parcel of contemporary popular literature by virtue of its unpretentious presentation of themes and easy, simple and lucid language.

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Important Questions

Q. What is the message of Pilgrim’s Progress?
Answer: The message of Pilgrim’s Progress is certainly one of perseverance within the Christian religion.

Q. What is the principle thought of the Pilgrim’s Progress?
Answer. One of the central themes in Pilgrim’s Progress is imprisonment and the next battle for liberation. Bunyan wrote the first part of the book when he was in jail, and due to this fact, the pilgrims’ battle for liberation from the temporal world is central to the text.

Q. Why is Pilgrim’s Progress an allegory?
Answer. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory; that’s, Bunyan makes use of names to characterize abstract qualities. For instance, Vanity Fair, Obstinate, Pliable, Help, and Faithful reveal the traits for which they’re named and the way they have an effect on Christian’s journey.

Q. What does Vanity Fair characterize in Pilgrim’s Progress?
Answer. Vanity Fair is a Fair of evil and a metaphor for sin in this work. Everyone on the Fair characterises some form of evil and opposition to God.

Q. What does Vanity Fair symbolize?
Answer. In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, fair that goes on perpetually within the city of Vanity and symbolizes worldly ostentation and frivolity or place or group as the world or trendy society, characterised by or displaying a preoccupation with idle pleasures or orientation.

Q. What is the moral or message of Vanity Fair?
Answer: Vanity Fair presents the reader with the query of what sort of behaviour desperation justifies. It further asks whether or not characters do acquire happiness and safety (or should acquire them) by being selfless and good, or by appearing in their very own pursuits. The novel also offers with themes of loyalty.


“Vanity Fair” is the best-known episode in The Pilgrim’s Progress. The popularity of this section can be measured by the fact that William Makepeace Thackeray, a major Victorian novelist, titled his most popular novel as Vanity Fair. In a lighter vein, Vanity Fair is also one of the leading international magazines that carries news of Hollywood, politics, fashion, high society scandals and so on! It seems interesting to probe why Bunyan chose such a name.

The universal acceptability of the particular episode may be attributed to different reasons. First, it is written in a language which is easy to understand and lucid. Even when the readers fail to understand the underlying allegory of the text, they do not, however, detect anything in the text which is abstract, or highly philosophical or mystical. On the contrary, Bunyan turns one of the most familiar institutions in contemporary England – annual fairs – into an allegory of universal spiritual significance. Christian and his companion Faithful pass through the town of Vanity in the season of a local fair that is great and ancient. It is called Vanity Fair, an occasion for trade-in tawdry products, and the worship of Beelzebub, one of the rebel angels against God in the army of Lucifer. At Vanity Fair, Faithful and Christian are mocked, smeared with dirt, and thrown in a cage. Given a chance to repent, they stay true to their righteous hatred of worldly possessions.

They are condemned to death for belittling Vanity‟s false religion. Faithful tries to speak in his own defence but is burned at the stake and carried off to heaven. Christian is remanded to prison but escapes later.

In this context you may now like to take into consideration the opening sentence of the given extract – “Then I saw in my dream, that when they were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them…” which situates the text in the tradition of Middle English dream Literature…

You are also requested to look at the title of the “Vanity Fair”. The dictionary meaning of the word vanity refers to the emptiness or worthlessness of the soul. It may also signify the worldly pride – the conceit. Thus the title “Vanity Fair” may be suggestive of the kind of fair where worldly men display or exhibit their pride and engage themselves in foolish and meaningless activities – the kind of activity which degrades and degenerates, corrupts and perverts their social habits and characteristic tendencies.

In the beginning, the author describes that the town of Vanity and the fair, which is located in that town are the contrivances of Beelzebub, Apollyon and Legion. It seems to resemble a large shopping centre, where, instead of consumable commodities everything that is sold is of mercenary, materialistic and morally depraved nature. They include such worldly items as “houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments.” In fact the wares at the fair embrace both non-human and human objects – “lusts, pleasures and delights of all sorts, as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones and what not.”

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It is clear from Bunyan‟s description that his theological intention is as much to uphold the theological context of the text as also its social perspective. The historical time to which The Pilgrim’s Progress belongs was the time of social restlessness, moral depravity with the men and women in the society engaging themselves in superficial activities, as the Puritan perception went. The flippancy and frivolity induced by the Restoration of the Royal Court of Charles II filtered down the social scale and affected the lifestyle and characteristic habits of the common people. This is being allegorically suggested by the scenes and situations, sights and objects at the Vanity Fair. In fact, the word “vanity” suggestively refers to flimsy social habits and engagements of the Restoration worldlings. It is significant to note that at the Vanity Fair there is hardly anything good or redeeming either in the persons who assemble there or in the nature of the commodities, arranged either for sale or consumption by the people. And to quote Bunyan, this comprises of “… whores, bawds… jugglings, cheats, … fools, apes, knaves and rogues” and also “houses, lands trades, places, honours, preferments…”

Bunyan”s social vision is not merely confined to the contemporary English context but also extended to the European reality. This idea is particularly embedded/ registered in the following paragraph:

“And in other fairs of less moment… with some others, have taken a dislike thereat.”

It is true that Bunyan is not a satirist in the strict sense of the term, but in the lines and passages quoted above, you will not possibly miss the unmistakable spirit of social satire.


Vanity Fair is overwhelmingly enriched with the Christian Puritan spirit. Now when we say “Puritan”, you must feel curious about the associational meaning of this particular world. The word “Puritan” is derived from the word “Puritanism‟. Therefore our task at this point is to ascertain how the prescribed text is reflective of the spirit of Puritanism.

The terms “Puritan” or “Puritanism” are mostly used in a narrow sense of religious practice and attitudes and in a broad sense of ethical outlook, which is much less easy to define. In a strict sense “Puritan” was applied to those Protestant reformers who rejected Queen Elizabeth”s religious settlement of 1560. This settlement sought a middle way between Roman Catholicism and the extreme spirit of reform of Geneva – the European city which became famous as the centre of the most extreme of the great Protestant reformers, John Calvin the founder of Calvinism. The Puritans influenced by Geneva and other continental centres objected to the retention of Bishop and to any appearance of what they regarded as superstition in Church worship. Apart from their united opposition to Roman Catholicism, Puritans disagreed among themselves on questions of doctrines and church organization – the principal sects being Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists and later Quakers.

Let us now cast attention to the meaning of Puritanism in the broader social and moral contexts. In this respect, Puritanism has always represented strict obedience to the dictates of conscience and a strong emphasis on the virtue of self – denial. In this sense, even an individual can be described as “puritan”, whether or not he belongs to the recognised Puritan sects, or even if one is an atheist. The Puritanic orthodoxy and conservatism, in general as opposed to any form of art or dramatic performance simply because the strict Puritan, in his intense love of truth, was much inclined to confuse fiction with lying. Thus Bunyan was criticized by some of his Puritan comrades for writing fiction in his allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. This could be an interesting way of reading the present text which is by an avowed Puritan!

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After having given you a very brief idea about Puritanism, we may now talk about how the spirit of Puritanism affects the text of “Vanity Fair”. In the course of reading the text of “Vanity Fair,” you have noticed how the fairground is filled with objects and sights, sins and evils of mundane worldly life. The entire description corresponds to the Puritanic belief that the man‟s worldly life is full of temptations. At every step of life, he stands vulnerable to temptations of all types, mostly moral and spiritual. But in order to achieve the ultimate or the final stage of salvation, man is to undergo this specific stage. Bunyan writes in this connection: “Now, as I said, the way to the Celestial City lies just through this town where this lusty fair is kept; and he that will go to the City, and yet not go through this town, must needs “go out the world.”

The Puritanic idea allegorised by Bunyan in this section of The Pilgrim’s Progress is simultaneously elusive and suggestive. It alludes to the Temptations of Christ in the wilderness, and also the temptation of St. Augustine, narrated in Soliloquies. The immediacy of the Biblical allusion apart, the descriptions are also suggestive of the universal pattern of human life and existence – the encircling flames of Temptation, man‟s attempts at overcoming them, his self-salvation, as he succeeds in the task of conquering the evil allurements of worldly life. According to the Puritan, human life represents the archetype of the pilgrimage and its progress towards self-enlightenment.

It has however been suggested that such a journey is neither smooth nor without any danger or adverse predicament. To the people around them, the pilgrims, who represent humanity appear to be strange and non – identifiable alien figures: “The pilgrims were clothed with such kind of raiment as was diverse from the raiment of any that traded in that fair. The people, therefore, of the fair, made a great gazing upon them. Some said they were fools, some they were bedlams, and some they were outlandish men.” The Pilgrims were also subjected to physical torture and humiliation, as Christ was before his crucifixion. If you look into the text, you will find these ideas substantiated: “At that, there was an occasion taken to despise the men the more: some mocking, some taunting, some speaking reproachfully and some calling upon others to smite them… But they that were appointed to examine them did not believe them to be any other than bedlams and mad… they took them and beat them, and besmeared them with dirt, and then put them into the cage that they might be made a spectacle to all the men of the fair …” The reference to such commercial terms as “merchandise” and “merchandisers” may stand for the commercialization of religion by the Catholic priests opposed by the Puritan Protestants.


The allegoric design of The Pilgrim’s Progress in general and of „Vanity Fair‟ in particular, never appears to be dull or monotonous to the readers for two reasons. First, Bunyan hardly uses any word or expression which is tinged with philosophic abstraction. Bunyan states everything in a simple and lucid manner. He narrates the experiences with the delightful gusto of a storyteller. Secondly, he dramatizes the narrative to capture the attention of his readers. The following passage may be cited to substantiate the statements:

One chanced mockingly, beholding the carriages of the men to say unto them, What will ye buy? But they, looking gravely upon him, said, We buy the truth. At that there was an occasion taken to despise the more; some mocking, some taunting, some speaking reproachfully, and some calling upon others to suite them.”


We should denounce and criticize The Pilgrim’s Progress as a dull and uninteresting text? It is true that the text has an obvious theological/moral/philosophical connotations. But Bunyan”s descriptive art, his technique and style of writing have hardly divested the text of its literary merit and sound aesthetic appeal. “Vanity Fair” itself is a microcosm of life”s macrocosm with all its variety, contradictions, oppositional and diverse, differential elements.

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