The author of The Pilgrim’s Progress is well described by Coleridge’s remark: “His piety was baffled by his genius; and Bunyan the dreamer overcame the Bunyan of the conventicle.” This remark points out the difficulty that Bunyan faces when he attempts to write a religious piece of work in the style of allegory. The Pilgrim’s Progress is “pious” because it is a piece written in dedication to God. It contains important religious teachings – what a good Christian should do and what he should not do. What Coleridge means by Bunyan’s “genius” is basically the story itself. The story is so well written that people become so interested in the story and forget the whole spiritual truth behind and this worry Bunyan. Coleridge also indicates in his remarks, the tension between “piety” and “dreaming”. “Dreaming”, as we know is unreal, and it can hardly be connected with “piety”. But Bunyan, through his “genius”, not only managed to bring these two things together, but in way that would be satisfiable to all.
The Pilgrim’s Progress is a Puritan story, and Bunyan chose to tell it in the form of an allegory. The characters, the objects and the events are presented in a symbolic way, so that the story conveys a deeper meaning that the actual incident described. A moral lesson is being taught here. The mixture of religious context and dialogue makes it more like a morality play (miracle play) which was very popular at Bunyan’s time. The story is written in ordinary prose, the language is simple, colloquial and down-to-earth. This appeals to readers of the lower class, who are poor and not highly educated.
Bunyan made an apology at the beginning of his book. He apologized for the fact that all he had wanted was to write a strict philosophical piece, but instead he moved to a totally different kind of writing, more like a play. People at his time indulged in plays and drama for purely earthly pleasure. This is opposed by the Puritans since it is regarded as a kind of corruption and that one could be extracted from the direction to God. But Bunyan justified that if these things are done for God, they could be accepted. The phrase “I have used similitudes” that appeared at the original cover-page of the book explains the use of similes, metaphors and other figures of language. God Himself also speaks in figurative language, not in plain language. Bunyan is going to use similitude to tell the Christians what they should do. It is therefore not for pure enjoyment to read this book. The aim of this book is to teach a religious lesson and ask people to learn from it. Bunyan went on to justify what he did by saying that God had allowed him to do so. He clarified that he was not writing to please anyone and that it should never be used as a way to show off one’s ability. He also reminded people that they had to interpret the Bible for themselves for God is not always clear in what he says.
The story opens as a dream and this is significant because it is the way that God speaks to his prophets. Bunyan somehow felt himself like a modern version of prophet and he is determined to write about his vision. The word “I” has been used at the opening of the story and all throughout, and this is significant since this “I” (the dreamer) can be anyone of us. There is a strong sense of individuality and interiority in it and we are thus drawn into the story and the mind of the dreamer. The simple question, “What shall I do?” provides the story with a powerful opening. The readers are attracted into wanting to know about his dream and in particular what this question actually means. The readers will begin to ponder on the question of why this man wants to be saved and what his burden really is. Bunyan lets the dreamer interrupt in the story from time and time instead of just telling the whole thing himself, this gives a sense that it is God, not Bunyan, who is in control of the story.
The story, as it moves on, becomes more allegorical. Bunyan enjoys playing between the ordinary daily language and the allegorical Biblical language. Bunyan allows the dreamer (or Christian) to be interrupted by different characters from time to time, this is to give the sense that the dreamer, like everyone of us, is always tempted to sin. The word “burden” has appeared a lot of times in the story and this is because of its importance. If you are to be a good Christian, you need to have a burden, this shows that you are on the way to conversion. The example of the “Slough of Despond” represents the dirt of mankind sin which keeps accumulating no matter what God does to help (for example by sending prophets and His Son). Another example is when Christian is about to cross the “Dark River”, he is sinking because he does not have enough faith. It is a sin, according to the Puritans, to despair. But Christian eventually overcomes this test of faith and manages to get to the Celestial City. Throughout the book, not only places are given allegorical names, the characters are also given special names in respect to their nature and the role they are going to play. “Christian”, the Pilgrim in this story, is an example of every man who wants to be saved in order to gain eternal life. Like every man, he faces a lot of temptations in his life and is always distracted from the direction to God. He finally overcomes all these temptations and finds his way to the Celestial City (Heaven). Christian has chances to meet many other characters in the story and he manages to speak to all of them. There are basically two groups of people: those who help him (such as Evangelist and Good-will) and those who try to distract him (such as Giant Despair and Flatterer). None of these characters, except two of them, Faithful and Hopeful, share any of his experiences.
The Pilgrim’s Progress is written in a form similar to stories of romance and chivalry. It is through these hardships that the hero (the knight) has to endure in order that he can be successful. And of course, this is what attracts the majority of readers. It is without doubt that the readers are going to enjoy the story while forgetting the whole religious teaching behind. Bunyan is well aware of this and therefore he remembers at the end of Part One, to remind his readers of his aim of writing this story. He asks them not to become too interested in the outside (the writings, the figures) but the inside (the whole spiritual truth). We, as the readers, have to keep in mind that Bunyan is not writing this book for sheer literary enjoyment, he is not in any way, a man of commerce. He is after all a preacher and his sole aim is to get people into understanding the whole spiritual truth behind his allegory. Still we cannot deny the fact Bunyan has done a great job, and that his “piety” is likely to be undermined. His book has become one of the greatest literary works of our times and this is because of his “genius”. And so Coleridge is right in his remarks: “His piety was baffled by his genius; and Bunyan the dreamer overcame the Bunyan of the conventicle.”