The Pilgrim’s Progress – Plot Overview

The narrator defends the story he is about to tell, which
is framed as a dream. He explains that he fell asleep in the wilderness
and dreamed of a man named Christian, who was tormented by spiritual anguish.
A spiritual guide named Evangelist visits Christian and urges him
to leave the City of Destruction. Evangelist claims that salvation
can only be found in the Celestial City, known as Mount Zion.
Christian begs his family to accompany him, unsuccessfully.
On his way, Christian falls into a bog called the Slough of Despond,
but he is saved. He meets Worldly Wiseman, who urges him to lead
a practical, happy existence without religion. Refusing, Christian
is sheltered in Goodwill’s house. Goodwill tells Christian to stop
by the Interpreter’s home, where Christian learns many lessons about faith.
Walking along the wall of Salvation, Christian sees Christ’s
tomb and cross. At this vision, his burden falls to the ground.
One of the three Shining Ones, celestial creatures, hands him a
rolled certificate for entry to the Celestial City. Christian falls
asleep and loses his certificate. Since the certificate is his ticket
into the Celestial City, Christian reproaches himself for losing
it. After retracing his tracks, he eventually finds the certificate.
Walking on, Christian meets the four mistresses of the Palace Beautiful,
who provide him shelter. They also feed him and arm him. After descending
the Valley of Humiliation, Christian meets the monster Apollyon,
who tries to kill him. Christian is armed, and he strikes Apollyon
with a sword and then proceeds through the desert-like Valley of
the Shadow of Death toward the Celestial City.
Christian meets Faithful, a traveler from his hometown.
Faithful and Christian are joined by a third pilgrim, Talkative,
whom Christian spurns. Evangelist arrives and warns Faithful and
Christian about the wicked town of Vanity, which they will soon
enter. Evangelist foretells that either Christian or Faithful will
die in Vanity.
The two enter Vanity and visit its famous fair. They resist
temptation and are mocked by the townspeople. Eventually the citizens of
Vanity imprison Christian and Faithful for mocking their local religion.
Faithful defends himself at his trial and is executed, rising to
heaven after death. Christian is remanded to prison but later escapes
and continues his journey.
Another fellow pilgrim named Hopeful befriends Christian
on his way. On their journey, a pilgrim who uses religion as a means
to get ahead in the world, named By-ends, crosses their path. Christian rejects
his company. The two enter the plain of Ease, where a smooth talker
named Demas tempts them with silver. Christian and Hopeful pass
him by.
Taking shelter for the night on the grounds of Doubting
Castle, they awake to the threats of the castle’s owner, the Giant
Despair, who, with the encouragement of his wife, imprisons and
tortures them. Christian and Hopeful escape when they remember they
possess the key of Promise, which unlocks any door in Despair’s domain.
Proceeding onward, Christian and Hopeful approach the
Delectable Mountains near the Celestial City. They encounter wise
shepherds who warn them of the treacherous mountains Error and Caution,
where previous pilgrims have died. The shepherds point out travelers
who wander among tombs nearby, having been blinded by the Giant
Despair. They warn the travelers to beware of shortcuts, which may
be paths to hell.
The two pilgrims meet Ignorance, a sprightly teenager
who believes that living a good life is sufficient to prove one’s
religious faith. Christian refutes him, and Ignorance decides to
avoid their company. The travelers also meet Flatterer, who snares
them in a net, and Atheist, who denies that the Celestial City exists.
Crossing the sleep-inducing Enchanted Ground, they try to stay awake
by discussing Hopeful’s sinful past and religious doctrine.
Christian and Hopeful gleefully approach the land of Beulah, where
the Celestial City is located. The landscape teems with flowers
and fruit, and the travelers are refreshed. To reach the gate into the
city, they must first cross a river without a bridge. Christian nearly
drowns, but Hopeful reminds him of Christ’s love, and Christian
emerges safely from the water. The residents of the Celestial City
joyously welcome the two pilgrims. In his conclusion to Part I, the
narrator expresses hope that his dream be interpreted properly.
In the Introduction to Part II, Bunyan addresses the book
as “Christiana,” which is the name of Christian’s wife. This part
of The Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of Christiana
and her children’s journey to the Celestial City. The narrator recounts
having met an old man, Sagacity, who tells the beginning of Christiana’s story.
She decides to pack up and follow Christian to the Celestial City,
taking her four sons and a fellow townswoman named Mercy along as
a servant. On the way, they cross the Slough of Despond but are
blocked at the gate by an angry dog. The gatekeeper lets them through.
Continuing on, the sons steal fruit from the devil’s garden, and
two ruffians threaten to rape the women, but they escape.
The pilgrims are lodged in the Interpreter’s house. The
Interpreter orders his manservant Great-heart to accompany them
to the House Beautiful. Mr. Brisk pays court to Mercy but soon stops courting
her because of her involvement in charity work. As a result of eating
the devil’s fruit, Matthew falls ill but is cured by Dr. Skill. The
pilgrims descend into the Valley of Humiliation and cross the Valley
of the Shadow of Death. They encounter the giant Maul and slay him.
After meeting the old pilgrim Honest, they take shelter with Gaius.
The pilgrims continue on their journey and kill the Giant Good-slay
then rescue the pilgrims Feeble-mind and Ready-to-Halt. They lodge
with Mnason. Crossing the river of life, they kill the Giant Despair
and greet the kind shepherds who welcome them into the Delectable
Mountains.
Christiana meets the great fighter Valiant-for-truth,
who accompanies them. They cross the Enchanted Ground and meet the
pilgrim Standfast, who has just spurned Madam Bubble, a beautiful temptress.
The pilgrims are welcomed in the Celestial City. Christiana goes
to meet her maker, the Master. The other pilgrims soon follow.