The Pilgrim’s Progress

The Pilgrim’s Progress

by

John Bunyan

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The Pilgrim’s Progress: Part 1: The Slough of Despond Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Two neighbors, Obstinate and Pliable, decide to force the man to return. The man—now called Christian—tries to persuade the two to flee with him. Obstinate refuses, thinking Christian is crazy, but Pliable is intrigued and decides to accompany Christian to the Wicket-gate. Obstinate storms back home.
Obstinate and Pliable symbolize the world’s various reactions to a Christian’s departure from its ways—either stubbornly resistant or willing to listen (at least initially).
Themes
The Burden of Sin and Salvation through Christ Theme Icon
The World vs. Christianity Theme Icon
Christian and Pliable continue on their way, and Pliable asks Christian to tell him more about where they’re headed—can Christian’s book be trusted? Christian says yes, because it’s God’s book, and God cannot lie. He tells Pliable about the everlasting life, angelic company, and many thousands of souls that await them in heaven, according to his book. The Governor of that heavenly land freely gives these things to whomever asks him. Pliable is glad and wants to move faster; Christian explains he can’t, because of the burden on his back.
Pliable seems receptive to Christian and to the book—implied to be the Bible—at first. Christian’s trust in the Bible is based on his belief that it is God’s word. In particular, the Bible reveals the truth about eternal life in Heaven, which is granted by its Governor (Christ) to those who seek it. Christian’s burden, symbolizing his sin and guilt, keep him from getting to the Wicket-gate as quickly as he’d like.
Themes
The Burden of Sin and Salvation through Christ Theme Icon
The World vs. Christianity Theme Icon
Obstacles on the Journey Theme Icon
The Centrality of the Bible Theme Icon
While crossing a plain, Christian and Pliable suddenly fall into a miry bog. This place is called the Slough of Despond. They both struggle in the mud, and Christian begins to sink because of his burden. Pliable gets angry; this isn’t the happy journey Christian had promised him. He fights his way out of the bog and returns home.
Here, Christian encounters his first major obstacle on the way to Heaven. The Slough symbolizes the struggles that conviction of sin often brings with it—hence why Christian’s burden makes him sink deeper. For his part, Pliable turns back from the pilgrimage as soon as it becomes difficult in the slightest, which is a common “worldly” reaction. The Slough of Despond is said to be based on Squitch Glen, a bog near Bunyan’s home.
Themes
The Burden of Sin and Salvation through Christ Theme Icon
The World vs. Christianity Theme Icon
Obstacles on the Journey Theme Icon
Christian, however, keeps struggling in the direction of the Wicket-gate. Eventually a man named Help appears and pulls Christian out of the Slough. When Christian asks Help why nobody has gotten rid of this dangerous bog, Help explains that it can’t be removed—the “filth,” or fears and doubts that accompany conviction of sin, naturally accumulate here.
Though Christian’s struggle in the bog is harder than Pliable’s, he is also more determined to reach the Gate. Doubt and fear are common experiences for those who are struggling with their sins, and Help suggests that facing such obstacles is inevitable in the quest for salvation—hence why the bog remains.
Themes
The Burden of Sin and Salvation through Christ Theme Icon
Obstacles on the Journey Theme Icon
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