The Pilgrim's Progress By John Bunyan Summary and Analysis Part 1: Section 7 - Vanity Fair

Summary

Emerging from the wilderness, Christian and Faithful see before them a town they must enter because the Holy Way passes through it. It is an ancient town named Vanity Fair, where, all year round, such merchandise is bought and sold "as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts, as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not." At all times, one can see "jugglings, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, rogues, and that of all sorts," as well as, "and that for nothing, thefts, murders, adulteries, false-swearers, and that of a blood-red color."

Entering the town, the two Pilgrims cause quite a stir. Their dress is different from that of the townspeople, and they speak a language ("the language of Canaan") that is not understood. They are plainly "outlandish men" (foreigners), and are put down as fools or "bedlams" (madmen). But what particularly irks the townspeople is their attitude toward the goods displayed at the fair. When called to look at them, they turn away, putting their fingers in their ears and crying out, "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity" (Ps. 119:37). When mockingly asked what they might be interested in buying, they "gravely" reply, "We buy the Truth" (Prov. 23:23). A crowd gathers to taunt and revile them, "some calling upon others to smite them," which leads to a great hubbub and the arrest of the Pilgrims for disturbing the peace. After being questioned, they are severely beaten and locked up in an iron cage to be made a spectacle to the multitude, being for some time "the objects of any man's sport, or malice, or revenge."

Under these trying circumstances, Christian and Faithful conduct themselves so "very wisely and soberly" that some of the townspeople begin to sympathize with them and urge their release. This splits the town into two factions which soon clash in the streets, creating another hubbub. The prisoners, though they have done nothing, are held responsible for this, too, and the authorities decide to bring them to trial on charges that they are "enemies to and disturbers of their trade; that they have made commotions and divisions in the town, and had won a party to their own most dangerous opinions in contempt of the law of their prince."

Faithful is the first to be called before the judge, Lord Hate-good. When allowed to speak in his own defense, he declares himself to be a man of peace, bound on an innocent journey to the Celestial City; as for the prince of the place, "since he is Beelzebub, the enemy of our Lord, I defy him and all his angels." To testify against him, three witnesses are brought forward — Envy, Superstition, and Pickthank. Swearing falsely, Envy testifies that he has long known Faithful, that he has always been a troublemaker, persistently denouncing the laws and customs of the town; Superstition, that he had heard Faithful say that all in Vanity Fair were damned because their "religion was naught"; Pickthank, that he was well ac-quainted with the defendant, who railed continuously against "our noble Prince Beelzebub and . . . his honorable friends, . . . Lord Old Man, Lord Carnal Delight, Lord Luxurious, Lord Desire of Vainglory, my old Lord Lechery, Sir Having Greedy, with all the rest of our nobility." Turning toward Lord Hate-good, he adds that Faithful "hath not been afraid to rail on you, my Lord, who are now appointed to be his judge, calling you an ungodly villain, with many other such-like vilifying terms." The jury, having heard the false witnesses and Faithful's reply, retires to discuss what should be done.

"I see clearly that this man is a heretic," says Mr. Blind-man, foreman of the jury.

"Away with such a fellow from this earth," cries Mr. No-good; Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, and Mr. Live-loose agree.

"Hang him, hang him!" exclaims Mr. Heady.

"A sorry scrub," says Mr. High-mind.

"Hanging is too good for him," Mr. Cruelty insists.

After Mr. Liar and other jurors have expressed similar views. Mr. Implacable sums up: "Let us forthwith bring him in guilty of death."

Judge Hate-good is only too happy to order that Faithful be executed in accord with the laws of the land. He is first scourged, "then they buffeted him, then they lanced his flesh with knives; after that they stoned him with stones, then pricked him with their swords and, last of all, they burned him to ashes at the stake. Thus came Faithful to his end." But this was only his earthly end, as Evangelist had prophesied. For unseen by any, "there stood behind the multitude a chariot and a couple of horses, waiting for Faithful, who (so soon as his adversaries had dispatched him) was taken up into it and straightway was carried up through the clouds, . . . the nearest way to the Celestial City."

For some unexplained reason, Christian is not brought to trial and, after a time, "escapes" and is on his way again — but not alone, for he is joined by Hopeful, a native of Vanity Fair, who had been so impressed by the Pilgrims' words and behavior during their sufferings that he decided to become a Pilgrim himself. And many more in Vanity Fair would follow his path in due time, Hopeful tells Christian, who is pleased to have helped break the power of Beelzebub.

Christian and his new companion have not gone very far when they catch up with a man known as By-ends, from the town of Fair-speech. His is a nickname, given to him because he is shifty, always with an eye out for a good bargain, a "by-end." Fair-speech is a wealthy place, and By-ends boasts of his fine connections there. His wife is the daughter of Lady Feigning, and he is on the best of terms with "my Lord Turnabout, my Lord Time-server, . . . also Mr. Smooth-man, Mr. Facing-bothways, Mr. Anything; and the parson of our parish, Mr.Two-tongues, . . . my mother's own brother by father's side."

Questioned about his beliefs, By-ends replies; "'Tis true we somewhat differ in religion from those of the stricter sort, yet but in two small points: First, we never strive against wind or tide; secondly, we are always most zealous when religion goes in his silver slippers; we love much to walk with him in the street if the sun shines, and the people applaud him."

Christian and Hopeful tell him that if he wants to go along with them, he must strive against wind and tide, and "own religion in his rags, as well as when in his silver slippers, and stand by him, too, when bound in irons." Saying that he will not desert his old principles, "since they are harmless and profitable," By-ends drops behind and there meets three old friends, Mr. Hold-the-World, Mr. Money-love, and Mr. Save-all. All of them had been students of "one Mr. Gripe-man, a schoolmaster in Love-gain, . . . in the county of Coveting," who had "taught them the art of getting either by violence, cozenage, flattery, lying, or by putting on a guise of religion." They were such apt pupils that "they could, each of them, have kept such a school themselves."

Discussing By-ends' sin in making "religion a stalking-horse to get and enjoy the world" — the sin of heathens, "the hypocritical Pharisees" "Judas the devil," "Simon the witch," and others — Christian and Hopeful come to a "delicate plain" called Ease, where they do not stop, and go on to "a little hill called Lucre, and in that hill a silver mine." A certain Demas appears and invites them to come over, saying that with a little digging, they can richly provide for themselves. Hopeful suggests having a look, but Christian objects. As they go on their way, they look behind and see By-ends and his friends accept Demas' invitation and turn off toward the silver mine. "Now whether they fell into the pit by looking over the brink thereof, or whether they went down to dig, or whether they were smothered by the damps that commonly arise," Christian and Hopeful never knew, but the By-ends' party they never saw again on the Holy Way.

Analysis

In describing Vanity Fair, Bunyan had only to call to mind what he had seen at small annual county fairs and particularly at the large and renowned year-round fair held at Stourthridge, near Cambridge. Here, as a contemporary noted, "the shops or booths are built in rows like streets, having each its name: as Garlick Row, Booksellers' Row, Cook Row, etc. Here are all sorts of traders who sell by wholesale or retail . . . Here is a court of justice [a "Court of Piepowder," from Pieds Pouldreux, dusty feet) open from morning till night . . . Here are also taverns, coffee-houses, and eating-houses in great plenty . . . These mercantile fairs are very injurious to morals."

Similarly at Vanity Fair, as Bunyan depicts it, "there are the several rows and streets under their proper names . . . Here is the Britain Row, the French Row, the Italian Row, the Spanish Row, the German Row . . . But as in other fairs, some one commodity is as the chief of all the fair, so the ware of Rome [the Roman Catholic Church] and her merchandise is greatly promoted in this fair. Only our English nation, with some others, have taken a dislike thereat."

In this last paragraph, out of his deep Protestant aversion to the Roman Church and his desire to make a point against it, Bunyan gets a bit mixed up about the character of Vanity Fair. Beelzebub, prince of the fair, is bent on destroying all Christians, no matter what their creed, and it is therefore quite out of character to represent him as allowing the "ware of Rome" to be "greatly promoted" at his fair.

Subconsciously, Bunyan was equating the pope with Beelzebub, which was doctrinaire and un-Christian. It should be added, however, that Bunyan, for his day, was far more tolerant than most preachers of the Word. He excommunicated, so to speak, only Roman Catholics and Quakers, the latter because they often heckled him when he was preaching on a village green.

When Bunyan came to portraying Lord Hate-good, the arbitrary judge at Faithful's trial, he no doubt had in mind Sir John Kelyne and the other judges who had kept him in jail for so many years. He could present the procedures of the trial realistically out of his own experience as a defendant Bunyan's use of realistic detail here and throughout the book sharpens his allegory. As pointed out by the novelist C. S. Lewis, it is an "error to suppose that in an allegory the author is 'really' talking about the thing that symbolizes; the very essence of the art is to talk about both." The introduction of Hopeful, the refugee from Vanity Fair, enables Bunyan to draw a moral: "Thus one died to make testimony to the truth, and another rises out of his ashes to be a companion with Christian in his pilgrimage." With Hopeful, Christian does not raise the point, as he did with others, that he should have come in at the Wicket Gate, the only proper entrance to the Holy Way. It should also be noted that Hopeful, quite ignorant of Christianity as one of Beelzebub's subjects, proves to be a remarkably apt convert. He is immediately talking the "mysteries" of Christian doctrine with ease, quoting from the Bible and alluding to it almost as learnedly as Christian.

After Vanity Fair, the long silver mine incident, involving By-ends and his friends, comes as something of an anticlimax. Both deal with the evils of "lucre," and Vanity Fair makes the point better.

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