Allegory in ‘Everyman’ and ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’

Published: 2021-06-16 02:20:03
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Published roughly two centuries apart, ‘Everyman’ and ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ are two very different, yet highly similar pieces of religious literature. Laying a great deal of emphasis on “salvation through good works and sacraments” (Lecture), the late medieval play ‘Everyman’ is a profound piece of Catholic work with strong religious purpose. Everyman’s search for a companion on his journey towards death, and his encounter with different characters reflects on his moral views and attitude towards his religion. As a form of morality play, the plot is set to teach something about the human condition. Religious truths are thus dramatized in the play for didactic motives (Cicily). Unlike in ‘Everyman’ where God’s judgment for salvation depends on Everyman’s good deeds and the way he spends his life, the journey towards salvation in ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ is Christian’s individual and internal spiritual experience (Lecture). Any human deeds or status do not play a part in the attainment for religious salvation since salvation came from God’s grace and will alone.
Christian’s final achievement for salvation is a major expression of John Bunyan’s work as a piece of Calvinist literature. With strict predestination as the central Calvinist belief, salvation is only offered to the elect – those who were predestined for salvation, just like Christian in the story. As variant as their communication of religious meanings may be, ‘Everyman’ and ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ are highly similar in their literary forms – they are both allegories. Both texts employ the heavy use of symbolism in their allegory to help illustrate the coherent doctrines which is hoped to be express and comprehended through the literature (Cumberland). This essay will go on to explain and exemplify in detail, the ways in which allegory is used in ‘Everyman’ and ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’, and also the reasons for using allegory to communicate their respective Catholic and Calvinist religious meanings. To begin with, the names of the central characters in both ‘Everyman’ and ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ are the most apparent application of allegory in revealing their different religious intentions. Unlike normal fiction stories, interpretations of allegories need no argument as it is relatively unambiguous and straightforward. Readers and audiences can usually look beyond the literal meanings of characters, places and events etc. to derive the full and real meanings behind.
The point of reference for allegorical symbols is therefore clear and precise. Deducing from the name, Everyman in ‘Everyman’ refers to the general humanity – every man. He is the metaphorical representation of all human beings. Since death is a universal human experience and the Day of Judgment is also something that human beings would have to face eventually, Everyman’s journey towards his final reckoning is an allegory of every man’s search for salvation and the way to achieve it. Due to the symbolic representation of Everyman’s name, as readers and audiences read or watch the play, they are quickly able to relate themselves to the central character – Everyman, thereby, comprehending the religious message behind. At the same time, the allegory also serves to remind people of the religious view of the Catholic Church in Medieval England. In the play, Everyman is advised by Knowledge to “go to priesthood” as his remedy for damnation since the priest was the intermediary to God and also the holder of the sacraments.
Here, the emphasis of the importance of the Church as a medium in the road to salvation and gaining of eternal life echoes greatly with the religious view of the Catholics. Human beings are reminded to seek virtues in life and avoid vices in order to receive God’s blessing and achieve heaven (Everyman). Unlike ‘Everyman’, Christian, the protagonist for ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ do not symbolize the general representation of humanity. Christian allegorically signifies the chosen Christians who were predestined to receive the grace of salvation from God. As Calvinists believed in the notion of “sovereign grace”, humans are in the total mercy of God. God condemns all human beings for their sins but at the same time, chooses to be merciful to some – the “elect”, pardon their sins and admits them into heaven (Calvinism). In Christian’s pilgrimage to Celestial City, he enters the wicket gate and sets off on his journey. Along the way, he comes into contact with a lot of other different characters who either enter through an alternate route or at some other point on the path.
However, most of the people he met on the way fail to reach Celestial City. This mirrors the idea of strict predestination in Calvinism – entry into heaven is wholly due to God’s divine intervention and only those who fall under God’s “sovereign grace” are predestined to be saved from damnation (Calvinism). Human beings are granted and denied entry into heaven according to God’s own will, regardless of any human actions. Salvation for an individual was thus, in total dependence of God alone. Salvation was not meant for every man. With this in mind, the central character in ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’, Christian, consequently stands for the individual – the “elect” who is predestined to receive sovereign grace from God. Even though other characters may go on the same path as Christian, however, if they were not predestined for salvation, any attempt or action to save themselves from damnation was useless. The Calvinist notion of sovereign grace and strict predestination are thus clearly presented through the allegoric use of the protagonist – Christian. Simply put, as a form of allegory, the story and everything in the text bear an immediate reference to the religious doctrine the literature wants to exemplify.
Looking at ‘Everyman’ and ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’, the involvement of the individual in the process of seeking salvation is regarded as a significant expression of religious difference. ‘Everyman’ begins with a long monologue of God accusing all human beings of “[drowning] in sin” and forsaking Him (Anon 26). Human beings have become so blinded by “worldly riches” that they have forgotten the grace of God’s creation and salvation. Greatly angered, God summoned Death to bring the message of final judgment to Everyman. Without any chance of escaping or bargaining his fate, Everyman has to go on a pilgrimage towards his final reckoning. As we can see, Everyman is in a passive position over his own predestined judgment. This opening serves to remind the audiences of a number of Catholic beliefs. Firstly, the fact that all human beings have sinned and are in mercy of God is evident.
As mentioned by God, human beings lived lives of their own pleasures and commended to the seven deadly sins. Almighty and ultimately in control of judging a human being’s life, God holds final reckoning on every man. No man can design his predestination according to his own will. God was the be-all and end-all. Secondly, the transience of life and the crucial need for an individual to perform good deeds when he was alive is also conveyed. For Everyman, Death came to him without any warning or sign, like a sudden and uninvited guest, throwing Everyman off guard and arousing great fear for his fatal end. This helps to remind the audiences or readers of the unexpectedness and inevitability of death, and consequently, the essence to seize their time to do good and meaningful things.
As God is the creator of the universe, human beings are his creation too. Accordingly, everything one owns, including his life is borrowed from God (Cicily). In Everyman’s conversation with Death, this very Catholic belief is directly illustrated. Emphasizing that everything in the world belonged to God, it was not worthy to spend one’s life gaining more on goods and earning more money since all these were “but lent thee” (Anon 164). They were temporary. What human beings should seek for is life in the heaven. And the only way to achieve it was to cherish the moments in life to do good as this was the basis of God’s judgment when life ended. Therefore, the involvement of an individual, the transience of life and the important need for one to seek less on worldly possessions helps to bring out the important Catholic doctrine of mankind taking away from the world only what they can give but not what they have received. As for the individuality of Christian’s journey towards salvation is a highly sufficient and convincing projection of Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” as a piece of Calvinist work. Focusing on one’s individual conscience and the individual relation with God, religion, from the Calvinist point of view is a very private journey. Christian remained, throughout his journey, on his own. From abandoning his family, his home and all familiarity in the beginning, in order to achieve the ultimate goal of salvation, to overcoming the many obstacles he met along the way on his pilgrimage, although Christian had the company of a few different people along the way, his journey remained an internal expedition.
Christian’s solitarily not only echoes with the Calvinist belief of salvation as an individual spiritual journey but also the fact that the road to seek God was different for every man since salvation was achieved on one’s own. The very different experiences of Christian and Faithful go to show how unique everyone’s journey to salvation may be. At the same time, one can be reminded that the faith to persevere on one’s spiritual journey is crucial as well. Just like in the beginning of “The Pilgrim’s Progress” where Christian first started off on his journey to the wicket gate, his wife and children had cried for his return. However, Christian made no attempt to look back or waver on his decision. He placed his fingers in his ears, focused on his “new awaken duty” and ran on (Johnston). The temptation to stray from one’s responsibility – to seek salvation, is therefore easy and dangerous. In Christian’s pilgrimage, he faces numerous obstacles – the Slough of Despond, the Valley of Humiliation, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the Vanity Fair etc, and came across many different characters all bearing the risk and chance to drive him away from his original path. All the places and episodes are in fact allegorized to convey the fact that the stronghold to faith in God was important. To avoid pitfalls and dangers of potential risks, sights and sounds from the world had to be shut out. Only then can one to focus on the path to Celestial City, which leads to salvation.
The most important element in conveying their respective religious meanings in both “Everyman” and “The Pilgrim’s Progress” is the allegorical characters the protagonist comes into contact with. Searching for a companion on his journey towards his final judgment, Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin and Goods have respectively refused to accompany Everyman on his journey to death. Everyman can turn to no one apart from Good-Deeds who finally goes with Everyman to the grave. However, right in the beginning, Good-Deeds are “sore bound” by Everyman’s sins that she “can not stear” (Anon 486). It is only after Everyman’s confession that Good-Deeds became stronger to be able to accompany Everyman on his journey. Here, several religious meanings are conveyed. Fellowship, Kindred and Cousin are friends and relatives to Everyman. However, in the journey towards final judgment, these turn away from us as they do not bear responsibility for our damnation or salvation. The final reckoning is an individual matter in which no one else can help or replace you.
Contrastingly, Good-Deeds go with Everyman in his final judgment. Allegorically, this is important in conveying the Catholic notion of good deeds being an essential element in the final judgment. God cared about whether a person made good use of his life, the way he spends it and the good and meaningful things a person has done when he was alive. However, Good-Deeds by itself is nothing if a man was to be in the state of sin. Everyman’s Good-Deeds remained bounded to the ground even though Everyman had it in him. Through Everyman’s confession in the House of Salvation, he is freed from his previous sins and his Good-Deeds is released. This goes to show that the Church, symbolized by the House of Salvation is the intermediary for humans to reach God and be forgiven for previous sins.
The allegorized characters in “Everyman” thus help to convey important religious meanings. As for Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, the allegorical characters which Christian met along his journey to Celestial City also play an important role in conveying Calvinist religious meanings. Many of the characters like Faithful, Hopeful, Piety, Pliable, Obstinate etc, are in fact named after various adjectives and abstract entities which one can easily relate to when reading the novel. These characters act accordingly to the way it is named, thereby, easily allowing the reader to involve in the story itself. Allegorically, Christian’s journey to salvation is a personalized one but at the same time, it is also a personal journey for the reader. These different allegoric characters help to invite the reader to feel like Christian on his pilgrimage and also experience the nature of the same name. This reaffirms the notion of individual experiences in spiritual life. Since different readers can interpret the names of different characters differently. In both “Everyman” and “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, allegory is an important element in the conveyance of their respective Catholic and Calvinist religious meanings. The names of the protagonist, the role of the individual in the road to salvation and the various characters help to illustrate and communicate their different religious meanings to the audience and readers.

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