Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

On the surface, End’s The Samurai is a brilliantly executed historical chronicle, capturing the flavor of life in seventeenth century Japan. One of the book’s purposes is to expose “the samurai” to the broad sweep of the world beyond his marshland home, and End succeeds in conveying Hasekura’s bewilderment and confusion at the sights and sounds of the larger world. He also manages to dramatize the process of adjustment that both Velasco and Hasekura undergo when they recognize the isolation of the human condition. Both men see the folly of relying on the institutions of this world, and both turn for comfort to Christ. The meaning of this act, however, is not the same for both men. While Velasco subsumes his egotism to something larger than himself, Hasekura achieves a personal autonomy apart from his role in Japanese society. The Samurai does not offer Christianity as the answer to problems, nor does it suggest that either Hasekura or Velasco genuinely emulates Christ. Despite the neatness with which he ends the novel, End is not suggesting that the two men achieve identity of purpose so much as that both the priest and the samurai renounce roles assigned them by their different societies. The cultures of Japan and Western Europe are not easily reconciled.

End clearly intends Hasekura and Velasco to be perceived as doubles. His initial presentation of the samurai in the snowy world of his marshland fief contrasts with his introduction of the priest in a closed, dark cell. Both men are seen in similar settings at the end of The Samurai, but Hasekura has gained awareness of the dark side of his culture while Velasco sees the light of Christ in submission to his fate. End clearly intends these motifs of light and darkness to function thematically in the novel, but they serve less as affirmation of a religious perspective than as evidence of the muted, tentative nature of the book’s resolution. The sympathy for the emaciated man on the Cross that Hasekura develops is hardly more an affirmation of conventional religious belief than is Velasco’s affirmation of his own existence. Indeed, the statements of both men come to little more than assertions of selfhood in an indifferent, if not hostile, world.