(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In Shsaku End’s Silence, when the rumor of Christovao Ferreira’s public renunciation of his faith reaches his former students, they refuse to believe it and determine to travel to Japan as missionaries to discover the truth for themselves.

The first part of the novel consists of letters written by Sebastian Rodrigues, one of the missionaries. Rodrigues tells of the immense difficulty he and his companion, Father Garrpe, face in attempting to travel to a Japan that is hostile to Christianity and has closed its doors to nearly all Westerners. They manage to find a guide named Kichijiro, whom Rodrigues instantly mistrusts.

Kichijiro’s story, which is gradually revealed in the course of the journey, is one of continual wavering in the face of persecution. Like Judas (or like Peter), Kichijiro is presented as having betrayed Christ and apostatized. However, he does agree to put the Jesuit missionaries in touch with underground Christians; after doing so, he becomes enormously proud of his role in bringing the priests to Japan.

The Japanese Christians have been without priests for six years, but they have managed to create a system for maintaining, as best they can, the structure of the Church and its sacraments. Rodrigues’s pride begins to grow as he speculates about his own importance to the continuation of Christianity in Japan.

At this point, government officials arrive in the village where the Christians live and demand that they send three representatives to Nagasaki for questioning. The usual means for determining whether villagers are secret Christians is to ask them to step on a fumie, an image of Christ, usually made of bronze and designed to be stepped on. By desecrating the image of Christ in this way, the people prove that they are not Christians or are rejecting their Christian faith. The representatives (one of whom is Kichijiro) ask the priests whether they should step on the fumie. Surprisingly, Rodrigues immediately tells them that they should trample on it. They do so, but the officials demand that they also spit on an image of the Virgin Mary. Kichijiro is the only one able to do so—he has, once again, apostatized.

The other two Christians are brought back to the sea near the village and are martyred there. Rodrigues likens the horrible silence of the sea to the horrible silence of...

(The entire section is 978 words.)

Silence Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

By the time End wrote Silence, he had become interested in studying the history of Christian missions in Japan, particularly during the period between the mid-sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries, when missionaries tried fervently to establish Christianity, only to be repelled by Japanese rulers. As End studied accounts of persecution and martyrdom, he noticed that little was said about those who were tortured and eventually succumbed to apostasy by the act of efumi, stepping on an image of the crucifix. End empathized most with these so-called weaklings who would live out their days suffering from guilt and loneliness. He was further fascinated by the Kakure (hidden) Christians, who ostensibly apostatized, but then persisted sacrificially in trying to keep their faith alive. Questions about how he would have reacted in the same circumstance led him to conclude that he, too, would have been among the weak.

This theological debate with himself gave birth to Silence. End concluded that all mention in the archives of the Christian missionary Christovao Ferreira ended when he apostatized; hence, it is not unreasonable for the protagonist of the novel, the Portuguese missionary Rodrigues, to do the same. However, many critics and Japanese pastors viewed End’s decision as heresy and questioned his claim to be a Christian. They questioned how a novel focusing on the silence of God when the faithful were facing torture and death could be justified. End was not surprised, seeing the criticism as evidence that the church was as yet unwilling to address his perceived tension between literature and religion, as well as evidence that readers...

(The entire section is 687 words.)

Silence Summary

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Silence is a well-crafted historical novel that dramatizes Christianity’s entrance into Japan and its near extinction in the early seventeenth century. During this time, the so-called hidden Christians were hunted down and forced to trample upon the fumie, a plaque symbolizing Christ, manufactured by their persecutors to facilitate their renunciation of their faith. Shsaku End tells roughly the first half of his story primarily through the correspondence of a young Portuguese seminarian, Sebastian Rodrigues, who journeys to Japan with two other students to learn why their former mentor, Father Christovao Ferreira, has renounced his faith in Christ. As the story unravels, End shifts to an omniscient narrator who reveals the slow and painful movement in Rodrigues, as he begins to understand the plight of Japanese Christians struggling to make this Western faith their own and eventually identifies with the outward apostasy his flock has performed.

A prologue begins the novel, explaining the circumstances of the Japanese missionaries in the early seventeenth century and the events that lead a group of Portuguese seminarians to investigate the reports about Ferreira. A renowned theologian and missionary, Ferreira had spent thirty years building the church in Japan when word arrived in Portugal that he had abandoned his faith. Three of his former students are baffled by this report and, wondering if it were not mere propaganda sent out by the Japanese or by their Dutch rivals, determine to discover why “their much admired teacher... faced with the possibility of a glorious martyrdom, has grovelled like a dog before the infidel.” Two years pass before the seminarians can gain approval from their superiors to embark finally upon a year’s journey to the shores of Japan.

They learn quickly the awful news of social upheaval, of the Shimabara revolt—which prohibits Portuguese ships from sailing to Japan—and they are forced to hire a Chinese vessel and the conniving, drunken Japanese guide, Kichijiro, a man Rodrigues immediately suspects is vacillating and unreliable, a shifty character not to be trusted. He later learns that Kichijiro is a “former Christian” who...

(The entire section is 901 words.)

Silence Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Rumor has it that the respected Portuguese Jesuit missionary Christovao Ferreira, the leader of the small, underground Christian community in Japan, has renounced his faith under torture and has cooperated with Japanese officials to expose the faithful. As a result, seven priests (three of them Portuguese and former students of Ferreira) decide to enter Japan secretly in order to exonerate the hero who had inspired them. Juan de Santa Marta, Francis Garrpe, and Sebastian Rodrigues travel to Goa, India, where they meet a timid, hesitant Japanese named Kichigiro; they seek his help in entering Japan. Juan de Santa Marta contracts malaria, however, and has to be left behind.

After a sea voyage, Garrpe and Rodrigues are left at midnight in the fishing village of Tomogi, near Nagasaki. There Christian Japanese hide them, introduce them to Christians from nearby areas, and receive from them church rituals forbidden in Japan. Rodrigues, disturbed at the plight of priestless Japanese Christians, travels to Goshima to meet more of the faithful; upon his return, however, he learns that Japanese officials have discovered the presence of Christians and that he and Garrpe must hide. The Tomogi villagers deny their Christianity, but the guards take hostages anyway; Kichigiro is among them. The hostages stamp on the fumie, an engraving of the Virgin Mary, as proof that they are not Christians, but the guards notice their hesitation and make them also spit on a crucifix and call the Blessed Virgin a whore. Kichigiro does so, but two villagers (Mokichi and Ichizo) refuse and, consequently, are subjected to the water punishment and die as martyrs. The prolonged torture of their deaths, as the tides rise to drown them where they are staked, is not what the two young Portuguese priests had imagined martyrdom to be like.

A further search by guards forces Rodrigues and Garrpe to separate. During this period of hiding, Rodrigues begins to fear that God’s silence...

(The entire section is 808 words.)