Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 615
Each of the protagonists in Deep River comes to India seeking some kind of fulfillment that they're missing in their daily life. As they all gather by the sacred river that carries the living and the dead, they're able to find an inner peace that they lacked before. Endo writes, "I believe that the river embraces these people and carries them away. A river of humanity. The sorrows of this deep river of humanity. And I am a part of it." There was a separateness that each character had, whether it was Isobe, who lost his wife, or Mitsuko, who never found fulfillment in anything. By visiting the river and coming to terms with their actions and losses, they're able to feel full and potentially have hope for the future.
Mitsuko, in particular, feels empty. She's a person who has hurt someone else—the priest she goes to India to find—to prove a point. Endo says, "At the core of her senseless actions, she vaguely perceived that she yearned for something. A something that would provide her with a sure sense of fulfillment. But she could not fathom what that something might be." She rejects religion and goes so far as to sleep with a religious man to get him to turn away from God. Everything in her life that should give her fulfillment does not. That's what prompts her to travel to India.
The characters learn about the nature of God during their travels. It isn't a clear-cut Judeo-Christian God but rather one who exists in many different ways and forms. Endo says,
I don’t think God is someone to be looked up to as a being separate from man, the way you regard him. I think he is within man, and that he is a great life force that envelops man, envelops the trees, envelops the flowers and grasses.
This lets characters who have never had religious beliefs or who have experienced skepticism get something out of a pilgrimage to a place where the faithful gather and hope to be healed. Though the characters aren't physically sick, they are all sick of spirit in one way or another.
Each character reflects on their changed thoughts and feelings. After his wife, Keiko, dies, Isobe realizes that he loves her more now that she's dead than he did while she was alive. While she was alive, he didn't notice her; he cheated on her. But when she calls out for him to find her reincarnation, he decides he has to try. That's why he goes to India. Isobe reflects,
When you were still here, Isobe thought, death seemed so far removed from me. It was as though you stood with both arms outstretched, keeping death from me. But now that you're gone, suddenly it seems right here in front of me.
Many of the characters are haunted by their memories. Kiguchi can't escape his past as a soldier. He saw many men die while they were in World War II, and another one of his fellow soldiers died after they returned home. The man met the wife and child of the dead man whose flesh he consumed and chose to kill himself. Kiguchi says,
On the battlefields in Burma, I always felt as though death was close at hand, and when I look at this gaunt statue now, I remember all the soldiers who died in the rain. The war was—horrible. And all those soldiers—they looked just like this.
The characters never forget what they've done or what they've had done to them. But they are able to better come to terms with their pasts thanks to their experiences in India.