Silence Critical Context
by Shūsaku Endō

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Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Because so few of his lighter, more comic novels and his numerous historical and theological essays—works no less interesting and provoking than his other works—are available to Western readers, it is possible to form a view of End as a rather somber, overly moralistic writer. Certainly, if one knew only End’s interpretive biography, Iesu no shogai (1973; A Life of Jesus, 1973), and his historical novels, Silence and Samurai (1980; The Samurai, 1982), one would gain a distorted picture of both his range of concerns and his innovation as a writer. End has proved himself to be a master of light comedy as well as serious contemporary drama.

Certainly, however, Silence is rightly regarded as End’s major work and clearly has drawn the most critical attention and applause in the West. Silence dramatizes and authenticates the dismal record of Christianity in Japan, bitterly chronicling both the heroism and shallow ambitions of the missionaries who dared to invade the Japanese shores in the seventeenth century and the moral malaise of the Japanese themselves, who first welcomed the visitors and then condemned them to brutal martyrdom. End’s Silence has proved popular enough to be produced as a film, and it has also been adapted for the stage in a version titled Ogon no kuni (1966; The Golden Country, 1970).

End’s keen insights into the failure of Christianity to take root in Japanese soil emanate from his own childhood conversion to Catholicism, a Catholicism tempered by an education in France, where he was exposed to such Catholic writers as Francois Mauriac, Paul Claudel, and Georges Bernanos. End recognizes that as a Japanese Christian he is a walking oxymoron. His own faith, he candidly admits, has been a struggle against tradition and cultural identity. This clear sense of his novelistic task—and the problematic nature of writing religious fiction in irreligious Japan—has produced in Silence the most remarkable...

(The entire section is 489 words.)