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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Kyushu (kyew-shew). Southernmost island of the Japanese chain, where the Portuguese missionaries land. Their entry at the foot of the nation suggests an interesting geographic resonance with the importance of feet and faces in this text. The island’s coastal villages are places where Christianity survived, but the faith of the local people is not one that many Europeans would recognize as Christian. Only such an isolated area could support this life. Far removed from the seat of governmental and indigenous religious power, the villagers use their landscape to hide their religious activities.

Their faith is at once simple and complex—a mixture of native folk beliefs and Western Christianity that is the cause of death (and perhaps eternal life) for many villagers and their missionaries. This duality is also manifested in the landscape, as the bounty of the seacoast itself becomes the setting for their hand-to-mouth existence, and the presence of such an immensity of water gives way to many instances of dire thirst throughout the text.

The villages are also places of trust and betrayal. While the missionaries trust the peasants and are trusted by them, Kichijiro, one of the peasants closest to the missionaries, eventually betrays them. When the lone surviving Portuguese missionary is led to Nagasaki, Kichijiro remains with him throughout his captivity, attempting to explain and justify his actions as he begs for forgiveness. The isolation of the villages allows Kichijiro his life: News does not travel fast, so he can remain, in effect, a double agent, professing his Christianity while subverting its spread in his nation.


*Nagasaki (nah-gah-sah-kee). City on the northern half of Kyushu, which can be seen as the “head” of the island to which the missionaries must travel after landing at the foot. In the seventeenth century, Japan closed itself off almost entirely from the outside word, leaving only Nagasaki open to foreigners. The missionary Rodrigues seeks his teacher, Ferreira, there, where both are gaijin (outsiders), in Japan’s city of gaijin.

Nagasaki is a center of civic and religious power where the formerly great missionary Ferreira has been sucked into the Japanese bureaucracy. He has turned his back on his faith but can still make himself useful as a translator for the government. Here, Western religious power has met the East and lost. Nagasaki represents not the triumph of Buddhism or Shinto, but the ultimate failure of Christianity. In this urban environment, the crypto-Christians of the villages are spared by the apostasy of their missionaries. Shsaku End suggests that the relative isolation of the rural villages may make it easier to persevere in one’s faith. When one’s faith must rub shoulders with faiths of those who do not believe, or indeed who are actively opposed, as in Nagasaki, the faith may quaver.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Beverly, Elizabeth. “A Silence That Is Not Hollow: The Mindfulness of Shsaku End.” Commonweal 116 (September 22, 1989): 491-494. Contrasts a Western focus in Silence with a Japanese focus and argues that, for Shsaku End, human indifference to the fate of others is a greater sin than being weak or cowardly.

Gessel, Van C. “Hearing God in Silence: The Fiction of End Shsaku.” Christianity and Literature 48 (1999): 149-164. Analyzes the concept of silence in the novel, exploring whether God is presented as silent or if God speaks through the silence in the novel.

(The entire section is 803 words.)