Silence Additional Summary

Shūsaku Endō


(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.)


(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.)