Shusaku Endo is an outstanding Japanese writer. Silence (1966) and Deep River (1990) are two the most famous his works, which were translated into English and are well known to Western readers. The first novel was written in the beginning of his life and the second was completed closer to the end of his life. He is considered a novelist.
Shusaku Endo was a Christian; he was baptized at the age of 11. That is why, the most dominate theme in all his works is Christianity. Shusaku Endo also had taken interest in French Catholic authors. His intention was to bring Christianity to Japan.
He got his education in different universities and even majored in medicine. When time came for him to serve the Army, there was a war, which made Shusaku Endo wondered why people in Christian church are taught not to kill; he would have to kill if he became a soldier. It was not easy to be a Christian in Japan. From one side, he belonged to Japanese culture and it was inside of him, but from the other side he needed to understand what part of his soul is Christian. Thus, Shusaku Endo discovered Christianity in Japan in the novel Silence.
There are many differences between the western and eastern world and the author gave the reader a chance to see if these two worlds can be close or not. He addressed this issue in his novel Silence. The novel covers the events of the 17th century; the time when the problem of different religions was very acute and very often people belonging to different churches had controversial points of view on life itself. However, it is only a superficial meaning of this novel. Even the significance of the title itself should be discovered by a reader. The more people read this novel, the more thoughts about the meaning of its title appear. The main hero of the novel waits for the voice of Christ, but God is silent. The silence of Him is considered to be hidden in the meaning of the novel’s title. A Christian priest, who had to watch the tortures of simple people, needs the help of God. He faces a problem: he should either renounce Him and stop torments of people, or he must be stronger in his faith.
What does the silence mean in the novel and who is silent? These are the questions a reader should answer. It is worth mentioning that one of the most important problems in this novel is a well-known question of Hamlet -to be or not to be. Of course, Shusaku Endo viewed this dilemma from a different perspective; he saw the problem of choice from the point of view of his religion, which is not natural for Japan, but the substance of this problem is the same. Padre Rodriguez must make the choice himself. Considering this issue, the meaning of the title of the novel lies in the silence of God, who should help simple people through Padre as a representative of Him on the Earth. He should give relief of their tortures. It is the novel about religion and it is well known that if someone believes strongly, God always hears his/her prayers. Maybe Padre Rodriquez did not have enough faith inside and God could not hear him.
There can be more meanings of the title of this brilliant novel and each person reading it should find it on his/her own. There can be one more sense of the title. If the priest is sure about his faith and strong in all what he does, he should not brag about all he gives people around; he should live in silence and just do what he must. In any case, the one who speaks a lot is never respected by people, but the one who works a lot and does all in silence deserves praise and respect. Padre Rodriquez could achieve silence, which means that after some time of hesitation, he can become stronger in his faith and come to silence inside.
Padre Rodriquez is the main character of the novel. He used to be devoted to God and had strong faith. He was sure about himself in the beginning of his journey to Japan. He understood the difficulties of his mission, but reality he faced appeared different. To know about what you are supposed to go through is one thing and to go through that in real life is very different. Rodriquez saw and felt it when he found himself in Japan and realized that Padre Ferreira made a different choice.
He had a very complicated task – to bring absolutely different ideas of God to the country which had its own culture and religion. The author described Japan as a swamp where all ideas of Christianity dive and all efforts of pastors of western world and tortures of simple people can be useless. At the same time he described his main character as someone really brave and strong in his faith. The circumstances Rodriquez found himself in had to test his inner strength and, what is the most important for the author, his faith. There appears a question if any other person, even a priest of Christian church of that time, was able to go through the same trials. It is possible for a reader to try on the same mission and see whether the task is easy or not. Depending on the answer, it is possible to claim if Padre Rodriguez is a hero or not. It should be stressed that, like the whole novel, the figure of the main character is also controversial. It is impossible to find a definite answer to the question.
The antagonist of Padre Rodriguez in the novel is Kichijiro, who personified the image of Judas who betrayed Jesus Christ. It is possible to speak about spiritual journey if a person changes inside, if he comes to some other truth and begins to demonstrate different views and act in a different way. Kichijiro was a poor Japanese man; he was a coward and he thought about himself only. He can be called a foil of Padre Rodriquez. He changed his way of life, but he did not find anything different inside. He played the part of Judas and betrayed Rodriquez.
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It is also possible to find one more point of view on his betrayal. He belonged to the Japanese swamp, about which Endo spoke. This person embarked on an impossible mission trying to bring another religion to the Japanese society, which had its own traditions totally different from the Christian ones. Of course, it is not probable to think about Kichijiro as a victim of circumstances. If a person did not undergo any change in his inner world, no spiritual journey is possible.
The reader would not have a chance to see true features of Padre Rodriquez without the image of Kichijiro. He is the person who is impossible to rely on in hard situation. He does not think about anyone else but himself. There appears the problem of the choice again as Kichijiro made his choice as well. Someone can criticize him for it, but Christian values tell about acceptation of any person with all his weak and strong points. Rodriquez accepted and forgave Kichijiro for what he had done. He had to do it and to some extend it helped him to hear the God inside in the end of the novel as well as make the right choice from the point of view of the Christian ethics.
Shusaku Endo faced a serious difficulty in his life. He was a Christian in the Japanese world. This world had its own philosophy and own cultural traditions; it was full of ideas and notions which did not coincide with some Christian dogmas. He tried to solve the problem of existence of the Catholic religion in Japan. He took a Catholic Priest Padre Rodriquez from the Christian world and made him go to the completely different world to plant the seeds of his faith among Japanese people. In the novel Silence, Endo’s main hero faced many difficulties as well. His teacher Padre Ferreira had to renounce God. He could not watch how simple people moan and suffer from tortures and he decided in such a way to make their life easier. It is hard to judge if he was right or wrong, but from the point of view of the Christian religion, he betrayed his faith. The author called the Japanese world the “swamp”. This word means something ugly and something which can swallow all which fall into it. The author felt the same when being a Christian he had to live among people with other culture and other religion. Shusaku Endo wanted to show if it is possible to bring other rules of life into the world where all is already settled.
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The first question that Christian priests should answer is if it is necessary to bring all they believe in to people from another world. It is true that some people in Japan became Christians and the writer himself belonged to this church. The reader should see that life of Christians was hard, they were forced to renounce by means of physical tortures. Padre Rodriquez accomplished a real spiritual journey. He began the trip to Japan knowing about difficulty of his mission, but he could not imagine real problems he would face. In the end of the novel, he heard the voice of Christ inside himself and realized that he made the right and the most important choice in his life. Together with his main hero, the author made the same spiritual journey; if asked about rightness of the action of his Padre Rodriquez, he got the answer. However, the reader should find his/her own answer to this question based on his/her own experience, education and outlook on life.
The novel by Shusaku Endo raises many questions, but the most essential one is the freedom of choice for all people. The author showed the readers how hard it can be to make this choice, but having made it, any person should feel silence, which would mean that the choice was made correctly. The most important problem of all people is to find happiness and what means happiness for people. To my mind, silence in the soul indicates that a person is happy. At the same time, to achieve happiness people should make the right choice. Each person should find silence inside, which would denote confidence in future and would help to achieve the most important goals in life.