Discussion Questions for Silence, by Shusaku Endo
1. What type/genre of writing is the prologue? What about chapter one? What’s the difference in tone/content types and what can we learn from them?
2. In chapter 1, Rodrigues discusses Kichijiro’s “cunning” and “weakness of character.” Garrpe even asks Kichijiro, “Are you really a Japanese? Honestly, are you?” What was their original idea of Japanese? After their arrival in Japan in chapter 2, does it change?
3. Track descriptions of Kichijiro in the novel. What are other characters’ views of him? His descriptions of himself? What prompts the priest to compare the character of Kichijiro with that of Judas? How does the priest’s interpretation of Jesus’s words to Judas (“What thou dost, do quickly”) at the Last Supper change through the course of the novel?
4. What sort of person is Rodrigues? What do the first-person testimony/letter chapters reveal about his character, interests, views, etc. either intentionally or unintentionally?
5. Find the passages in the first three chapters that describe the priests’ conception of their vocation.
6. How does Rodrigues imagine Christ?
7. In chapter 4, after parting from Garrpe and the villagers of Tomogi, Rodrigues roams alone on the Goto Islands. Find the descriptions of natural landscape that reflect Rodrigues’s inner state.
8. Towards the end of chapter 4, Kichijiro says to Rodrigues: “Mokichi was strong—like a strong shoot. But a weak shoot like me will never grow no matter what you do.” Rodrigues himself seems to believe that “Men are born in two categories: the strong and the weak, the saints and the commonplace, the heroes and those who respect them.” How would you respond to such dichotomies? Is it in line with or against biblical teachings?
9. How do we understand the move from first person (the I) to third person (he) between chapter 4 and chapter 5? What does each perspective imply? What differences in effect are created by each in Silence?
10. In chapter 5, the Japanese interpreter, a former seminary student of Father Cabral, announces to Rodrigues: “We have our own religion; we don't want a new, foreign one” (88). What is their “own religion”? If you were in the priest’s position, how would you answer the interpreter? Consider including St. Francis Xavier’s letter discussing the confusion of Japanese in the discussion of this question.
11. In chapter 7, how does Inoue compare Japan’s political situation with that of a man with four concubines? Why is Inoue against spreading Christianity in Japan?
12. At the end of chapter 8, the climax scene where Rodrigues faces a fumie, pay close attention to the verb tense. Where does it change? What kind of effect does that change have on the reader?
13. The Christ image in bronze speaks to Rodrigues: “Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot . . . . It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world” (171). What is your interpretation of this scene? Is there a suggestion that this voice is a creation of Rodrigues’ mind under extreme pressure, or does it match with the portrayal of Christ in the Bible?
14. In chapter 10, Inoue tells Rodrigues: “You were defeated by this swamp of Japan.” What is the priest’s answer to Inoue? In your own words, explain what Rodrigues means by this answer.
15. What does Inoue say is the difference between the mercy of the Buddha and that of the Christian God? Do you agree with Inoue? If not, provide a counterargument to his statement.
16. Consider the end of chapter 10: “But our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of him.” How do you interpret Rodrigues’ assessment of his life? Is it possible for God to speak through His silence?
17. Upon careful reading, there is an apparent contradiction in Silence. Endo seems to assert that God can still work through the weak Japanese Christians such as Kichijiro. He also suggests that Rodrigues’ own life is a reflection of God’s work. In the end, however, the appendix mentions a book that Okada San’emon (Rodrigues’ given Japanese name) writes to disavow his faith. What conclusions, if any, is Endo trying to draw?
18. You can’t really tell in English, but the appendix at the end of the novel is written in a different type of Japanese--a more period-specific, archaic Japanese--than the rest of the novel. What genre is this writing? What is the effect of ending the novel with this historical material that Endo rewrote as an ending to the novel?