Use this guide for your own reading and contemplation of the themes in Silence, or discuss these questions within a group setting.
- There are many different types of silence (such as not speaking, falling into silence, being absent from the historical record, or being marginalized due to a lack of power, et cetera). What sorts of silence are present in the novel? Find passages that mention silence explicitly and also passages that do so metaphorically or indirectly.
- How is God present in the novel?
- In one interview, Shusaku Endo explains his original impulse in authoring Silence in a way that helps us understand the kinds of silence in the novel:
“By the way, that work of mine, Silence, has been strangely misunderstood. Readers think it’s only about the silence of God. But in reality, my purpose was to give spotlight to the people who had been silenced by both history and the Church, let them voice their own narratives; I wanted to say that God speaks His existence even through such [failed] lives.”In light of Endo's remark, discuss the moments in the novel, where Kichijiro or any other character acts as the author’s mouthpiece, as a marginalized voice that breaks the silence imposed by history and/or the Church.
“One who has trod on the sacred image has his say too. Do you think I trampled on it willingly? My feet ached with the pain. God asks me to imitate the strong, even though he made me weak. Isn’t this unreasonable?" (Silence, 113-114)
Christ, Suffering, and Redemption
- Find all the passages in the novel where the face of Christ is being discussed--look at them in order. How does it change? What is the effect on the reader of the change? How does this change affect the reader? How about Rodrigues?
- How does Rodrigues change over the course of the novel? Look for passages that describe or demonstrate the character of Rodrigues at various moments in the text. What seems to be Endo’s overall view of Rodrigues and his faith and vocation and suffering?
“Even though Endo may not be the most reliable theological guide to the orthodox claims of Christianity, he most certainly adhered to the doctrine of the presence of Christ as God who suffers with us in our lives, and there is no evidence in his writing to argue otherwise. The proof of this is not in the accuracy of his theological reflections but in the character development in the novel itself." (Makoto Fujimura, Silence and Beauty, 201)
- What should we make of Kichijiro in Silence? How is he an agent of change for Rodrigues?
“Every reader of Silence initially assumes that Kichijiro is a Judas figure. But at the end of the novel this assumption is turned on its head. Kichijiro turns out to be a reluctant and unexpected agent of change. In him readers find a minute grain of hope that in the years following Father Rodrigues’s denial of his faith, Kichijiro will experience Peter-like repentance instead of Judas-like remorse. The transformation of Kichijiro, which may escape the notice of all but the most careful reader, comes through the sacrifice of Father Rodrigues’s own attachment to his Western faith. . . . Unexpectedly, the voice of Christ of the fumi-e becomes the most powerful expression of the voice of Christ in Japanese literature, and Kichijiro, no longer the voice of Judas, becomes a singular voice of hope in the wilderness of trauma. Christ can speak to all those who face despair and a crisis of faith, looking over their Ground Zero experiences of trauma. As they experience failures and losses, they discern a voice, one that only the weak and the vulnerable can hear; as it turns out, it is the voice of Father Rodrigues himself, recounting the tale of Silence. His voice, through his own silence, is powerful and beautiful. Such is the true redemption of Father Rodrigues.” (Makoto Fujimura, Silence and Beauty, 149-150)
Missions, Cultural Difference, and the Gospel
- What are some examples Endo gives of the difficulties Japanese Christians faced after their conversions?
- How does the novel portray Portuguese Jesuit missions? Describe what we learn about Endo’s understanding of Portuguese missionary versions of Christianity through his portrayal of Rodrigues’ words and thoughts.
- How does the novel portray Christianity in Japan? Gather passages from various sections of the novel where characters (such as Rodrigues or Inoue) describe Christianity, along with scenes or actions which demonstrate something about Japanese Christianity. What are the problems and possibilities of sharing Christianity across cultural barriers?
- Silence was banned by many Catholic churches in Japan. Endo even lost one of his close Catholic friends, a French priest, due to its publication. What do you think made Silence such a controversial book in Japan?
- How do the themes of Silence help us not succumb to evil and instead lament evil and mourn with hope?
“Through his description of trauma, Endo succeeded in portraying a story that generatively opens up to the world; it moves the reader toward healing, toward the good news of the Bible. . . Silence is a profoundly missional novel, despite the fact that it describes the failures of faith. Its mission is not about triumphantly regarding the island of Japan as an imperialistic exploit; rather, it is the mission of entering deeply into the psyche of Japanese hearts struggling with trauma. By doing so, Endo captures the possibility that the good news of the Bible can heal that trauma and provide a way for Japanese to be truly liberated. . . . Endo points to the possibility of the sun breaking through to the common ground of suffering.” (Makoto Fujimura, Silence and Beauty, 148)