Silence Summary

Shūsaku Endō


  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Silence Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Silence by Shūsaku Endō.

Silence(1966), by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō is a historical fiction that was first published in English by Peter Owen Publishers. Silence received the 1966 Tanizaki Prize for the year’s best full-length literature, and was named as Endō’s supreme achievement and one of the twentieth century’s finest novels. One of its most significant themes is that of a silent God who is present and accompanies a believer in times of great adversity, a God who chooses not to eliminate suffering but to suffer alongside humanity. It was greatly influenced by discrimination and racism Endō himself experienced in Japan and France as a Catholic, as well as his experience with tuberculosis. The novel has been the subject of extensive analysis, although it was not immediately a success among the Japanese Catholic population. These were the novels harshest critics, and the novel was instead boosted and praised by left-wing college students, who saw a connection between the main character and the plight of Japanese Marxists. It has been noted that the book has a particular deep moral ambiguity.

The main character of the story is Sebastian Rodrigues, a young man and Jesuit priest inPortugal in 1637. The novel begins with Rodrigues setting out for Japan with two of his priest companions. They plan to do missionary work, and also to find out the truth about their teacher, Cristóvão Ferreira. Ferreira, a well-respected missionary and theologian in Japan, recently had been shamed because of his apostasy, or abandonment of his religious beliefs. Christians live under heavy persecution in Japan, and they are commonly tortured and forced into apostasy.

Rodrigues and his companion,Garrpe, arrive in Macao, China, and meet Kichijiro, a somewhat shifty man and definitely an alcoholic. Rodrigues and Garrpe are relying on him as a guide, as he is their only option. Kichijiro knows many Christians who have been forced to practice their faith in secret, so he has valuable information. After a violent storm on the water, they arrive in Japan in a small town called Tomogi, close to Nagasaki. First, believing they are about to be betrayed, the Fathers discover the small group of peasants appearing before them are Christians. They have not seen a real priest in years, but worship in a makeshift church structure in secret. The priests spend their days receiving visitors in their hut and sneaking to the church to lead Mass during the day.

After several raids and searches, during which the Fathers hide all of their religious items successfully, Rodrigues’s faith is tested. Two of his Christian friends from the village are questioned and tortured, and made to spit upon the image of Christ. When they refuse to apostatize, they are tied to stakes and dragged out into the ocean, where they die of exhaustion. Rodrigues is distraught, and does not understand why his God would be silent in the face of this tragedy and suffering.

Garrpe and Rodrigues split up. Rodrigues runs into Kichijiro again, who escaped death by apostatizing. He begs for forgiveness, which Rodrigues grants, albeit reluctantly. Soon after, Kichijiro betrays Rodrigues and turns him over to the Christian-hunting officials. Rodrigues is jailed along with the others. An interpreter urges him to apostatize, but he refuses, and is taken to another prison.

He meets Inoue, a local magistrate much feared for his torture tactics. He pretends to be an old, kindly man, and tries to convince Rodrigues to apostatize. Rodrigues refuses again. Another Christian is murdered, and Rodrigues questions again why his God has not stepped up.

The rest of the Christians in the village are taken out into the ocean and drown. Garrpe tries to save them, but drowns. Rodrigues considers telling Garrpeto apostatize and save them, but cannot say the words. God’s silence, again, horrifies him. Rodrigues is deeply depressed, and is taken to meet Ferreira, who has apostatized and is writing a book refuting Christianity. He tells Rodrigues to apostatize.

He does not, however. He is taken to another prison, and hears the moans of Christian voices in “the pit,” a torture method. Ferreira visits, and says he spent three days in the pit, eventually renouncing Christianity because of God’s silence and lack of help for the other victims. Rodrigues hallucinates about Christ, who tells him to trample on his face. When Rodrigues wakes, he finally renounces his God.

He is taken and confined to a house for a while, then sent to Edo to assume the name, property, and wife of a dead man. There he lives out the rest of his days. The last two chapters are written from the point of view of a young Dutch clerk in Nagasaki and a diary of Rodrigues’s household when he is much older.