"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Silence by Shūsaku Endō, Part 3

You can read Part 1 of this series, here
You can read Part 2, here

Here’s an exchange Susan Margret and I had on the Goodreads Catholic Thought Book Club.

Susan Margret comments:

I just finished reading chapter two. I am anxious to learn the story behind the character, Kichijiro. When the priests first land on Japanese soil, Father Rodrigues suspects that Kichijiro may have betrayed them. He compares Kichijiro to Judas. He appears to be weak, lazy, and deceptive, possibly even hiding his Christian status from the priests. Kichijiro is an interesting character and I am wondering if he does turn out to be a Judas.

Also, I was not familiar with the painting that Endō described in chapter one. Father Rodrigues describes the painting as Christ having one foot on the sepulchre and holding a crucifix in his right hand. He says he saw the picture in Borgo San Sepulchro. I looked it up and it is a painting of The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca. I don't know if Endō made an error or I was looking at the wrong picture, but Christ is holding a flag, not a crucifix.

My Reply:

Susan, what page is that painting mentioned? I passed completely over it, and I now can't seem to find it. This book is so tightly packed that everything has significance. I'll look up the painting.

Susan Margret:

Manny, I think I am reading a different edition than you are. The painting is mentioned in the second to the last paragraph in Chapter one. The paintings of Christ as a shepherd, Christ as a King, and other descriptions of the face of Christ are mentioned in this paragraph.


Susan, you are absolutely right.  That is the painting.  I even had the paragraph highlighted in my book.  I don't know if I highlighted in this current read or when I first read it five years ago.  Here’s what I have highlighted:
(1) "What did the face of Christ look like?  This point the Bible passes over in silence."
(2) "his face bears the expression of encouragement it had when he commanded his disciples three times, 'Feed my lambs, feed my lambs, feed my lambs ... ' It is a face filled with vigor and strength. I feel great love for that face.”

The first note was over the word “silence.”  That’s the name of the novel, so it carries significance.  You’ll find that the word “silence” comes up frequently as we read.  I’ll get to that in a later chapter when it’s more important to the story.  But you can see how the sentence is worded intentionally tries to emphasize the word “silence.” 

The second note focused on the commandment to feed Christ’s lambs.  That is Rodrigues’ mission in going to Japan, to pastor (etymology: pasture) the lambs, the innocent new Christians of Japan. 

But I glossed over the painting completely.  And that is the painting, and here it is the Wikipedia entry:   

I have to say that is a magnificent painting.  I’ve seen it before but I never really thought about it until now.  And you’re right, he holds a banner, not a crucifix.  Is it an error by Endo or does Endo have Rodrigues make a mistake, and if so for what reason?   It is Christ triumphant.  My only hunch (on the painting, not the error) has to do with the ending, and I don’t want to spoil that yet for anyone.  Just a hunch, though, not sure. 

Rodrigues’ says that the face in the painting “is a face filled with vigor and strength. I feel great love for that face.”  That is a magnificent face.  If you Google Image “The Resurrection Piero della Francesca” you can get large details of the painting, especially the face.  Look here:  It does have vigor and strength. 

Kudos to you Susan for picking up on the painting. 

There’s a couple of more things I wanted to point out in these early chapters.  Sorry for being long winded in this first week, but I think the opening parts of a book are important to understand since it sets up reading the rest.  I shouldn’t be so intrusive in the other weeks.

In my first comment above, I highlighted that last paragraph in the prologue where the narrator says, “Today we can read…”  I asked, when is today?  And who is “we”?  Who is speaking there?

This brings us to identifying the narrative perspective, or more commonly referred to as the point of view.  No question, this is a modernist novel, and Endo using shifting perspective to achieve several objectives.  Chapters one through four are clearly in the epistolary form, that is letters home written by Sabastian Rodrigues.  Chapters five through nine, the point of view shifts to third person.  Chapter ten is in the form of a diary, written by a character who I think doesn’t even show up in the novel before this.  And the Epilogue is in the form of another diary of another character who also doesn’t show up before.  And then we have that authorial intrusion in the Prologue, “Today we can read…”  Discussing why the shifts and how they create a unified aesthetic is a discussion best held after completing the work.  But I do want to point out these shifts so you can see it as you read.

Another element in these early chapters that should be noted is ironyIrony plays an important part of the ending.  It’s subtly throughout the novel.  Here are three examples from Chapter 1.

First, Rodrigues repeats in his letter back home about the openness of the Japanese to Christianity:  “On this point Japan is undoubtedly, as Saint Francis Xavier said, 'the country in the Orient most suited to Christianity'.” (p. 16).   Further then he expresses his joy of meeting his first Japanese.  “Today I have wonderful news for you. Yesterday we at last succeeded in meeting a Japanese.”  So who does this Japanese who is open to Christianity turn out to be? 

What am I to say about this man, this first Japanese I ever met in my life? Reeling from excess of alcohol, a drunken man staggered into the room. About twenty-eight or nine years of age, he was dressed in rags. His name was Kichijiro.

The first Japanese turns out to be a drunken slob, hardly an ideal Christian.

Second, while the three Jesuits are stuck in Macau waiting for a ship that will take them to Japan, they finally get a Junk, a Chinese sailing ship, to take them. 

Anyhow, thanks to Father Valignano it looks as if we are going to get hold of a big junk. Yet how frail and passing are the plans of men! Today we got news that the ship is eaten up by white ants. And here it is terribly difficult to get hold of iron and pitch.  (p. 18)

“Frail and passing the plans of men” ironically will foreshadow the Jesuit’s plans.

Third, after Father Valignano expresses his belief that the situation in Japan has changed and that their mission should be aborted.  Juan de Santa Marta expresses his optimism:

'And yet our secret mission could with God's help turn out successful,' said Juan de Santa Marta, blinking his eyes fervently. 'In that stricken land the Christians have lost their priests and are like a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Some one must go to give them courage and to ensure that the tiny flame of faith does not die out.'  (p. 13)

That’s how the chapter opens.  But the chapter ends with the very person who expressed such optimism to die and not be able to make the trip at all.

At last our departure is only five days away. We have absolutely no luggage to bring to Japan except our own hearts. We are preoccupied with spiritual preparation only. Alas, I feel no inclination to write about Santa Marta. God did not grant to our poor companion the joy of being restored to health. But everything that God does is for the best. No doubt God is secretly preparing the mission that some day will be his.  (p. 22)

In all three cases the optimism is undercut with a harsh reality.  These subtle situational ironies set a rhythm and tone within the novel and foreshadow the ironic ending.  

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