Silence takes place in Japan during the 1600s, at the height of the Japanese government's persecution of Christians. Though Christian missionaries had converted a sizable amount of Japan's population to Christianity, recent events like the Shimabara Rebellion—which was led by Japanese Christians—have prompted the government to persecute Christians and ban all Catholic priests from its shores.
It's the perfect time for our boy Father Rodrigues to enter the scene, don't you think?
Started from the Bottom...
Rodrigues's first stop in his all-inclusive—and by all-inclusive, we mean that it includes torture and death, of course—tour of Japan is Tomogi, a desperately poor seaside village. As it happens, Tomogi, and other small villages like it, are almost entirely Christian. In Rodrigues's eyes, this is because Christianity "has given to this group of people a human warmth they never previously knew" (3.4). Unfortunately, the ban on Christianity makes isolation a necessity, as you never know who might rat out the community in the hopes of scoring some extra cash.
And that's exactly what happens. After several villagers from Tomogi are executed, Rodrigues is captured and forced along the road to Nagasaki. His travels are defined by the shocked reactions of the villagers who watch him pass: "children and adults alike [...] had kept staring at him with glimmering eyes like animals" (5.1). Surprisingly, many of these poor villagers had once been Christian but abandoned their faith after witnessing so much pain and suffering—something the villagers of Tomogi can surely relate to after recent events.
... Now He's Here
From there, Rodrigues arrives in a small cell that becomes his home for most of the novel. Oddly, "his prison life was filled with a strange tranquility and peace" (6.8)—two words we never hear from Rodrigues anywhere else. Though he had become increasingly paranoid during his time in Tomogi, this new sense of isolation somehow comforts him. Then, as we all know (you know, right?), Rodrigues renounces his faith, just as Father Ferreira did. Now our priest is officially a Japanese citizen.
Again, Rodrigues seems awfully peaceful about this turn of events. We watch as he stares "at this scenery of Japan [...] as though later he were to describe it all in detail to someone back home in his own country" (9.11). But he's never going back to Portugal. Mr. Sebastien Rodrigues is now Okada San'emon, respected Japanese citizen and expert on Christian iconography. Although Rodrigues came to Japan in the hope of inspiring change, he never realized that he might be the one doing all of the changing.