Study Guide

Silence Foreignness and the Other

By Shusaku Endo

Foreignness and the Other

In spite of myself I cannot help laughing when I hear the mumbling Portuguese and Latin words in the mouths of these ignorant peasants. (3.5)

Well, that's a bad start. What Rodrigues should be feeling is empathy toward these poor villagers' plight—not to mention admiration that they've managed to keep their faith alive in the face of so much suffering and oppression. Instead, all he has for them is thinly veiled prejudice and childish humor.

Not only are their names difficult to remember, but their faces all look the same—which causes not a little embarrassment. (3.5)

Rodrigues is unable to see the Japanese as individuals. He might not be doing it intentionally, but that's not the point. The point isthat Rodrigues's inherent biases prevent him from serving his Japanese congregation to the best of his abilities.

This is a happiness that only a missionary priest in a foreign land can relish. (3.47)

What a humble guy. This chump thinks that it's all about him, that these people would be hopeless without him. Has he ever stopped to consider that he might be part of the problem?

I am of some use to the people of this country at the ends of the earth, I reflected—a people and a country you can never understand. (3.93)

Rodrigues foolishly believes that he understands Japanese people perfectly. What's more, he also overestimates his worth to them. By our count, all he's done is earn the villagers some extra scrutiny from the government. That's not exactly an award-winning performance.

What missionary had given the name of Augustine's mother to this woman whose body was reeking of the stench of fish? (5.12)

Probably a kindhearted one, if you ask us. Rodrigues simply can't look past the cultural and socioeconomic differences between himself and the villagers, which prevents him from serving them as he should. Instead, he wastes his time judging them for things outside of their control.

"Father Cabral [...] had nothing but contempt for everything Japanese [...] Even those of us who graduated from the seminary he did not allow to become priests." (5.64)

Turns out the Catholic missionaries weren't all swell guys, after all. This is blatant racism: if these students had been white Europeans, they would surely have been ordained as priests. Like Rodrigues, Father Cabral believes that these "ignorant"Japanese are incapable of caring for themselves.

"I want you to think over two things [...] One is that the persistent affection of an ugly woman is an intolerable burden for a man; the other, that a barren woman should become a wife." (7.28)

Here, Inoue sums up his view of Japan's relationship to the West. He sees the Church as an "ugly woman" and its missionary work as "persistent affection"—in other words, he doesn't want her as his bae, but she doesn't understand—and will never understand—that he's just not that into her. Unlike European governments, the Church doesn't even have anything to offerJapan in terms of trade deals or military alliances, which makes it a "barren woman" in the eyes of the Japanese government.

He had come to this country to lay down his life for other men, but instead of that the Japanese were laying down their lives one by one for him. (7.101)

In truth, this isn't why Rodrigues came to Japan—he only came to learn the truth about Father Ferreira. He didn't come out of love for the Japanese. He didn't come to spread the gospel. He didn't even come to be a martyr. He came for his own reasons.

"You make yourself more important than them. You are preoccupied with your own salvation." (8.95)

It's only now that Rodrigues realizes that he's put himself on a pedestal above the Japanese. Instead of caring for and loving these people, he spends his time worrying about himself.

When in Portugal he had thought that to become a missionary was to [...] to lead the same life as the Japanese Christians. Whatever about that, now it was indeed so. (10.59)

In the end, Rodrigues is forced to assimilate into Japanese culture: a tough pill to swallow for our plucky Portuguese priest. We don't want you thinking that Rodrigues is a bad guy, however—like any human being's ever, Rodrigues's vision is simply clouded by his own set of internal biases. The trick isn't necessarily to eradicate these biases but instead to understand and acknowledge them.