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The Journey of the Suffering Servant: The Vulnerable Hero, the Feminine Godhead and Spiritual Transformation in Endō Shūsaku’s Deep River

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AbstractThis study aims to investigate how the Biblical view of the Suffering Servant transforms a basic pattern of the hero’s journey into a narrative of spiritual growth in modern literature. In this article, especially, I will examine the novel Deep River by the 20th-century Japanese Catholic novelist, Endō Shūsaku, paying special attention to his use of Jungian archetypes. Unlike the beautiful and gracious Holy Mother of Christian belief, the image of Endō’s feminine divinity is what we think as ordinary, depressing, shameful, and even ugly. As the very embodiment of this motherly divine Love, the hero of the novel eventually figures out that his journey should be structured analogously to the narrative of the Suffering Servant. This hero helps people discover the mother-like God and invites them into their own spiritual journey in which they accept the vulnerability, ineffectiveness and helplessness of human existence.

1. FN11 A previous version of this essay was presented to the Endō Shūsaku panel within the Arts, Literature, and Religion section at the 2011 American Academy of Religion (AAR) meeting in San Francisco CA, on 22 November 2012. My thanks go to James Thrall for the opportunity to present my work; to Nicole Zhange whose comments and questioning provided invaluable insight and guidance; and to Brian Dunn, who first encouraged me to explore Endō’s use of the Jungian Mother archetype and read through my earlier draft with critical and constructive eyes.
2. FN22 See Endō’s autobiographical essay, ‘The Anguish of an Alien’, The Japanese Christian Quarterly 6/4 (1974), 179-185.
3. FN33 Endō Shūsaku, ‘Katorikku sakka no mondai (The Problems Confronting the Catholic Author)’, in: The Complete Work of Endō Shūsaku, vol 10, Tokyo: Shinchosha 1975, 20 and 27, cited, respectively, in: Mark B. Williams, Endō Shūsaku: A Literature of Reconciliation, London: Routledge 1999, 36 and 39.
4. FN44 Jung’s theory of individuation can be found in his various writings. See, for example, Carl G. Jung, ‘Psychological Types’ and ‘Conscious, Unconscious and Individuation,’ respectively in Carl G. Jung, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, volumes 6 and 9, London: Routledge & K. Paul 1953-1977, hereafter CWJ.
5. FN55 Jung, ‘The Detachment of Consciousness from the Object,’ CWJ, volume 13, 45.
6. FN66 Despite Campbell’s lack of interest in a theoretical explanation of and of critical engagement with Jung, he contributed to popularizing Jung’s theory. His combination of the hero archetype with the narrative of journey is one fine example. See Clarissa Pinkola Estes, ‘What Does the Soul Want?: Introduction to the 2004 Commemorative Edition’, in: Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Commemorative Edition, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2004, liii.
7. FN77 Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 28. See also Joseph Campbell, Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: Joseph Campbell on the Art of James Joyce, First Edition, Novato CA: New World Library 2004.
8. FN88 For Campbell, the monomyth normally contains the first stage of departure, which includes five steps (the call to adventure, refusal of the call, supernatural aid, the crossing of the first threshold, and belly of the whale), the second stage of initiation, which deals with six steps (the road of trials, the meeting with the Goddess, woman as temptress, atonement with the Father, apotheosis, and ultimate boon), and the final stage of return, which has the last six stages (refusal of the return, the magic flight, rescue from without, the crossing of the return threshold, master of two worlds, and freedom to live). See Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 45-233.
9. FN99 Jung’s impact upon Endō is well illustrated in his essay on the Jungian archetype, entitled ‘Aruketeipu ni tsuite (On the Arecetypes)’, written in 1983. See Emi Mase-Hasegawa, Christ in Japanese Culture: Theological Themes in Shusaku Endo’s Literary Works, Leiden et al.: Brill 2008, 172–173.
10. FN1010 It is noteworthy in this regard that Netland suggests conceiving of Endō’s mature work in terms of hybridity and liminality, both of which are intensively discussed in recent postcolonial theories. These concepts are adopted to overcome the earlier postcolonial theory’s rather simplified opposition between the subject of colonization and the object. See John T. Netland, ‘From Resistance to Kenosis: Reconciling Cultural Difference in the Fiction of Endo Shusaku’, Christianity and Literature 49/2 (1999), 181.
11. FN1111 According to Fujita, Endō’s literature assumes a unique Japanese psychological condition, amae, i.e., a deep rooted yearning to be passively cared and loved by one’s mother, cf. Neil S. Fujita, ‘Shusaku Endo: Japanese Catholic Novelist’, Religion and Intellectual Life 3/3 (1986), 111.
12. FN1212 Matsuoka claims that this shared experience of failure is one of the most common and explicit contact points in Endō between the particularity of Japanese spirituality and the universality of Christian message. See Fumitaka Matsuoka, ‘The Christology of Shusaku Endo’, Theology Today 39/3 (1982), 295.
13. FN1313 Endō said that his study of the unconscious persuaded him that meaningful communication between East and West is possible. See Endō Shūsaku, Foreign Studies, translated by Mark Williams, Dunton Green: Sceptre 1990, 11.
14. FN1414 Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 28.
15. FN1515 As Hall claims, one of the most important (theological) achievements of Endō is that he offered an alternative image of Jesus as the eternal companion to the traditional image of the triumphant Lord. In my view, a fundamental difference between Campbell and Endō can also be found here. See Douglas John Hall, ‘Rethinking Christ: Theological Reflections on Shusaku Endo’s Silence’, Interpretation 33/3 (1979), 255.
16. FN1616 Endō, ‘Katorikku sakka no mondai,’ 25 cited in Williams, 49.
17. FN1717 Endō Shūsaku, Watashi no aishita shōsetsu (A Novel I have Loved), Tokyo: Shinchōsha 1985, 176, cited in Williams, 49.
18. FN1818 See Willis’ careful study of Endō’s peculiar use of verbs in Scandal, which creates a Christological aura of the streetlight, in: Elizabeth Wills, ‘Christ as Eternal Companion: A Study in the Christology of Shusaku Endo’, Scottish Journal of Theology 45/1 (1992), 94.
19. FN1919 Endō Shūsaku, Scandal, translated by Van C. Gessel, London: Owen 1988, 222. This light of salvation also plays a vital role in transforming the protagonist in Endō’s other writings. For example, see the way the light of daybreak opens the protagonists towards God’s grace in Endō Shūsaku, Silence, translated by William Johnston, London: Owen 1976, 271; The Samurai, translated by Van C. Gessel, Harmondsworth: Penguin 1983, 254.
20. FN2020 Along with these motifs, Gessel shows that three major operations on one of Endō’s lungs and his long hospitalization also resulted in the change of his literary style. Van C. Gessel, The Sting of Life: Four Contemporary Japanese Novelists, New York: Columbia University Press 1989, 243.
21. FN2121 See, for example, the visualization of the tired and sad face of Jesus in Endō Shūsaku, The Girl I Left Behind, translated by Mark Williams, London: Peter Owen 1994, 69-70.
22. FN2222 Endō himself recollected that he had not engaged with Jung until he published Silence in 1966. However, his essay, ‘Shadows,’ written in 1968, demonstrates his intensive interest in Jung’s psychology.
23. FN2323 The term Kakure Kirishitans means the hidden Christians. After Japanese government’s massive and systematic persecution in the 1630s, they went underground and continued to practice Christianity in secret. They are well-known for their strong appeal to the Holy Mother and syncretic practice of Catholicism. For further study of their history and beliefs, see Stephen R. Turnbull, The Kakure Kirishitan of Japan: A Study of Their Development, Beliefs and Rituals to the Present Day, Richmond: Japan Library 1998.
24. FN2424 Endō Shūsaku, Stained Glass Elegies: Stories, translated by Van C Gessel, London: Owen 1984, 134.
25. FN2525 Endō Shūsaku, A Life of Jesus, translated by Richard A. Schubert, Mahwah NJ: Paulist Press 1978, 178-179.
26. FN2626 See Endō, A Life of Jesus, 172-174.
27. FN2727 As Higgins rightly demonstrated, Endō’s rewriting of Jesus’ story played a vital role in assuring him that he could be both Japanese and Christian. See Jean Higgins, ‘East-West Encounter in Endo Shusaku’, Dialogue & Alliance 1/3 (1987), 19.
28. FN2828 See, for example, Keuss’ insightful comparison between Endō and Marion in Jeffrey F. Keuss, ‘The Lenten face of Christ in Shusaku Endo’s Silence and Life of Jesus’, Expository Times 118/6 (2007), 273-279.
29. FN2929 For example, his first critical essay, written when he was eighteen years old, was entitled, ‘Metaphysical God and Religious God.’ In addition to this, the title of his BA-thesis was ‘Poetic Theory of Neo-Thomism’.
30. FN3030 The translator of Deep River remarked in his critical study of Endō that, unlike Endō’s other protagonists, ‘God no longer needs to speak to Otsu. He has already gotten the message’ (Van C. Gessel, ‘Hearing God in Silence: The Fiction of Endo Shusaku’, Christianity and Literature 48/2 (1999), 162.
31. FN3131 Endō Shūsaku, Deep River, translated by Van C. Gessel, London: Peter Owen 1994, 63-65, 119.
32. FN3232 As Higgnis claimed, Endō’s relation to his mother deeply affected his unconsciousness, and thus it is so crucial to making sense of his literary world. See Higgins, 13.
33. FN3333 In this regard, I agree with Netland that Christianity offered the place of both Japanese spirituality and Jung’s psychology in Endō’s mature work. It is also noteworthy that Mase-Hasekuwa claims that Shinto is a background to Endō’s reception of Jung’s collective theory and (a rather pluralistic version of) Christianity, although Endō did not make a clear link between Shinto and his literature. See Netland, 189; Mase-Hasegawa, 174.
34. FN3434 Both Endō and Campbell paid special attention to the transformative character of the mother archetype. However, for Campbell, it is mainly the beauty of the Goddess that invokes the hero’s new knowledge and guides the journey. See Campbell, Mythic Worlds, Modern Words, 109-110.
35. FN3535 Although this essay focuses on the intersection of the Jungian mother archetype and the Biblical view of the Suffering Servant in Endō, it should not be overlooked that that he also had great interest in Pure Land Buddhism as a motherly religion. For brief study of Japanese Buddhism’s influence upon Endō, see Fujita, 111-112; Alle G. Hoekema, ‘The Christology of the Japanese Novelist Shusaku Endo,’ Exchange 29/3 (2000), 247.
36. FN3636 Endō recollected in Watashi no aishita shōsetsu (A Novel I have Loved) that when he wrote Silence, the mother archetype was already latent within him without knowing Jung’s theory. See Williams, 124.
37. FN3737 See Neumann’s extensive study of this topic, in Erich Neumann, The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype, London: Routledge & K. Paul 1955.
38. FN3838 The Song of the Suffering Servant even literally structures the narrative of Deep River. There are 13 chapters in this book, and Endō used two passages from Isaiah 53 as the titles of the 11th and the 13th chapters, framing the climax of the novel within the narrative of the Suffering Servant.
39. FN3939 Endō, Deep River, 139-140.
40. FN4040 Reinsma’s careful study illustrates that Endō intentionally utilized the natural world as a metaphorical background for spiritual pilgrimage. Unlike the young Endō’s emphasis upon nature’s silence and hostility, the ‘warm and milky’ water of the Ganges in Deep River represents the motherly love of the Goddess. See Luke M. Reinsma, ‘Shusaku Endo’s River of Life’, Christianity and Literature 48/2 (1999), 199.
41. FN4141 Endō, Deep River, 185.
42. FN4242 Endō concluded A Life of Jesus with a hope that he would like to write another life of Jesus. Although he did not explicitly engage with the story of Jesus again, as Hoekema argues, this plan comes to fruition by creating Ōtsu (Hoekema, 248).
43. FN4343 Endō, Deep River, 184.
44. FN4444 It is important to note that, as Matsuoka claims, Endō’s interpretation of the resurrection in light of guilty and honour represents his Japanese cultural background rather than his theological liberalism. See Matsuoka, 297.
45. FN4545 Endō, Deep River, 185.
46. FN4646 Some scholars have recently argued that the disclosure of human possibilities is deeply connected to the openness of a story. See, for example, Paul S. Fiddes, ‘Story and Possibility: Reflection on the Last Scenes of the Fourth Gospel and Shakespeare’, in: Gerhard Sauter and John Barton (eds.), Revelation and Story: Narrative Theology and the Centrality of Story, Aldershot: Ashgate 2000. In a similar manner, the open-ended conclusion of Endō’s Deep River reveals a new possibility of being truly human, encouraging readers to embark their own spiritual pilgrimage.

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Affiliations: 1: Heythrop College, University of London United Kingdom, Email:, URL:


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