Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


Throughout the novel, Rodrigues comes up against silence many times, which he feels signifies God’s ultimate indifference toward humans and their suffering. When Mokichi and Ichizo are sacrificed, Rodrigues expects God to hear his prayers for them, but God seems to hear nothing, and nothing is done. He simply watches the men die noiselessly in the ocean. When Rodrigues watches other countless tortures of Christian peasants, the same thing happens—he cries out to God for help and is only met with silence. God’s silence is magnified in nature as birds continue to sing and insects continue to chirp, all while people are being murdered. The natural world seems to Rodrigues to also be equally indifferent to the suffering of the world, just like God. When Rodrigues calls out to God for help with the Christians hanging in the pit, once again, there is only silence. Silence is used as a motif to represent the crucial times when Rodrigues’s faith in a benevolent God is truly tested.


Sound plays an important role in revealing Rodrigues’s emotion at any given time. The muffled sounds of Mokichi’s and Ichizo’s moaning as they die while being crucified sound like “animal sounds” to Rodrigues. Later, when Christians are hung in the pit at Inoue’s house, Rodrigues hears the same sounds but mistakes them for snoring. In the former example, Rodrigues’s perception of the peasants’ moaning reflects his superior attitude toward them. In the latter example, Rodrigues’s inability to decipher the sounds of their moaning correctly reflects his utterly exhausted and confused state. Furthermore, the sounds of nature—crashing waves, buzzing cicadas, and birds calling—all reflect Rodrigues’s special attunement to the natural world. Rodrigues, because he is truly alone in Japan, can more clearly hear nature around him, and the sounds are often not comforting but reflective of God’s painful indifference toward him.


Laughter appears repeatedly in the novel to reflect life’s absurdity and Rodrigues’s struggle to reconcile his belief in an orderly, divine world with the cruel chaos he observes around him. When Rodrigues hires Kichijiro to escort him to Japan to fulfill his priestly mission and the man turns out to be a lazy drunk, Rodrigues laughs to himself, reflecting on the fact that he has entrusted his success to a man such as Kichijiro. As the novel progresses and Rodrigues witnesses some of the most heinous torture he’s ever seen, his laughter takes a darker tone. The indifference of the guards while Christian peasants are brutally killed and the fact that God repeatedly does nothing and remains silent all make Rodrigues laugh, but the laughter comes not from joy but from his mind desperately trying to remain sane. Notably, the Buddha is often depicted as a laughing figure, showing the prosperity of life. The laughter Rodrigues encounters in Buddhist Japan, however, takes on a more sinister tone, reflecting his inner feelings about Buddhist Japan’s seemingly inhumane emotional