Endo’s Deep River opens up an unsettling encounter with the spiritual vision of India described through the experience of five Japanese travelers from vastly different backgrounds each of whom faces a troubling personal crisis. By exploring the depth of the human need to understand ourselves and our purpose in life, Endo illuminates his appreciation of the workings of grace from a God present in the sufferings of humanity. Endo delves deep into the human condition through his characters that reflect the complex individuals and personalities we are.
Endo examines the moral dilemmas facing each character and portrays a clear picture of the river and its deep significance. With the purpose of touring Buddhist temples in India, five characters on a spiritual quest congregate on the banks of the River Ganges where they seek rejuvenation. Endo calls this the “deep river” (Endo 195). Five Japanese travelers express their individual stories of suffering and searching while at the deep river. Each of the characters- Isobe, Kiguchi, Numada, Mitsuko, and Otsu- differ in their past and their views, while each feels incomplete in one way or another. With hope of finding where they belong through spiritual truth, their journey to the River Ganges echoes the powerful exploration of faith towards which Endo pushes the reader, through use of motif and allegorical pattern. This identification of the river as a destination of human consciousness turns out to be more than merely a personal symbol. The river tends to perform a function for each character where the human mind seeks acceptance and a sense of belonging.
The extent of this river imagery becomes particularly moving as a powerful symbol of cultural difference and personal weakness. The implied power of Endo’s river represents a sacred area, similar to a church where one goes to cleanse one’s soul. Endo’s story creates a spiritual journey that moves us toward religious allegory but achieves its strength through the turbulent waters of the Ganges. Even with the droppings of animals, a odor of burning flesh, its color of milky tea, (Endo 107) and the dust of surrounding villages, the river becomes a fruitful image to the reader.
Endo’s descriptions of Indian customs from the Japanese viewpoint are evident, through the Japanese travelers and also through the way he uses imagery to suggest a merging of the ancient Japanese beliefs (Koshinto) with the Indian beliefs about the Ganges and his own Christian beliefs. Koshinto lies at the core of Japanese sensibility and forms Japanese traditional lifestyle (Mase-Hasegawa 28). Each traveler or character is searching for a greater understanding, not merely of the motivating force behind their behavior, but of a deeper nature. In doing so, they all find themselves in direct confrontation with their own personal desires for spiritual rejuvenation. They embark upon journeys toward greater self-understanding where each is caught up in his own process of...