Mental Illness in Return of Darkness, Part 1

Even with 10 chapters into Return of Darkness, we’ve come across several instances of mental illness (or abnormalities) in the characters. In this post I’ll focus on Benigno’s reaction to smiles and laughter.

Benigno’s thoughts drifted. I don’t even allow my family the joy of smiling and laughing. What is wrong with me? It’s not like they are laughing at me. I know that consciously, so why do I feel so.. .anxious, tight, wooden? I’m just a burden to my family, pursuing a truth that might be nonexistent, taking away their joy..

From Return of Darkness, ch 4
Read more here

In Benigno’s first appearance in Chapter 2, he experiences something reminiscent of a mild anxiety attack upon seeing a smile on a portrait’s face. Not normal, and not healthy either. Also, his anxiety is not reserved to inanimate portraits. He reacts antagonistically to Inette when he hears her laughing at their pet fishes. His father, Cesare, a cheerful personality, checks himself from smiling and laughing in front of Benigno. All this sounds like gelatophobia, the fear of being laughed at.

What caused Benigno’s phobia was a traumatic experience at school, where students and faculty ridiculed him for doubting the teachings of Veritas Academy. I’m surprised that Benigno has not given up his search for the truth with all the ridicule and laughter he endures. Especially since the search has taken a toll on his mental health.

However, there are two notable exceptions where Benigno does not react negatively to smiles or laughter. One involves his best friend Andrew and the other involves Sabra.

In one of Andrew’s flashbacks in chapter 3, Andrew draws the true world map for Benigno, causing Benigno to smile, although he stops once Andrew mentions it. But Andrew, smiling, encourages his friend to smile, and Benigno does not negatively react to this at all. Hmm…the ship is sailing.

The second exception is less noticeable and easy to overlook.

Chuckling, Sabra put down her instrument. “l was not talking about books, Don Benigno. I was talking about the kinnor.”

Return of Darkness, ch 4
Read more here

Only one word: chuckling. Did the author forget that Benigno had gelatophobia? I’m guessing no, since this scene parallels the Andrew flashback.  Just like the map scene, Benigno is learning about different way of life, and for Benigno, truth comes before everything else.

Next post will be on Andrew….


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