The old man had returned his gaze to my huddled form as I crouched, shivering, hugging my knees to my chest in the spring chill, and I thought I saw pity in his eyes, a profound empathy for my plight, and not just the immediate plight of being forced to accompany my guardian on this dark errand. Perhaps he intuited the full cost of being "indispensable" to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop. (2.144)
Will Henry doesn't get a whole lot of compassion on a daily basis (Dr. Warthrop isn't big on mushy emotions), so this glimpse of empathy must feel like a big deal. His situation is one that many people would pity; he is, after all, an orphan, and then you add the environment in which he's being raised. Who can blame Erasmus for wanting to give him the childhood he deserves?
He made no move to comfort me, and I doubt comforting me was his purpose. He cared not whether I forgave him for taking the life of the old man. He was a scientist. Forgiveness mattered not; understanding was all. (4.10)
If you put yourself in Will Henry's shoes, don't you feel just awful? We have to remember that he's only twelve, and he just witnessed a man being killed. That does stuff to people (you know, like Batman—that guy is not mentally stable). A hug or even just a pat on the head probably would have been more than welcome to the poor kid, but he's stuck with a man who thinks understanding the situation is all that's needed. Poor Will Henry.
But reading it did accomplish one thing. As is so often the case, the insights we seek are not those we find: I could see him clearly in my mind's eye, huddled in his nightshirt upon his little cot, feverishly writing this letter between fits of coughing, a boy not unlike me, torn from his family and friends, with no one and nothing to console him. For the first time I felt something other than awe and fear toward the monstrumologist. For the first time I felt pity. My heart ached for the sick little boy so far from home. (5.54)
It's totally normal to empathize with someone when you gain insight into their past and what makes them tick. Will Henry just got a small glimpse into the intricate workings of Pellinore Warthrop and realized that at one point he was a sad, lonely little boy just like himself. Perhaps that is what caused him to become so cold and distant as an adult, and maybe knowing this about him will help Will Henry accept him for who he is.
Without stopping to think—for if I had, I might not have risked both our lives—I brushed past Morgan and went to my knees before them, the tormented Malachi and the prostrate Warthrop, and the boy turned his tear-stained face, contorted with anger and bewilderment, toward mine beseechingly, as if in my eyes he might find the answer to that unspeakable, unanswerable question: Why?
"He took everything from me, Will!" he whispered.
"And you would take everything from me," I answered.
I reached for the hand that held the gun. He flinched. His finger tightened on the trigger. I froze. "He is all I have," I said, for it was true. With one hand I grasped his shaking wrist; with the other I eased the firearm from his quivering fingers. (9.48-51)
Will Henry's quick thinking isn't the only thing that saves the day; it's his compassionate response to the sticky situation. If he had approached Malachi with anger or aggression this story probably wouldn't end so well, but by appealing to Malachi's empathy he manages to diffuse the situation.
I attempted to excuse myself. My avowal had reminded me of my place by the doctor's side. Malachi reacted as if I had threatened to throttle him. He grabbed my wrist and begged me not to go, and in the end I could not refuse him. My failure was not entirely owing to a congenital curse (it seemed my lot in life to sit at the bedsides of troubled people); it resulted too from the painful memory of another bereft boy who lay comfortless in a strange bed night after night, consigned to a little alcove, set aside and forgotten for hours, like an unwanted heirloom bequeathed by a distant relation, too vulgar to display but too valuable to discard. There were times, in the beginning of my service to the monstrumologist, when I was certain he must have heard my keening wails long into the night—heard them, and did nothing. (9.87)
That is some seriously sad stuff right there. Malachi is lucky to have found Will Henry, who knows exactly what he is going through right when he needs someone to be there for him. Will Henry, on the other hand, has been all alone. If only Dr. Warthrop had an ounce of compassion in him.
Malachi slowly shook his head, his eyes ablaze. "He is your master and rescued you from the bleak life of the orphanage," he whispered. "I understand, Will. You feel bound to excuse and forgive him, but I cannot excuse and I will not forgive this… this… What did you say he was?"
"Yes, that's right. A monster hunter… Well, he is what he hunts." (9.94-96)
Malachi feels like he needs someone to blame for the slaughter of his family, and Dr. Warthrop is the obvious choice. He would have been equally justified in blaming Will Henry, though, as he was complicit in the silence that led up to their deaths. However, their shared experience and the fact that Will Henry is obviously just a boy gives Will Henry a pass.
My empathy toward his suffering was acute, for he and I were fellow sojourners in the forbidding kingdom wherein all roads led to that singular nullity of fathomless grief and immeasurable guilt. We were no strangers to that barren clime, that merciless landscape in which no oasis existed to slake our ravening thirst. What meritorious draft, what magical elixir offered by the art of men or gods had the power to relieve our agony? A year had passed since I had lost my parents; still, the memory and its attendant lords of anguish and rage reigned in the desert sovereignty of my soul, as if no time had expired since that night our house burned to its foundations. (11.288)
Sometimes the old adage "time heals all wounds" just doesn't do justice to how mourning really goes. Getting over something like the tragic death of your parents isn't easily done, so Will Henry can acutely empathize with what Malachi is going through, even though his loss is less fresh.
I must confess my feelings were mixed. I had witnessed firsthand the savagery of these monsters, had seen the destruction of which they were capable, had even come close to losing my own life to their ravenous rage. And yet… and yet. Suffering is suffering still, no matter what manner of organism suffers, and this particular one suffered greatly, that was clear. Part of me was repulsed. And part was possessed by profound pity for its plight—a much smaller part, to be sure, but a portion nevertheless. (12.188)
It takes quite the compassionate person to feel pity for something so grotesque. I doubt anyone would've blamed Will Henry for not feeling pity for the juvenile Anthropophagus, so this moment is pretty illuminating as to what a special person he is.
"Warthrop," replied Starr in a condescending tone. "Really. These… " He waved his mottled claw in the air, searching for the word. "Patients, so-called, they are the dregs of society. They come here because there is literally no place else for them to go. No family, or none that would claim them. All are insane—most criminally so, and those who are not have the intellectual capacity of a turnip root. They are human garbage, discarded by men, toxic to the general populace and to themselves, forgotten, unwanted, cruel, comical mockeries of all things that make us human. They could rot here or they could be sacrificed to the higher good." (13.102)
Dr. Starr has such a profound lack of empathy for his fellow human beings it makes us wonder why, exactly, he decided to go into psychiatry. This sociopathic disregard for suffering people is what's allowed him to sacrifice them to the captive Anthropophagi for over twenty years. Ugh.
Why did you let Varner live? Wouldn't it have been safer to discard him in the pit with the other 'garbage'?"
"Dear God, Warthrop, what do you take me for? I may be avaricious, but I am not completely corrupt."
I thought of flies buzzing maddeningly upon a windowpane, of their repugnant progeny squirming in open sores, of boots filled with liquefying flesh. I am not completely corrupt. (13.128-130)
Yeah, we're going to go ahead and disagree with you there, Dr. Starr. What you did to Captain Varner was almost worse that feeding him to the Anthropophagi. "Corrupt" would probably be one of the milder labels we could give you. This quote helps reiterate how absolutely pitiless this guy is.