That Father loved us, I have never had any doubt; he had simply loved the doctor more. This was the root of my mother's hatred for Dr. Warthrop. She was jealous. She was betrayed. And it was that sense of betrayal that led to the most vehement quarrels between them. (2.38)
That his father loved the doctor more than his own family must've been a tough pill to swallow for Will Henry. Can you imagine your dad coming home from work and openly declaring that he loves his boss more than you? Yeah, us neither.
Before joining her in the parlor to face her fire, a fire only negligibly less intense than that of hell, he always kissed me on the forehead, always ran his hand through my hair, always closed his eyes with me as I said my bedtime prayer. My entreaties to heaven complete, I would open my eyes and stare into the kind face and gentle eyes of my father, secure in that tragically naïve way of all children that he would always be with me. (2.68)
As a kid, you really do have this weird faith that your parents are immortal. When you're young the idea that they will someday leave you is as foreign as the concept of naps being awesome. (If you haven't yet reached the age where you revel in taking naps, don't worry—it will hit, and it will be glorious.) This security in his parent's permanence makes their tragic deaths so much harder to cope with.
Though he towered over my hunched and shivering frame, a grown man at the height of his powers, in my mind's eye I saw the sick and lonely boy, a stranger in a strange land, writing to the man whose attention and affections he desperately desired, a man who would reward his filial devotion with the ultimate indignity of paternal rejection: letters unopened, tossed into an old box, forgotten. (5.90)
Warthrop's dad was just as cold and unfeeling as Warthrop is—perhaps even worse. The acorn never falls too far from the tree, as they say. But how can Warthrop raise Will Henry any differently without ever knowing what it's like to have a loving familial unit himself?
Inside these pleasant cottages lamps warmly glowed, and I imagined the families ensconced inside, in the warmth of one another's company, partaking of the normal intercourse of a Tuesday night, Father by the fire, Mother with her young, with no worrisome thoughts of monsters lurking in the dark except in the minds of the most imaginative of their children. The man riding beside me suffered not from the naïve illusions of well-meaning parents who, with calm voice and gentle touch, extinguished the bright, hot embers of a child's fiery imagination. He knew the truth. Yes, my dear child, he would undoubtedly tell a terrified toddler tremulously seeking succor, monsters are real. I happen to have one hanging in my basement. (6.1)
Will Henry is pining for his lost childhood and the loving family that was taken from him at a young age. He envies the families in those pleasant cottages because their lives are warm, caring, and without the knowledge that he's gained in his service for Dr. Warthrop.
"My father was an intensely private man," offered the doctor. "He found human intimacy… distasteful. I was his only child, and I hardly knew him."
"As is too often the case with a man like your father," observed Starr. "His work was everything."
"I always assumed it owed more to the fact that he didn't like me." (6.36-38)
Pellinore Warthrop's idea that his father didn't like him is probably colored by the fact that it felt that way. Still, though, Dr. Starr may be closer to the truth in that the Warthrops can be particularly focused on their work, which leaves little time for cultivating personal relationships.
"How strong is the maternal instinct, Will Henry! Though they tore her shoulders from the sockets and broke the very bones that held it, she did not surrender her child. She held firm. Though they broke her arms and tore off her head, still she held firm. Held firm! Even when she became a cruel imitation of the things that devoured her brood, she held firm! It is a wonder and a marvel." (8.76)
Maternal instinct is a force to be reckoned with, for sure, but the way that Dr. Warthrop is reveling in it borders on the obscene. Sometimes his scientific perspective overrides his ability to see human suffering the same way other people would.
"And I am not concerned. But I am curious. Why do you resist an explanation that makes far more sense than your own? Really, Pellinore, would you care to compute the odds of them migrating here, to your own backyard, by sheer chance? In the back of your mind you must know the truth, but refuse to acknowledge it. Why? Because you cannot bring yourself to think the worst of him? Who was he to you? More important, who were you to him? You defend a man who barely tolerated your existence." His boyish face lit up. "Ah! Is that it? Are you still trying to prove yourself worthy of his love—even now, when it's impossible for him to give it? And you call yourself a scientist! (10.178)
As mean as he is about it, Dr. Kearns has seen the truth behind Dr. Warthrop's inability to accept the origins of the Anthropophagi in New Jerusalem. Poor doc; deep down inside he is still the lonely little boy craving attention and validation from his emotionally distant father. Parents can really do a number on their kids.
A child has little defense against the sight of a parent laid low. Parents, like the earth beneath our feet and the sun above our heads, are immutable objects, eternal and reliable. If one should fall, who might vouch the sun itself won't fall, burning, into the sea? (11.299)
You almost have to believe that your parents are immutable objects because to contemplate otherwise would be to question everything you depend on as a child. So when Will Henry watches his father ailing, and then dying in a horrific manner, he suffers from a crisis of identity. If his parents can die like that, who's next?
The doctor ignored the question. "The door is locked."
"A good sign," Kearns said, "but a bad circumstance. I don't suppose your father bequeathed you the key to it."
"My father willed me many things," replied the doctor darkly. (12.59-61)
To what is Dr. Warthrop referring, do you think? His never-ending quest to pursue the things that go bump in the night? His cycle of mania and depression that consumes him alternately to the point of exhaustion? Their seemingly endless wealth and a gloomy house? Male pattern baldness?
The monstrumologist rushed to my side. He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked deeply into my eyes, his own reflecting the intensity of his concern.
"Will Henry!" he cried softly. "Will Henry, why are you here?" He pulled me into his chest and whispered fiercely into my ear, "I told you that you are indispensable to me. Do you think I lied, Will Henry? I may be a fool and a terrible scientist, blinded by ambition and pride to the most obvious truths, but one thing I am not is a liar." (12.253-254)
This is quite the outpouring of emotions, especially for someone like Dr. Warthrop. He is saying that Will Henry is indispensable to him—not Will Henry's services. This. Is. Huge. Perhaps, despite Will Henry's adamant protestations against feeling love for the doc, they're a family after all.
And now she, the matriarch, the mother of the Anthropophagi, with her one remaining eye spied me standing beside her precious progeny, whom her instincts demanded she defend, as the doctor had said, to her last breath with ruthless ferocity. Her own pain did not matter. The fact that she was herself mortally wounded did not matter. What animated her was as old as life itself, the same irresistible force that the doctor had marveled at in the pastor's parlor: How strong is the maternal instinct, Will Henry! (12.326)
For a creature like the Anthropophagus, which has little to no capacity for empathy or compassion, the idea that maternal instinct overrides all other motivations seems almost incongruous. They live to eat and sleep and occasionally defend their territory, and yet will go to extreme lengths to defend their young. We guess it just shows the power of a mother's love.