Study Guide

The Monstrumologist Isolation

By Rick Yancey

Isolation

For it was true: I was all he had. I have always wondered if it ever occurred to him, this man of whom it might be said there had never been another of more towering, awe-inspiring self-absorption, that the opposite was also true—he was all I had. (2.22)

No wonder Will Henry is so lonely. To have Dr. Warthrop so unaware of their isolation makes him only more alone. If the doc had an ounce of understanding and gave him a little attention (as a person, not an assistant), perhaps Will Henry wouldn't feel so deserted.

At their funeral the doctor had laid a hand upon my shoulder and said, "I don't know what I shall do now, Will Henry. Their services were indispensable to me." He seemed oblivious to the fact that he was speaking to the child left orphaned and homeless by their demise. (2.38)

Umm, right. Could he be any more heartless? His assistant and cleaning woman died, and he's having a pity party in front of their destitute, orphaned child. This is the man to whom Will Henry will have to turn to during his dark moments of mourning. He will receive exactly zero compassion, poor kid.

Though puzzling at the time—and annoying, for he always managed to wake me after a long and bitter struggle with Somnus had been won—it finally occurred to me that the service I was providing was as indispensable to him as any other, perhaps more so than any other, perhaps the most vital service of all: to ease the dreadful burden of his loneliness. (4.62)

If only Dr. Warthrop could have admitted to himself that he was just lonely, maybe they could've offered each other companionship. Perhaps it was his ego or a lack of self-awareness, but alas, they are both forced to continue to struggle in their own isolated little worlds.

I was not unused to this odd isolation in his company, but had yet to become accustomed to the effect it had upon me: There is no loneliness more profound, in my experience, than being ignored by one's sole companion in life. Whole days would pass with nary a word from him, even as we supped together or worked side by side in the laboratory or took our evening constitutional along Harrington Lane. (4.69)

If Will Henry were truly alone maybe he could gain a sense of independence that he could revel in. He could seek pleasure for himself, or at least something that gave him peace of mind. Instead, though, he is stuck feeling invisible with a companion who can't even bring himself to acknowledge his very presence. That stinks.

I wish you would write to me. Letters arrive every week from America, and I stand in line with the rest of my classmates, and every week I wait for my name to be called, and every week it is not. I am not complaining, Father, and hope you do not take this awkward confession as such. I am quite lonely at times and do not feel entirely at home here. When not in class I mostly keep to my room, and sometimes, like today, when it is cold and cloudy, refusing to rain or snow but remaining dismal withal, as if a shroud lays upon the world, I am very lonely. A letter from you would brighten the gloom, for as you know I tend toward that familial disposition of dourness. (5.48)

This sad little glimpse into Pellinore Warthrop's lonely childhood helps explain why he is so distant all the time. As a kid he was forced to harden himself, to lower his expectations of his loved ones until he stopped depending on anyone else at all. Now that Will Henry is in his shoes, he is either blinded to Will's needs or unsure of how to express normal feelings of affection. You know, because no one ever showed him how.

His father rejected his entreaties, so he rejected mine, and I—in the strangest twist of all—was him, the isolated and lonesome little boy seeking approbation and acceptance from the one person from whom it mattered most. It offended his pride and doubled his anger: anger at his father for ignoring his need, anger at himself for needing anything in the first place. (5.90)

So it's an awful cycle of loneliness, perpetuated by Dr. Warthrop's pride and his inability to admit weakness. And Will Henry is the unfortunate victim.

Often over the years I have asked myself why I never ran away. What bound me to him beyond the inertia to which all humans are susceptible? I was not bound by blood. Not by oath. Not by law. Yet every time the thought of flight flittered across my consciousness, it disappeared as ephemerally as a will-o'-the-wisp, an ignis fatuus, an elusive glow over the marshland of my psyche. To leave him was not unthinkable—I confess I thought of it often—but to be away from him was. Was it fear that kept me by his side, fear of the unknown, fear of being adrift and alone, fear that I might meet a fate far more frightening than service to a monstrumologist? Was it that an unpleasant "known" is preferable to any unpredictable "unknown"? (7.76)

So as much as he's incredibly lonely now, he's afraid that he'd be even more alone if he were to leave Warthrop's oppressive household. It's like the idiom "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't"—why leave if what's out there could be even worse?

[…] 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)

To mourn the loss of both parents at a young age must be incredibly difficult, and in Will Henry's case it's only made harder because he has to do it alone. What was Dr. Warthrop's thinking that allowed him to ignore the miserable cries of a twelve-year-old boy? Ugh.

Which would be worse: tutelage under a man such as the monstrumologist, or the miserable, lonely life of the orphan, unwanted and bereft? (11.12)

Either way Will Henry is lonely, but maybe there's a third option: What if he went to the orphanage and eventually found a loving home to take him in? Would the slim chance be worth leaving everything he knows and the small comforts it affords him?

"I don't think so, sir," I said as politely as I could. "I don't think he believed his father was to blame until we found the hidden door."

"Humph!" snorted the constable. "Even if that's true, it doesn't exonerate him, William Henry. Your loyalty is admirable, if tragically misplaced. I know you, who have lost so much, must fear losing him, too, but I shall personally see to it that you are found a decent home no matter how this horrid business is resolved. You have my word: I will not rest until you are placed in the proper environment."

"I don't want to be placed. I want to stay with him." (12.120-122)

Why doesn't Will Henry jump at the chance for a new beginning? Wouldn't you? Either he is still dedicated to honoring his father's memory by working for Dr. Warthrop or he's developed a bad case of Stockholm syndrome.

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