Toward the end of Blood Meridian, Judge Holden says a curious thing to the kid when the two are hunting each other in the desert:
There's a flawed place in the fabric of your heart. Do you think I could not know? You alone were mutinous. You alone reserved in your soul some corner of clemency for the heathen.
Then, shortly afterwards when the kid is in prison the judge visits him and says:
You came forward, he said, to take part in a work. But you were a witness against yourself. You sat in judgement on your own deeds. You put your own allowances before the judgements of history and you broke with the body of which you were pledged a part and poisoned it in all its enterprise.
It seems reasonable to suppose that the judge is referring to several moments in the book when the kid showed mercy to members of the gang when others would not. He helps David Brown pull an arrow from his thigh and, later, refuses to execute a dying man, Shelby. There are other examples.
In one of her lectures on the book, Amy Hungerford makes the case that the judge is wrong. There is no moral difference between the kid and the rest of the gang. Her argument is that these moments of goodwill are meaningless against the staggering brutality of the gang's acts, the literal piles of innocent corpses they stack up, which the kid participated in without showing any degree of mercy or remorse, at least that we are told about in the narration. Indeed in showing mercy to members of his own gang, he is, in fact, making things worse by storing up yet more suffering and brutality for those unfortunates they encounter.
Correct or not, she clearly has a point here, which made me wonder: what, then, is McCarthy trying to tell us in having the judge set the kid apart like this?