Study Guide

Banina Higgins in M.C. Higgins, the Great

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Banina Higgins

The Perfect Mom

You can't get a more perfect mother than Banina Higgins. Not once in the three days the book covers does she get angry. Not that three days is a long time, but the way M.C. describes her and the way the rest of the family acts around her, we're pretty sure that she's just that kind of person: eternally sweet, cheerful, loving.

Take M.C.'s birthday for example. When Banina comes home that evening, she's carrying a huge shopping bag, but the packages inside aren't all for M.C. the birthday boy:

Shyly, the boys came slowly to stand before her. It wasn't their birthday, but they knew she wouldn't forget them. Not until they were close to her did they discover she held three neat sacks of candy. They took the candy and Harper gave one sack to Macie. (4.159)

How cool is that? A mother who celebrates all of her kids, even when it's the birthday of just one of the kids—we like it. But what's really neat is how her care ripples across the kids; Harper, for example, gives "one sack to Macie." The kids learn to share the joy from the way Banina shares with them.

But that's not all. Banina isn't just about material things (which is good, since they're pretty much dirt poor). What the kids really want is her love:

Silent, looking up at Banina, they had waited to see if that was all. But no, for she had leaned down over them. Soon she and the boys were whispering and giggling, planning some game or other. Maybe breakfast would be taken at the foot of M.C.'s pole. Or maybe they would all sleep out tonight within the mystery of the grape arbor. (4.159)

See what we mean? She's generous with her love and attention in a way that makes her kids want to be with her. Kind of like the way a really awesome first grade teacher can gather a class of little ones around her just by smiling.

And, by the way, she doesn't forget about M.C., either. She gives him a big, chocolate cake.

The Perfect Wife

Banina's loving nature doesn't just influence her children. You know she has to be amazing because she makes rough and tumble Jones turn into a different man:

And there was Jones, trying to look as if he weren't waiting for her half of his life, but not trying too hard. Because Jones didn't mind waiting for Banina forever if he had to. (4.132)

Jones is clearly completely in love with Banina, even after all of their years together. And can you blame the guy? The woman is nearly magical, especially when she sings.

In fact, it might be her singing that makes Jones a more chilled-out character. While Banina is singing for James Lewis, "Jones [sits] with one hand on the jug and the other holding his glass, his face contented and closed. Impenetrable" (6.84). Banina, in other words, gives Jones peace.

The Music (Wo)Man

When she sings, Banina becomes a storyteller—she can "express all that within her she had kept secret and separate from them" (6.73). She can commune with Nature: "She sang so all the hills could hear. As night came creeping, came sweeping over the land, her voice told the hills what they already knew, but in a way that only she could tell it" (4.140). Banina can make a song's story feel real:

His mother began another song. It was a witchy song about an evil called Juba. An old song out of Carolina, she had once told M.C. She let the tiredness she felt drain into it so that the minor cadence became haunted with ghostly melody. (6.78)

Banina's singing really seems like it's something special, doesn't it? Her connection to music sort of reminds us of M.C.'s connection to people and the mountain. They're both able to tap into something deep and unseen.

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