Study Guide

Ben Killburn in M.C. Higgins, the Great

By Virginia Hamilton

Ben Killburn

The Innocent

If there's one thing you need to know about Ben, it's that he's completely harmless. That's important because his harmlessness reveals just how ignorant and mean M.C.'s father can be.

Like this conversation between the Ben and M.C. at the end of the book, when M.C. outs Ben as his best buddy to Jones (who forbids M.C. to get close to the Killburns):

"I'm smelling me a smell," Jones said, staring at Ben.

"Yessir," Ben said softly. "M.C. caught him a skunk and I had to get it out of there. I went home and washed and changed." Gray eyes on Jones. Frightened. Innocent. (14.185-186)

Why all the fuss over a guy like Ben? Sure he has six fingers like all the Killburn men and, sure he's supposed to be "witchy" according to the Higgins, but he's really just your typical super-nice guy. He checks M.C.'s traps for him and even gets rid of a skunk (who stinks him up) that one of the traps mistakenly catches.

Ben's clearly not aggressive and totally willing to play second-fiddle to M.C., and as a result, "M.C. always felt bigger and strong around Ben, like he wasn't just anybody passing by" (1.64). Ben's the perfect BFF for M.C., who—let's just be real—is kind of a self-centered egotist.

Soul Brother

But Ben's also more than your perfect foil to M.C. He's also M.C.'s brother-from-another-mother, his spiritual twin. Check it out:

Where he moved and saw, Ben was moving and seeing the same. The fact was a comfort. He's my spirit, M.C. thought. He can see me and everything around me and the path, too. Good old spirit. (1.140)

Ben may be small and kind of passive—in other words, everything M.C. isn't—but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Because he's weaker, Ben compels M.C. to stand up for him when it really matters. So think of him as the friend who brings out the best in M.C.

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