Study Guide

Jones Higgins in M.C. Higgins, the Great

By Virginia Hamilton

Jones Higgins

The Big, Bad Daddy

Tough love. That's what Jones is all about.

What do we mean by that? Here's an example from one of M.C.'s memories about his father and him:

The first time [M.C.] had tried to swim the Ohio River, a year and a half ago, he almost drowned.

His father, finding him exhausted, vomiting on the river bank: "You think that river is some mud puddle you can wade right into without a thought?"

And then, his father beating him with his belt: "A boat wouldn't go into that water not knowing how the currents run. (Whack!) I'm not saying you can't swim it (Whack!), as good a swimmer as you are. (Whack!) But you have to study it, you have to practice. You have to know you're ready. (Whack-whack-whack!) I'll even give you a prize, anything that won't cost me to spend some money." (Wham!) (1.26-28)

See what we mean? Jones definitely believes in the adage "Save the rod, spoil the child." It's probably a good thing they're isolated in the Appalachians; otherwise, we're guessing Child Protective Services would be on him in a flash. The again, this book is set in the 1960s, so maybe not.

Not Your Friendly Neighbor

Jones's tough love becomes more like intolerant meanness when he encounters people outside his family. He can be subtle about it, like when he shows James Lewis that he's no longer welcome in the house:

Standing there, Jones forced the due to stand also. In the act of rising, he had dismissed James Lewis as clearly as if he had said, "Leave my house."

Incredulously, the Dude peered at Jones. Slowly it dawned on him that Jones meant for him to go. (6.125-126)

It's a silent—albeit super clear—message Jones sends that the Dude is no longer welcome. But Jones can also be outright vicious, like when he sees the Killburn men coming with their ice. Here's how he pays for the ice they sell him:

"Here!" Jones shouted. He swung open the door and tossed three quarters from the porch. They landed near Mr. Killburn. Killburn scooped them up. (10.108)

And here's how he treats M.C., who touches Mr. Killburn by accident:

"Don't you go near my ice," Jones warned M.C. "Wash your hands, you let one of them touch you." (10.110)

Yep. He's a bigot, which his money-throwing, hand-washing ways make abundantly clear. Importantly, though, this creates a way for M.C. to differentiate himself from his father. In laying claim to his friendship with Ben, M.C. lays claim to his ability to build a life on the mountain that is better than the one his father has.

The Big Softie

Just because Jones seems like a big, bad man doesn't mean he doesn't have a soft side though. In fact, he's like a completely different person with his wife Banina. He's sensitive and totally not forceful:

[Banina] was like nobody else because of Jones. She could start out in one direction, and Jones never would say it was the wrong way or that she couldn't go. He either followed her or he didn't. He would show he didn't approve by not following, but he never would stop her. (6.20)

For a guy who seems unable to contain his opinions about the Killburns, he does Banina steadfast gentleness. He even cooks for the family, and quite happily:

He strutted back and forth, pulling the meal together from different parts of the kitchen […]

Jones looked like he was enjoying himself, with his sleeves rolled high and his head cocked to one side. Suddenly he would pull himself up and look proudly at them while he skillet-fried diced potatoes and chopped onion in the lard. (10.1-5)

Hard not to hate a guy like that, right? It just goes to show that even supporting characters can be complex and deep in this book.

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