Study Guide

Lurhetta Outlaw in M.C. Higgins, the Great

By Virginia Hamilton

Lurhetta Outlaw

Her name says it all: Lurhetta is that character that just doesn't fit into any category except outlaw. She's the one who refuses to go with the flow, the one who pushes other people to think and act differently. For a girl who spends her summers trekking through the wilderness all by her lonesome, it's a pretty perfect name.

The Outlaw

But Lurhetta isn't so proud of her name at first. She takes the name literally—as a reference to someone who has run afoul of the law. Jones shifts this around for her a bit, though, and is the first person to make her see herself differently—as someone outside the law's protection because laws can discriminate. He tells her:

"I'm not asking you nothing about your background," Jones was saying, "but it seems to me 'Outlaw' can mean more than a single thing. It can just as soon mean your people got no protection from the law, so they was outside it, so to say. Way back when, how many black folks had any luck with law, anyhow?" (10.23)

Outlaw, then, becomes a badge of pride and a marker of history. It's definitely something Lurhetta learns to embrace more easily after Jones's comment. In fact, as she becomes more confident about herself throughout her visit with M.C., she finds the guts to point out—to M.C. and the rest of his family—how mean they are toward the Killburns:

"It's a shame." Lurhetta spoke boldly out of the silence […]

"A real shame [the Killburn icemen] have to work so hard carrying all that ice up and down the hills." She glanced at each of them, impartially, as though they were no more or less than trees in the woods. (10.144-146)

The girl has guts. She stands up for the downtrodden and isn't afraid to speak up, even when she knows her opinion isn't popular. That's what M.C. means when he describes Lurhetta as someone who "has seen everything. She, the difference" (10.157). Lurhetta has seen more of the world, and she's unafraid to express the opinions she holds because of this.

Not Your Typical Love Interest

That's why, even though at first she may seem like M.C.'s love interest in the book (and she is, in the sense that M.C. has a one-sided crush on her), Lurhetta is so much more than the girlfriend-type. She's the one who compels M.C. to "never be the same" (10.158)—to be, instead, a defender of the simple rights and wrongs in life.

Which is also why she can't stay and be M.C.'s girl. That just wouldn't be in Lurhetta's character. She's a strong, independent girl who isn't afraid to use a knife on a stranger but who also embraces the witchy Killburns after the Higgins spurn them:

Nowhere in her manner toward the Killburns were the fear and caution she had shown on meeting M.C. and his brothers and sisters. (12.59)

Lurhetta knows instinctively who is truly welcoming and just plain nice, and she's got a nose for when to hold back with people. Because of this, Lurhetta shows us exactly how flawed M.C. and his family are, especially when it comes to their attitude toward strangers (mostly cold and distant) and their attitude toward difference in general (not tolerant). She's outside the laws of the Higgins family and the mountain, doing her own thing and calling 'em like she sees 'em. And in the process, she really opens M.C.'s eyes up to new possibilities.

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