Study Guide

M.C. Higgins in M.C. Higgins, the Great

By Virginia Hamilton

M.C. Higgins

Think of M.C. as a guy's guy. He's super-outdoorsy, like Bear Grylls level of outdoorsy-ness. He's got grit, athleticism, and—oh yeah—he's only thirteen. Throw him into the wild, and he'll probably come back with some animal, skinned and ready to eat. He favors rabbits, by the way.

Supernatural Man

In fact, M.C. is so into nature that he's completely tuned into Sarah's Mountain like it's an extension of his soul. He can even see its past as though events from way back in the day are occurring right before him:

Looking around, M.C. thought. Real hungry. Hold the baby tight to search for food. Set start out again, northward.

It was then she saw it. It climbed the sky. Up and up. Swelling green and gorgeous. Huge. Mountain.

As if in a trance, M.C. gazed out over the rolling hills. He sensed Sarah moving through undergrowth up the mountainside. As if past were present. As if he were a ghost, waiting, and she, the living. (2.13-15)

See what we mean? M.C. and the mountain are like one. Insofar as his family's story is the story of the mountain, he can tap right into the heart of it all. His supernatural senses don't stop there, though—they also happen to include mindreading or soul twinning. Like between him and his BFF Ben:

The thought that Ben was near but unseen was all right with M.C. Although M.C. was still edgy, he felt his senses become heightened with minute sight and sound. 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. (1.139-140)

What does all of this mean for M.C. as a character? To put it simply: M.C. is the man even though he's still young and his father's still alive and kicking. His ability to connect to the past, his surroundings, and other people positions M.C. as the future—his knowledge flows freely and he's super tuned in. His dad might be older, but he just doesn't have what M.C.'s got. Which is why it's appropriate that M.C.'s the one to save the homestead.

The Hunter… and His Prey

But just because M.C. is the man doesn't mean he is without flaws, especially when it comes to Lurhetta Outlaw. M.C. is so used to being the hunter that he can't shake his hunting ways when he's dealing with a girl. Case in point, the first time he senses Lurhetta in the woods:

M.C. stalked expertly, tense with a hunter's joy of discovery. Strangers didn't often come into these hills alone […]

He could see her dark skin showing beneath a light blue shirt. M.C. stalked nearer, close enough for her to hear him. Right on her heels, he gave her a low whistle, knowing he was wrong to scare her. He had a loud, screaming whistle through his teeth, just as if he was older and whistled at girls every day. (1.161-164)

Yep. M.C.'s kind of a sexist, macho jerk. But then, he's also thirteen, so there's some hope. And to his credit, he does treat Lurhetta respectfully once he gets to know her better (though in fairness, Lurhetta isn't exactly the kind of girl you push around).

However, his initial treatment of Lurhetta shows exactly how ill-matched the two of them are. M.C.'s simply too young for her (even though she's only a few years older than he), which is why it makes more sense that Lurhetta does leave rather than return to M.C.'s house on the second night. She just doesn't think about him as much as he thinks about her. Plus, as becomes clear by the end of the book, the mountain is his home—and Lurhetta's just a visitor.

M.C.'s Narrow World

For all that he thinks about how important it is to leave the mountain, M.C. hasn't actually ever left it himself. So as much as he is a mountain man, he is not worldly. It's not who he is; it's not what he's grown up with.

As for what he's grown up with, though his family is African-American and descended from slaves, they're also pretty prejudiced, particularly against the Killburns. As far as M.C.'s family is concerned, the Killburns are what they call "witchy." This means that even though Ben Killburn is M.C.'s best friend, on his father's orders, M.C. technically isn't even allowed to play with Ben because of the family he comes from. And even though M.C. really likes Ben, and even the rest of the Killburn clan, he has to work hard not to be prejudiced like this father.

For instance, when M.C. goes with Lurhetta to Ben's home, he can't help but view the Killburns as witchy—and despite being kind of witchy himself (if you ask us), M.C. means this in a bad way when it comes to Ben's family. When M.C. falls off the "web" connecting the Killburn houses together, he can't even ask them for help:

There was no way to get back up with the hub rising and falling, without asking for their help.

"Let me loose," M.C. muttered, once he was on his feet again. Witchy hands, all over him. He didn't dare look at all the fingers. (12.38-39)

Um… they're just trying to help you, M.C.

It's a Process

If it seems weird that M.C. would be so grossed out by Ben's family, just remember: M.C.'s a really flawed protagonist. And while on the one hand, this means he's kind of a turd when it comes to his best friend's family, on the other, it means that we respect him all the more when he starts to change for the better at the end. Which he totally does.

By the end of the novel, M.C. may not have the girl, but he does manage to stand up to his father and get him to accept Ben as M.C.'s friend. That's no small feat since Jones isn't exactly a chill guy.

In fact, M.C. is even willing to hurt Jones if Jones moves against Ben: 

M.C. watches, his hand tight on the knife.

If Ben had to outrun Jones, M.C. knew he would throw the knife to wound. Ever so carefully, he shifted the knife and held the blade point between thumb and finger.

But he's your father. Not if he runs off Ben. (14.189-191)

Finally, M.C. has no confusion about where his allegiance lies. More than that, M.C. learns exactly what he wants, enough to decide not to leave the mountain. Instead, he doubles-down and becomes the best part of himself—the guy completely devoted to Sarah's Mountain. He's so devoted, in fact, that instead of leaving the Mountain for safer ground, he gets the other kids and Ben to help him build the wall that will stop the spoil-heap from destroying his house.

Building a wall with bare hands? That's takes some serious determination and commitment. We don't doubt M.C.'s ability to pull this off, though, now that he's figured out what he wants.

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