Study Guide

M.C. Higgins, the Great Friendship

By Virginia Hamilton

Friendship

Calling like birds and animals wasn't just a game they played. It was the way M.C. announced he was there without Ben's daddy and his uncles finding out. M.C. wouldn't have wanted to run into the Killburn men any more than he would want his own father to know he was playing with Ben. (1.34)

What M.C. and Ben share is more than just a secret friendship—they also share a language built around nature. So if you think about it, nature helps hide what ought to already be natural—a friendship between boys of similar interests and age.

For a moment they stared at one another in a silent regard. M.C. liked Ben and felt sorry for his being small and alone when he didn't want to be either. He admired Ben because Ben was a witchy. And he knew that Ben thought a lot of him, since he was like no other boy and would play with Ben. Tall and powerful, M.C. didn't mind being by himself, could do anything well. (1.65)

This is the set-up to Ben and M.C.'s friendship: M.C.'s the alpha male, and Ben's the follower. As long as things stay like this, M.C.'s cool with Ben. But that's not necessarily how things will stay, especially when Lurhetta Outlaw enters the picture…

The problem for both of them was that they couldn't walk a path together for fear M.C.'s father or others might see them. M.C. would walk the paths and Ben would stalk him, hidden in the trees. (1.67)

Is it just us, or is this whole friendship between the boys a little unbalanced? Why does M.C. get the paths out in the open while Ben goes through the trees? Why not the other way around? Okay, sure M.C.'s father might see Ben if he were on the path, but then Mr. Killburn might see M.C. What's the difference?

M.C. caught up his vine with his feet. When he could reach it with one hand, he twisted it up and around his legs and wrapped it around his waist.

He let himself hang there above the stream, with his feet dragging in the cool water. Ben did the same. They swayed gently around in the stillness.

Ben looked just as happy as he could be. M.C. was feeling pretty good himself, just listening and feeling the depth of silence. (1.77-79)

M.C. may be the leader of the two boys, but that doesn't mean he is sensitive to Ben's feelings. M.C.'s thoughts immediately go to how Ben seems to feel ("looked just as happy as could be") after Ben follows M.C.'s actions. M.C.'s acting as if he's responsible for Ben, like how an older brother might be…

Between them was an unspoken agreement. Ben was never to touch M.C. with his hands and risk losing his only friend. (1.66)

So… wow… can we say that this friendship kind of stinks for Ben, whether he cares or not? What kind of friendship can they have if Ben isn't ever to touch M.C.? What is M.C., a king with Ben as his footman?

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)

On one hand, this description about the boys' spiritual bond sounds beautiful and amazing. On the other hand, Ben doesn't really have an identity or even a body—to M.C., Ben's a "good old spirit," trailing behind M.C. and watching out for M.C. It's like he's a spiritual appendage of M.C.

Ben stared at him with the slightest sign of irritation.

Witchy eyes. Witchy fingers, M.C. thought meanly.

Lurhetta suddenly clutched Ben by the hand, as if his six fingers meant nothing to her. She started down into the hub, supporting herself on Ben's arm. (11.29-31)

Yes, M.C. and Ben have just let a girl come between them. A classic love triangle… which of course seems silly if you consider the fact that the girl doesn't seem romantically interested in either guy.

"You going to eat that rabbit for supper?" Ben asked him. Something of their friendship of a few hours ago passed between them. Ben, innocent, and learning from M.C. But on the Mound, somehow that friendship was changing. (12.173)

Ben and M.C.'s friendship is changing because, on the Mound, Ben's the more knowledgeable one. Or at least his family is. The Killburns live in a completely different way from the Higgins, and even though M.C. feels weird while he's there, he also recognizes that the Killburns' way of living isn't necessarily a bad one. For one, they have more food than he has ever seen. Plus, there's Lurhetta—she sides with Ben, and that just throws everything off-kilter with the boys.

M.C. watched, 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. (14.188-190)

Now that's friendship. Being willing to throw a knife at your dad in order to protect your best friend… M.C. also ends up showing us how wrong Jones is about everything, especially Ben and the Killburns. Sometimes friendship is more valuable than family because it forces us to re-examine what family means.

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