Study Guide

M.C. Higgins, the Great The Home

By Virginia Hamilton

The Home

Two years ago bulldozers had come to make a cut at the top of Sarah's Mountain. They began uprooting trees and pushing subsoil in a huge pile to get at the coal. As the pile grew enormous, so had M.C.'s fear of it. He had nightmares in which the heap came tumbling down. Over and over again, it buried his family on the side of the mountain. (1.100)

Bulldozers will definitely change your home, especially if your home is a mountain. No wonder M.C. has nightmares about the spoil heap that the bulldozers create. They're bringing change to Sarah's Mountain, and not the good kind—at least not for a family that lives off of nature the way the Higgins do.

Only a few miles from the Ohio River, they were in country where once—no more than ten years ago—there had been elk and deer. It was still deep country where people liked nothing better than the quiet of staying close to home. Boys M.C.'s age endured school in the steel town of Harenton. Awkward, with twitching hands and no pine needles to touch or branches to hang from. In class, tongue-tied, they thought themselves stupid. Their teachers thought them slow. They endured it all. Until time to go home, to live again, ingenious in the woods. (1.150)

Even though M.C.'s referring to other boys, it's clear that these boys are just like M.C. (or M.C. is just like these boys, as the case may be). Home is exactly where their heart is and no wonder. "Home" isn't just a house, after all, it's the wilderness, a place they can roam freely and be "ingenious." They aren't stuck inside a room or a house all day, bored.

"Daddy?" he said, "you taken a look up there, at the spoil heap behind us?"

"Way behind us," Jones said, easily and without a pause. He was looking off at the hills he loved and at the river holding light at the end of the day. He was thinking about his wife, his Banina, who would not have had time yet to concern herself with coming home. But in another hour or so, she would think about it. She would say to herself, It's time! No clock was needed to show her. From where she was across-river, she could look away to these hills. She might even be able to see M.C.'s needle of a pole. No, not likely. But maybe a sparkle, maybe a piercing flash in the corner of her eye. She would have to smile and come on home. Jones sighed contentedly. (3.31-32)

No wonder Jones can't take M.C.'s news about the sliding spoil heap seriously. Jones is in love… with his wife. Look at the way Jones's thoughts go from the view of the hills to Banina and what he imagines Banina might be thinking and feeling on her way home. That's what makes him happy and content: to have a home with Banina in it. Anything that disturbs that feeling—like, say, a sliding spoil heap—would be a serious buzz kill, and maybe that's just something Jones can't handle.

For the Killburn houses, sheds and barns were grouped to form an enclosure. This compound was in no way extraordinary to look at, at first sight. The sheds and barns were weathered silver, sagging and almost shapeless. The houses were not the unpainted crate construction of most hill houses, but on the order of rambling, frame farmhouses. They had been added onto at the rear each time a child was born; and they had been painted once, all the same color. A dark, deep brown trimmed in blue. There was still a thin covering of paint on the houses, although they hadn't been retouched in years. (11.150)

This is a far cry from the Higgins' house. For one, the Higgins only have one house. The Killburns have houses—a whole compound of them. The houses show a few things: That the Killburns are unlike other families in the hills because the Killburns farm and the are unified to the point of being identical (all those houses, built the same way and in the same color). They also don't seem to care much about superficial aesthetics since they haven't retouched the paint in years.

In other words, the Killburns are kind of like a back-to-nature, 1950s suburb (only way more tight-knight; they are a family after all).

The sound of chatter spilled over him and through him.

And he remembered with sadness, with regret, that the Mound had been the happiest place he'd ever known. No mountain to worry. No past. No ghosts. (11.168-169)

The Mound does sound like a pretty cool place, what with being full of kids running around and playing and people working the land. Plus it's full of food, which is something the Higgins definitely lack. M.C. is only thirteen years old, but that's irrelevant when you're heir to a mountain that's slowly transforming into a pile of rocks and rubble. It's a reminder of how much of a childhood M.C. has missed out on.

The effect from guidelines to hub was one of an enormous web or net, or even a green and tan sunburst. In the hub were many children of various sizes and ages. Most had the light, sickly complexion of Killburn people. With a color range from orange to reddish-brown hair, they looked like a fresh bunch of bright flowers jumbled and tossed by breezes, their stems dangling through the square shapes of the hub. (12.6)

Sure, M.C. thinks the Killburn kids have a "light, sickly complexion" but they also seem a happy bunch—"like a fresh bunch of bright flowers jumbled and tossed by breezes." It's a nice image that coincides with the cheery and innocent ways of the Killburn children. They also make the Killburn compound a lot less sinister and a lot more welcoming.

"Now if that don't cut the cane!" Killburn said. "Outlaw? Sure now!" He laughed uproariously. "You sure come to the right place."

Lurhetta broke into a grin. There was an instant sympathy between her and Ben's father and between her and the rest of the Killburns, as if they had suddenly opened a magic window to let her through.

"I love it here," she said simply, as though that explained her name. (12.77-79)

The Killburns make Lurhetta feel at home. They don't ask about her name; they just accept it like she's one of them. As Ben's father says to her, "You sure come to the right place." Home isn't just defined as a place; it's an attitude, and in this case, it's about a warm welcome to an outsider.

At any moment, three or four Killburn children would be hard at work, often filling bushel baskets to the brim with vegetables in seconds. Or they would dance through the rows over to Mrs. Killburn's house. They always seemed to go to that house in particular, dancing on up the steps. A table on the porch held pitchers of lemonade and single-server clay dishes of custard. Women and young men and girls in overalls came out of the house with drinking glasses and returned with empty dishes or pitchers. All of it done in a pleasant, amiable fashion. (12.10)

Is the Killburn compound really all that bad? Is communal living all that bad? Everyone's working or playing or eating—and happily at that. Isn't that what a home ought to be about?

"I finally got something through my head," he said.

"Something what?" Jones said.

Not just living on the mountain. But me, living on the mountain.

Living… anywhere. You, living.

"I play with anybody I want," M.C. said. "This is my home. I live here, too." (14.176-180)

M.C. is finally claiming the mountain as his home in a way that makes him his father's equal. He goes against his father's values and claims Ben as his best friend, which is huge. After all, what kind of home is it if you can't even have your friends over?

"See it," M.C. said. "It's Great-grandmother Sarah's." The markings were worn but the name was still readable.

"Why did your father bring it?" Ben wanted to know.

"Because," M.C. said. He thought a long moment, smoothing his hand over the stone. Finally he smiled. "To make the wall strong." (14.228-230)

Sarah's gravestone has a new home, one that's way more appropriate than its original spot underneath the house. Her gravestone, put to good use, is now a part of the wall being built to save M.C.'s home. M.C.'s bringing her back into the present.

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