The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Virginia Hamilton’s handling of characterization is skillful and subtle. The book title itself is used to show the complexity of the title character. Sometimes M. C. thinks in objective terms, as when he states his name, and sometimes in subjective terms, as when he adds the words “the Great.” When he is swaying back and forth on his pole, M. C. can call himself “the Great,” but when he is diminished by his father, either physically or emotionally, M. C. can no longer use those words. As she transmits M. C.’s thoughts, Hamilton moves so quickly back and forth between the objective and the subjective that one is often not aware of the changes, but it is this alternation that gives a true picture of the world M. C. sees and of his feelings about that world.

Since M. C. is both the protagonist and the consciousness through which the story is told, the other characters in the novel are seen through his eyes. M. C. reports their actions and comments about what they do and say. This is particularly significant in the case of Jones, M. C.’s father. Although one may have the impression that the author has recorded Jones’s own thoughts and feelings, a careful reading shows that, in fact, M. C. is constantly quoting Jones, often out of context, or ascribing ideas to his father on the basis of his facial expressions. Thus Hamilton uses limited omniscience not to characterize Jones but to characterize M. C. and to define his attitude toward his...

(The entire section is 536 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mayo Cornelius (M. C.) Higgins

Mayo Cornelius (M. C.) Higgins, a black teenager. The eldest child in his family, M. C. has a strong sense of responsibility. He worries about the younger children, whom he supervises when his parents are at work; about his mother, whom he adores; and about his father, toward whom his feelings are ambivalent, combining respect and concern with anger. M. C. is athletic, a superb swimmer and a wrestler who will soon be able to defeat his father in their periodic tests of strength. He knows woodcraft and mountain lore. He also knows how to think for himself; despite his father’s warnings, he has chosen a best friend from the feared Killburn clan.

Banina Higgins

Banina Higgins, M. C.’s mother, a beautiful and talented woman, the real center of the Higgins household. Banina works as a housecleaner an hour’s walk from her home. She is especially close to M. C.

Jones Higgins

Jones Higgins, M. C.’s father, a day laborer. A complex man, Jones is strict with his children, yet loving and playful. Born and reared in the mountains, Jones is determined to pass along to his children both his knowledge of nature and his love of the place where his family has lived for generations.

Ben Killburn

Ben Killburn, M. C.’s best friend, a member of an inbred family that, because of its reputed supernatural powers, is unjustly feared by other mountain people. Ben is loyal, quiet, and thoughtful. M. C. is influenced deeply by Ben’s idealism and by his sense of the sacredness of nature.

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story begins with M.C. setting off at dawn to check his rabbit traps. He contemplates the problem of how to get his family to leave the...

(The entire section is 654 words.)