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...
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