Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The central conflict in M. C. Higgins, the Great is not between people who appreciate nature and those who ravage it, but between M. C. and Jones. On the surface, this conflict is merely a disagreement about whether or not to leave the mountain. Even more basically, however, it is a struggle between a father who wishes to remain fully in control of his family and a boy who is in the process of becoming a man and making his own judgments. Thus while Hamilton obviously wishes her readers to see the disastrous effects of strip mining, her major emphasis is on the themes of alienation and reconciliation through the growth of understanding.

M. C. already knows that his parents are good people. Triumphing over poverty, they are giving their children a rich life. Banina is teaching them to be gentle, to appreciate beauty, whether in the form of a blossoming tree or of a red carpet, and to love music, which they will undoubtedly always associate with their love for her. Jones is teaching them all of his outdoor skills, along with the virtue of hard work, respect for tradition, and a sense of obligation toward the environment and toward the family. Jones, however, is now facing the adolescence of his eldest son, and he is having difficulty letting go of him. That son, in turn, is troubled about his discovery that his father is not always right, which suggests that perhaps Jones may not be as great as M. C. has always thought.


(The entire section is 493 words.)