Virginia Hamilton Beryl Robinson - Essay

Beryl Robinson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The richly detailed story of the Appalachian Hills [M. C. Higgins the Great,] tells of a few important days in the life of thirteen-year-old M. C. Higgins, self-styled "The Great."… Much of the story is devoted to the effect that two strangers had on M. C. One was a dude from the city, who was going through the hills making tape recordings of singers and their old songs. (M. C. was certain that when the dude heard his mother's magnificent voice, he would get her started on the way to becoming a great star.) The other stranger was a restless girl who walked fearlessly through the woods and camped briefly beside a lake. She was impatient with the local super-stitions and stimulated M. C. to a wider acceptance and richer experience than he had thought possible. All of the characters have vitality and credibility as well as a unique quality that makes them unforgettable. Particularly charming are the scenes in which M. C.'s mother, Banina, climbing the hill after a day of housework in the town, sings antiphonally with her waiting family, or, seated on the floor at home, leads them in old ring songs. Visual images are strong and vivid; and many passages are poetic in their beauty. M. C., however, is aware of a continuing note of sadness in the hills; for pervading the entire story is his dread that the huge pile of subsoil and trees bulldozed together and left behind by strip miners would begin to slide and suddenly crash down upon his home. All of the themes are handled contrapuntally to create a memorable picture of a young boy's growing awareness of himself and of his surroundings. (pp. 143-44)

Beryl Robinson, in her review of "M. C. Higgins, the Great," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1974 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. L, No. 5, October, 1974, pp. 143-44.