Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
That Was Then, This Is Now chronicles the experiences of Bryon, the first-person narrator, and Mark, his best friend and foil, as they grow up in a tough, low-income neighborhood during the turbulent 1960’s. Charlie’s Bar, where the novel’s flashback begins, provides the setting for much of the action, and Bryon’s frequent foreshadowing comments create a tone of expectation and foreboding. The opening chapter moves quickly to a scene of violence, as members of the bullying Shepard gang jump M&M. Bryon and Mark rescue him, but M&M’s victimization continues throughout the novel, reinforcing S. E. Hinton’s depiction of the lack of justice on the streets, as does the story told by hospital patient Mike Chambers, a white youth who is beaten by black toughs when a girl he tries to rescue falsely identifies him as an attacker. Bryon understands why Mike does not hate black people as a result of his beating, but Mark considers him “stupid” for trying to help.
Despite their bond, Bryon and Mark have distinctly different ethical systems; Mark is on probation for hot-wiring cars, yet he ironically steals the principal’s car each day in order to meet his probation officer. Talking his way out of that situation, Mark leads a seemingly charmed life; Bryon marvels at Mark’s ability to get away with anything and admires his lionlike beauty and daring resourcefulness. For example, when Bryon and Mark owe Charlie three dollars, and...
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Vietnam and the Antiwar Movement
The 1960s and early 1970s were turbulent times, and the war in Vietnam did not help abate this tension. The conflict in Vietnam had actually begun in 1946, shortly after World War II ended. WWII had left many areas in Southeast Asia unstable, and over the next two decades, the United States quietly provided support to South Vietnam and those allied with the country, which was fighting against Ho Chi Minh’s Communist forces in North Vietnam. The United States, so fearful of the spread of Communism that it viewed the loss of Vietnam as the start of a “domino” effect in Southeast Asia, escalated its involvement in the area. In 1964, President Johnson asked Congress for support, after one United States destroyer—performing a covert operation—was attacked by North Vietnamese forces off the coast of North Vietnam and another was allegedly attacked. (Later, it was shown that the second destroyer had not been attacked.) Johnson, who assured Congress that the destroyers were on routine, overt missions, convinced Congress to pass the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, which effectively gave Johnson unlimited power to escalate the Vietnam conflict. At this point, most Americans were unaware of these happenings.
By 1965, when fifty thousand new United States ground troops were added to the twentythree thousand already stationed in Vietnam—posing as...
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The story takes place in a rough, low income, east-side neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the mid- 1960s, an era of anti-war demonstrations and anti-establishment attitudes. In this neighborhood, streetwise Mark and Bryon, the two main characters, hustle pool in Charlie's Bar, drink, fight, and pick up girls. The toughs often consider the counterculture hippies easy targets for mugging, for the hippies do not fight back when attacked. Hinton evokes a sense of the setting less through explicit description than through repeated mention of places and people. The Ribbon is a cruising strip where kids can buy hot dogs or marijuana; the parking lot of the high school and the local bowling alley are teen-age meeting spots where violence often erupts; the hippie commune is a colorful but neglected and dirty place, where residents talk about love and take drugs. The setting of the novel adds realism and power to Hinton's work, although the problems that her characters confront could arise anywhere.
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The story is told in the first person viewpoint, from the perspective of Bryon Douglas, which is consistent with Hinton’s other teenage novels. By doing this, Hinton imbues her book with a deep sense of emotion. In the beginning, Bryon notes that “Mark was my best buddy and I loved him like a brother.” In the end, Bryon is emotionally dead and says, “I don’t even care about Mark. The guy who was my best friend doesn’t exist any longer, and I don’t want to think about the person who has taken his place.” Along the way, Bryon leads the reader through all of the ill-fated steps that led to this transformation. Had Hinton used a thirdperson narrator to tell Bryon’s story instead of letting Bryon tell it, the feeling for the character would not be as personal, and the shocking ending, where Bryon turns Mark in for dealing drugs, would not have as much impact.
While the ending has impact, the careful reader can pick up on a number of Bryon’s statements that foreshadow Mark’s drug dealing and his resulting feelings for Bryon when he is put away. The first of these happens after Bryon and Mark visit Mike Chambers in the hospital. Although Bryon sees how Mike could forgive his attackers, Mark says that he could never forgive anybody who hurt him that badly. In an offhand comment to the reader, Bryon responds to Mark’s comment by saying that, at the time, he did not think...
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That Was Then, This Is Now is written as a first-person narrative. Because Bryon is retelling the story a year after it happened, Hinton is able to make especially effective use of the writing device called "foreshadowing." This technique gives the reader a sense of future turns in the novel, usually by hinting at a major idea or event. An early example of foreshadowing is found at the end of the second chapter. When referring to the boys who beat Mike, Mark says, "Man, if anybody ever hurt me like that I'd hate them for the rest of my life." Bryon, as narrator, picks up on this statement and lets the reader know it is significant: "I didn't think much about that statement then. But later I would—I still do. I think about it and think about it until I think I'm going crazy." A similar idea is echoed in chapter 3, when Bryon fears that Cathy may be interested in Mark. All of a sudden, and only for an instant, he hates Mark. Commenting on this reaction, Bryon wonders what it would be like to be haunted by feelings of antagonism for the rest of his life. Bryon's early resentment of Mark foreshadows Mark's eventual hatred of Bryon, which Bryon fears will last for the rest of Mark's life. In the epilogue Bryon claims to feel nothing, but his earlier statement leads the reader to suspect that he feels more than he will admit.
Hinton's foreshadowing technique affects the book's tone, making it somewhat foreboding because of the reader's sense that...
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That Was Then, This Is Now is concerned more with questions of personal morality and ethics than it is with social problems. Nevertheless, social issues do arise. One of the more troubling aspects of the boys' personalities is racism. When a bored Mark sees a black man standing alone, he asks Bryon if he wants to jump the stranger. M&M intervenes and points out the hypocrisy in their actions: they saved M&M from being jumped because he was different, a hippie, but now they want to attack someone on the basis of race. Bryon feels ashamed when he thinks about the truth in M&M's statement, but this will not redeem him in most readers' eyes. Parents or teachers may want to discuss the problem of racist attitudes in the book, perhaps in connection with Mike's story and in Bryon's and Mark's reactions to that incident.
Two other sensitive issues raised in the book are drug abuse and violence among teenagers. Many students who casually read Hinton's account of a bad acid trip may need to have reinforced the dangerous consequences of hallucinogenic drug experiences. Bryon and Mark also drink excessively, although they do not perceive this habit as drug abuse.
Perhaps the most disturbing problem, a result largely of environmental pressure, is the extreme level of violence to which the boys are accustomed. Fighting is entertainment for Bryon and Mark. Hinton attempts to address the issue of violence by recounting several disturbing...
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Compare and Contrast
1960s–1970s: The United States significantly escalates its military involvement in Vietnam, prompting the government to “draft” its young men to fight and igniting the antiwar movement. Many young Americans enroll in college—the only legal way to avoid being drafted—stage protests, burn their draft cards, and even flee to other countries to avoid having to fight in the war.
Today: After an unexpected attack on the Pentagon in Washington and the World Trade Center in New York City, the United States engages in a full-scale, international war on terrorism. The American public rallies to support this decision, and the military experiences a surge in its ranks as patriotic young men and women enlist to help wage the war.
1960s–1970s: Many hippies and other members of the counterculture movement—who are often in their twenties or younger—experiment with “recreational” drugs to expand their minds and rebel against the establishment. For some people, these drug experiments backfire and cause permanent brain damage or other side effects that limit the person’s ability to function in society.
Today: America’s public service organizations help to fight the war on drugs through influential advertisements that depict drugs as a barrier to success. These ads are aimed mainly at young children and teenagers, the primary target of many drug pushers....
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Topics for Discussion
1. Although the book's ending seems hopeless, do you think it is possible that Mark and Bryon will reconcile? What would have to happen first for this reconciliation to take place?
2. Should Bryon have called the police when he did, or should he have given Mark another chance?
3. What could help Mark develop a more ethical, mature attitude toward others and himself?
4. Discuss the pros and cons of looking back at past events and asking "what if?"
5. Cathy exerts a big influence on Bryon. Does Bryon influence her in any way? Does she change as a result of her relationship with Bryon?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Research the history of LSD and other hallucinogenic drug use. What is the history of their use? What are the effects of these drugs on the brain and on the body?
2. Analyze Hinton's use of the technique of foreshadowing. When does Hinton use this technique? Does she ever give the story away? When is the foreshadowing most effective? Least effective?
3. How would the story change if it were told from Mark's point of view?
4. How do issues of race and gender influence relationships in That Was Then, This is Now? Consider Mike's story and the scenes in which Angela's hair is cut and Bryon is beaten up.
5. Betrayal is a major theme in the novel. Whose betrayal is worse, Mark's of Bryon or Bryon's of Mark? Is one more excusable than the other, or are both equally devastating?
6. What constitutes a literary tragedy? Is That Was Then, This Is Now a tragedy? What parts are most applicable to a tragic interpretation?
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Topics for Further Study
The Vietnam War influenced the lives of many young American men who were called upon to fight in a war in which many did not believe. Research the political and social climate in America during this time period and write a journal entry from the point of view of a young man who has just been drafted.
Hinton was a teenager when she published her first young adult novel, which she hoped would resonate with other teens who had similar experiences. Write a one-page synopsis for a young adult novel based on observations you have made about your high school or other teenage experiences.
Although the majority of reviewers credit Hinton with creating realistic tales, some maintain that teen life in the 1960s, even in gangs, was not as bad as the author’s depictions. Research gangs and gang life during the 1960s and discuss how the actual history of the time period compares to Hinton’s depictions.
In the story, the narrator, Bryon, turns in his foster brother to the police and, as a result, loses the ability to care about anyone. Study current psychological research that addresses instances in which people experience loss of emotions. Using your research to support your claims, give a diagnosis of what you think happened to Bryon.
Study the current methods that the government and public service organizations are using to fight drug distribution and use. How have these methods been effective? How have they failed? Propose...
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Those who have read Hinton's first novel, The Outsiders, will recognize Ponyboy Curtis and the Shepards when they reappear in That Was Then, This Is Now. Events related in The Outsiders took place several years before those in That Was Then, This Is Now, and some of these events are alluded to in the later book. A third novel, Rumble Fish, is set in the same neighborhood. Themes of fighting, violent retribution, and substance abuse, as well as the effects of poverty and social stigmatization, unite these books, as do their location, and, to a lesser extent, their characters.
That Was Then, This Is Now was made into a feature motion picture in 1985 and is available on videotape. Directed by Christopher Cain and starring Emilio Estevez, the film differs from Hinton's book in many ways. Because it is set in the 1980s, M&M cannot be a hippie. Instead he is characterized as a surly, oversensitive youngster, not at all trusting or innocent. The neighborhood seems more middle class, and the boys' need for money is less apparent. The racism that appeared in the novel is omitted; Charlie is black, as is Terry, and Mike's story is left out altogether.
The movie focuses more evenly on both Bryon and Mark, without the unavoidable bias of a first-person narration. Mark is portrayed more sympathetically, and his loneliness and jealousy are emphasized. The ending of the story is changed, too. The movie still...
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That Was Then, This Is Now was adapted as a film in 1985, directed by Christopher Cain, written by Emilio Estevez, and starring Craig Sheffer as Bryon, Estevez as Mark, Kim Delaney as Cathy, and Morgan Freeman as Charlie. Hinton assisted with the production of the film, which is available on video from Paramount Home Video.
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What Do I Read Next?
Eve Bunting’s Someone Is Hiding on Alcatraz Island (1984) features the story of Danny, a San Francisco boy who saves an old woman from a mugger’s attack. Unfortunately, in the process, Danny offends the Outlaws, a gang at his high school. He tries to escape to Alcatraz Island, but the gang follows, and Danny, with the help of a park ranger, must survive on the grounds of the old prison. The book was published in reprint edition in 1994 by Berkley Publishing Group.
The Chocolate War had a very controversial reception when it was first published in 1974. Robert Cormier’s popular and ground-breaking novel features the story of Jerry Renault, a freshman at a Catholic high school, who does the unthinkable when he inspires a movement in refusing to sell chocolates for the school fundraiser, even though his actions eventually provoke the retaliation of the Vigils, the school gang. The book was published in a reprint edition in 1986 by Random House.
Hinton’s The Outsiders (1967), the unexpected smash success that paved the way for grittier young adult novels, including That Was Then, This Is Now, details the struggle between two gangs, the poor greasers and the rich Socs (short for socials). In Hinton’s book, the greasers were the ones who normally got attacked by the Socs, which flipped the standard model of violence on its head....
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For Further Reference
Commire, Anne, ed. Something about the Author. Vol. 19. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. Contains a good bit of autobiographical information, as well as some critical analysis of Hinton's work.
De Montreville, Doris, and Elizabeth D. Crawford, eds. Fourth Book of Junior Authors. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1978. An excellent source for autobiographical information. Contains an analysis of Hinton's career up to 1978, and lists the awards she has received.
Hinton, S. E. "Face to Face with a Teenage Novelist." Seventeen (October 1967): 133. Hinton talks about herself and her writing. Parts of this article are reprinted in Commire.
"TeenAgers Are for Real." New York Times Book Review (August 27, 1967): 26-29. More Hinton on Hinton, and on young adult literature as well.
Kirkpatrick, D. L. ed. Twentieth-Centwy Children's Writers. New York: St. Martin's, 1978. Contains an overview of Hinton's writing career to 1978, with analysis of her themes and characters.
Locher, Frances Carol, ed. Contemporary Authors. Vols. 81-84. Detroit: Gale Research, 1979. Contains a brief overview of Hinton's work.
Robin, Lisa. "The Young and the Restless." Media and Methods (May/June 1982): 28, 45. Focuses on Tex. Includes a teacher's guide to The Outsiders, That Was Then, This Is Now, Rumble Fish, and Tex that offers many useful discussion questions.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Anderson, Terry H., “Hippies and Drugs,” in The 1960s, edited by William Dudley, Greenhaven Press, Inc., 2000, pp. 200–01, originally published in The Movement and the Sixties, Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 259–60.
Andrews, Sheryl B., Review of That Was Then, This Is Now, in Horn Book Magazine, Vol. XLVII, No. 4, August 1971, pp. 388–89.
Cart, Michael, Review of That Was Then, This Is Now, in New York Times Book Review, August 8, 1971, p. 8. Daly, Jay, Presenting S. E. Hinton Twayne Publishers, 1987, pp. 41–43, 46–47.
Gilbert, Martin, A History of the Twentieth Century, Vol. 3, 1952–1999, Perennial, 2000, p. 307.
Hinton, S. E., “S. E. Hinton,” in Speaking for Ourselves: Autobiographical Sketches by Notable Authors of Books for Young Adults, edited by Donald R. Gallo, 1990, p. 95.
–, That Was Then, This Is Now, Laurel Leaf Books, 1985.
Lyons, Gene, “On Tulsa’s Mean Streets,” in Newsweek, Vol. 100, No. 15, October 11, 1982, pp. 105–06.
Malone, Michael, “Tough Puppies,” in Nation, Vol. 242, No. 9, March 8, 1986, pp. 276–78, 290.
McMurtry, Larry, The Last Picture Show, Dial Press, 1966.
Olson, James S., and Randy Roberts, “Johnson’s Escalation and the Antiwar Movement,” in The 1960s, edited by...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
Daly, Jay. Presenting S. E. Hinton. Boston: Twayne, 1989.
Donelson, Kenneth L., and Alleen Pace Nilsen. Literature for Today’s Young Adults. 3d ed. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1989.
Mills, Randall K. “The Novels of S. E. Hinton: Springboard to Personal Growth for Adolescents.” Adolescence 22 (Fall, 1987): 641-646.
Stanek, Lou Willett. A Teacher’s Guide to the Paperback Editions of the Novels of S. E. Hinton. New York: Dell, 1975.
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