As Jay Daly notes, throughout S E. Hinton's novel Tex, the narrator, Tex McCormick, divides the people he meets into two groups: those who go and those who stay. In the beginning, this seems like a straightforward division, but by the end of the novel, it is clear that the question of whether to go or to stay is a complex one.
Not only is it difficult for the characters to choose whether to go or to stay, it is clear by the end of the novel that sometimes the only way to stay somewhere emotionally is physically to go. Through Tex's ruminations on the differences between those who stay and those who go, Hinton's themes of change and stability emerge.
Tex knows that he is a "stayer"—that he will probably always remain in his hometown. In part, this is because he enjoys rural life, particularly working with horses, which he calls the "best high" he knows. He has experienced true communion with his horse Negrito, whom he treats like a human. Tex prefers the joys of the country to the temptations of the city, saying that"
Me, I liked living in the country and some of the other kids liked it, too. Some of them pretended they did because they couldn't live anywhere else. Then you had the people like Mason, who were itching to stay out. I couldn't quite figure out why.
Throughout the novel, Tex identifies his brother Mason as a "goer." Mason expresses his dissatisfaction with their life in the country, hoping for a basketball scholarship in order to get out of town. Tex is worried about Mason's desire to leave; he is the only stable element of Tex's life, once Tex's horse Negrito is sold Mason takes care of Tex, worries about him, and supports him.
By contrast, Tex loses his girlfriend Jamie because he wants to get closer, both physically and emotionally, than she wants. The other Collins kids are discouraged from seeing Tex and Mason by their father, Cole.
Tex's mother is dead, and his father isn't around much. When Pop is around, he indulges Tex, which Mason sees as evidence of Pop's lack of concern for the kid. When Tex gets in trouble at school, Mason punishes him Pop is amused by Tex's behavior, especially since Tex was mimicking something Pop had done when he was a boy. Mason is disgusted by what he sees as Pop's lack of concern, as Tex notes:
I couldn't see what else he could do, besides take it calmly, but Mason was absolutely enraged.
"Okay," he stalked around the room like a frenzied panther. "Okay, so you can't take Tex serums. So you can't give a damn about what happens to him. All right, I'm trying to live with that. Then think about me! For God's sake, how do you think I feel, seeing you being 'nice' to him, like you'd be nice to a goddamn stray puppy'. While I'm the one who has to look out for him and what's going to happen when I'm not here?"
Pop and I were both staring at him I was ready to call in the straight jacket people.
"Geez, make it easier on me if nothing else! He is my brother even if he isn't your son!"
Tex is stunned by this news, but it makes sense to him emotionally. When he lies in the hospital after being shot, he asks Pop if the reason he clearly favored Mason was...
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There was close to universal agreement among the reviewers on the new "mature" style of Tex, usually the result of comparison with the youthful exuberance of The Outsiders or with the more personal, more demanding Rumble Fish. There will always be strong individual arguments for readers who prefer the unalloyed intensity of The Outsiders or the spine-tingling mythmaking of Rumble Fish, but there is little doubt that, as an example of mature, polished storytelling, Tex is Hinton's most successful effort. All the discipline and control she had to force into That Was Then, This Is Now is here brought effortlessly to bear. Tex doesn't take the chances that Rumble Fish took, but it knows what chances it is willing to take and how to handle them.
In fact Tex is clearly the most seamless of her books. The voice is consistent and appropriate throughout. It is Tex's voice, Tex's consciousness. The controlling, manipulating hand of the author is far in the background. For us, the readers, it has disappeared.
This is a style of writing that puts the welfare of the book, and the integrity of the book's voice, above its own need to show off. The most successful fiction—that which will last beyond one day in the sun—always seems to work its magic upon the reader in concealment, lying in wait like an enemy agent, familiar and friendly and certainly unsuspected, until at some point it explodes into an awareness that is truly subversive, that shakes the foundations of the reader's version of comfortable reality. Tex's subversion is a modest one, as befits a book of such "unexpected contentment" but in its own way, in the conclusions it draws, the world view that gradually comes into focus behind its exceptional main character, it is as meaningful, and as important, as the shattering monochrome vision of Rumble Fish.
The structure of the book resembles that of the conventional novel much more than anything we've seen before. There are no tricks, no frame chapters or flashbacks. Hinton shows the same restraint with regard to her structure as she has with her style. The approach is straightforward, without embellishment, without anything that might distract the reader from the important matter at hand, the story, as conveyed through the continuing, sure voice of the narrator.
The story rolls along in real time, event upon event, so as to achieve a kind of momentum, a not-to-be-averted quality that reminds us of the carnival gypsy: "There are people who go, people who stay. You will stay." There is no intervention by a more knowing narrator with access to the future, no one to tease us with hints of secrets he knows and we will only later find out. Tex knows no more than we do about his future. He knows only what he's been told by gypsies and what he's inferred from meetings with hitchhikers and drug dealers, which isn't much. Tex's is a future without the kind of guarantees an omniscient narrator provides. It's the kind of future that needs to be lived in order to see what will happen.
The structure of the novel emphasizes the flow of events. It is the opposite of the staccato structure of Rumble Fish, whose technique emphasizes the here-and-now (and the timeless), rather than the gradual flow of time. Chapters in the earlier books are shorter and tend to concentrate on one scene, with the result that—though there are some powerfully rendered scenes—the overall effect is episodic. The action in the earlier books tends to move in an almost cinematic fashion, from scene to scene, with the mood and flow of the story building up out of an accumulation of episodes. There is nothing wrong with this technique and when it works it works very well, but the structure of Tex is the more traditional (let's say, literary, rather than the cinematic) way to do it.
The structure of the book is, finally, in keeping with the ars est celare artem (true art conceals art) approach of its style. Understated, conventional, it defers at all times to the story line, to character and plot.
The plot, outlined earlier, is certainly not lacking in action scenes. Why is it then that we don't emerge from the book with the sense of having read an action/adventure story, as we certainly might have with The Outsiders, and even with the other books? Part of it has to do with the more controlled, more confident writer Hinton has become. The action scenes, while still vividly written, are more integrated into the flow of the story line. The impulse of the younger writer might have been to make sure that her action scenes packed a wallop—something she knew she could achieve—to compensate for what she might have felt were inadequacies in other areas. By the time of Tex she seems to have become more comfortable with her talent, and those inadequacies, real or imagined, no longer hold much sway on her.
The result is, once again, a more organic, integrated novel. Nothing stands out; nothing detracts from the movement of the book as a whole. Even the central scene with the hitchhiker—major melodrama on the face of it: it could easily have been made as obvious a turning point as the church fire in The Outsiders—is quickly disarmed by the horseplay of the television/local hero scenes and by the new turning point (or so we think) of the return of Pop. It is rather surprising, in fact, to note that the hitchhiker, as we shall see, is a rather important figure in the book, so quickly does he come and go.
Another point to consider is that events and scenes don't make it into S.E. Hinton novels as a result of serendipity. Certainly not since The Outsiders anyway. All the novels since then have been very clearly worked over, shaped and controlled by the author. Hinton's method of plot construction is a painstaking process, based—as it has been from the beginning—on character, on the reactions of characters to incidents, and to the more subtle structural weave that surrounds them. This is not something that comes without effort.
Her comments in the interview published in the 1983-84 University of Tulsa Annual are instructive as to both her methods and her goals:
I have a real hard time plotting things anyway. And I always have an end in mind. The beginning is kind of easy because you can put characters in any situation. Getting from point A to Z is just so hard for me, and I get off on tangents and write 50 pages on a minor character. So I think, this isn't going in the direction I thought, and I tear it up. What's going to happen next? I need to get "Tex" from there over here, but how do I do that? Sometimes I put it away for months at a time.
Behind her usual self-deprecating tone (the same voice that says the gas bill is an inspiration) there are clues to the close attention paid to the requirements of fitting plot with character: the false starts and wrong turns, the clear direction of the book from its inception, and the occasional frustration when the fit between character and event is wrong ("Sometimes ... months at a time").
Hinton is, as she has said from the start, a "character writer." "I always start off with characters, and I have to know my characters real well ... It doesn't matter if they show up in the book or not, I have to know them." When you know your characters real well, when you know "what they eat for breakfast, what their sign is," then you will not sacrifice them to the poor fit of an overblown crisis scene. No, their actions and reactions must be true to themselves, or there is no reason to write the book at all.
"I like to think my books show character growth in some way, that the character is always different in the end than he was in the beginning." Action is Character, we will recall, was Fitzgerald's upper-case imperative to himself in the notebooks for The Last Tycoon. We have applied this prescription to The Outsiders and seen where the book met—and failed to meet—its requirements. With Tex it must be introduced once again because, while the character of the first-person narrator, and character in general, is important in all the books, in Tex it is truly sine qua non, that without which...
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In Tex, S.E. Hinton has created another engaging character—a carefree, easy-going, fifteen-year-old who learns some hard lessons on the road to maturity. Hinton's skillful handling of the first-person narrative easily involves the reader in Tex's changing feelings and relationships with his brother, his father, and his friends.
Tex is an appealing Huckleberry Finn sort of character—natural, mischievous, and instinctive. He and his seventeen-year-old brother, Mason, shift for themselves, with only a memory of a mother and an "absent minded" father who is away "rodeoing" most of the time. Mason (or Mace), as serious as Tex is carefree, is forced to be the father and manager of the family, and the responsibility...
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