That Was Then, This Is Now Essays and Criticism
by S. E. Hinton

That Was Then, This Is Now book cover
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Bryon's Emotional Growth

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That Was Then, This Is Now is one of Hinton’s— and young adult fiction’s—classic comingof- age stories. Hinton stages her story amidst the gritty street background that characterized many of her young adult books, and employed the same realistic themes that helped to change the tone of young adult fiction in general. As Hinton discussed in Speaking for Ourselves, when she was a teenager, “there wasn’t much to read except Mary Jane Goes to the Prom, and I couldn’t stand to read that stuff.” Instead, Hinton’s teenagers face adult situations, make adult decisions, and deal with adult consequences. In That Was Then, This Is Now, the teenager is Bryon Douglas, who makes the transformation from a carefree kid to a mature, responsible, but emotionally devastated adult. Although many factors influence Bryon’s transformation, it is the symbolic death of Charlie that provides the ultimate catalyst.

In the beginning of the story, Bryon is a street kid, whose rough lifestyle is established with the first line of the book: “Mark and me went down to the bar/pool hall about two or three blocks from where we lived with the sole intention of making some money.” Throughout the rest of the first chapter, Bryon tells the reader the other ways he lives his life besides hustling pool, such as how he treats girls, “telling them I loved them and junk, when I didn’t. I had a rep as a lady-killer—a hustler.” Bryon also demonstrates his tendency to fight with other kids, when he and Mark gladly come to M&M’s rescue, after M&M gets jumped by Curly Shepard and his gang. “Me and Mark looked at each other, and Mark flashed me a grin. We both liked fights. We ran out and jumped on them.” Most important, Bryon is tied to his foster brother, another street kid: “Mark was my best buddy and I loved him like a brother.” At this point, Bryon is starting to have some minor doubts about his lifestyle, such as when he takes M&M’s cue and starts to realize that fights are not all that great: “I didn’t feel quite as good as I had before. I was thinking about what M&M had said about beating up people because they were different.” However, Bryon is only starting to have these feelings, and even after he remembers his own bad experiences with being mugged, he still notes, “I liked fights.”

At the end of the story, however, Bryon has changed. He has turned in his “brother,” Mark, to the authorities for drug dealing and is very confused about why he does this. “Why had I turned on Mark? What had I done to him?” Bryon quickly finds that his actions have a profound effect on his emotional state. When Cathy comes to visit, he is distant, cold, and deliberately hurtful to her. As he notes, “I wondered impersonally why I didn’t love her any more. But it didn’t seem to matter.” Furthermore, Bryon is no longer living the carefree lifestyle he had, picking fights and causing other types of trouble. Instead, he follows a mature, responsible life routine. “I went to school and went to work and went home and studied.” He performs this routine without thought and gets “straight A’s” and a promotion, “from sack boy to clerk. I didn’t come to work hung over and I didn’t give the manager any lip.”

So what causes this huge transformation? Although many factors contribute to Bryon’s change, it is the death of his friend Charlie that sets the change in motion. In fact, Charlie’s death is strategically placed within the novel, almost exactly halfway through the narrative, dividing the book into two equal parts, the period in Bryon’s life before Charlie’s death and the period after Charlie’s death. This is not an accident on Hinton’s part. As Jay Daly said in his book, Presenting S. E. Hinton, “That Was Then, This Is Now is, in nearly everyone’s view, a much more disciplined novel than The Outsiders .” Daly notes that Hinton used this discipline “to fashion a well-crafted book.” Looking at the book...

(The entire section is 6,690 words.)