Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

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 Bryon worries about paying the bill before Charlie beats it out of them, Mark conveniently picks three dollars from the pocket of one of M&M’s assailants. Mark rationalizes his actions, and, when Bryon’s mother is hospitalized, Mark brings home money that Bryon suspects is either stolen or poker winnings. Since they cannot live without it, however, Bryon asks no questions.

While Mark seeks quick, dangerous solutions to their financial crisis, Bryon gets a job at a supermarket bagging groceries and develops a serious relationship with M&M’s sister, Cathy. The divergent reactions of the boys to the increasing tension of their lives emphasize that people change. Bryon examines his decisions, often pondering the “what if” questions that are impossible to answer. Mark, on the other hand, does not want to consider difficult questions; his is a practical existence, and his decisions are based more on immediate need than on the ultimate outcome. Even Charlie’s death, which haunts Bryon throughout the entire novel, is dismissed by Mark as “just one of those things that happen.” Charlie dies because Mark and Bryon hustle two armed Texans who decide to take revenge, yet Mark feels no sense of responsibility or guilt.

Both Mark and Bryon end up in the hospital for stitches as a result of brutal beatings. Mark is hit in the head with a bottle at a school dance because a jealous Angela Shepard sends someone after Ponyboy Curtis (a character from Hinton’s 1967 novel The Outsiders); Bryon is badly beaten by the Shepard gang because he is blamed for Mark’s cruel prank against Angela (cutting her hair while she is drunk). In each case, the violence is senseless and mistaken, yet the injustice cannot be undone. Their different reactions to their experience, however, reflect the growing rift in the boys’ relationship: When Mark wants to retaliate against the Shepard gang for Bryon’s beating, Bryon makes him promise not to seek revenge. Bryon wants to break the “circle” of violence, but Mark feels frustrated by his inability to impose his own justice.

As Bryon’s relationship with Cathy intensifies, he spends less time with Mark, who continues to supply the household with more money than could possibly be won or stolen. Mark becomes openly antagonistic toward Cathy, and she, too, does not hide her disapproval of him. When M&M runs away, Mark knows that he is hiding out at the hippie commune, but he does not tell Bryon until after the Shepard beating. When Bryon and Cathy go to the commune to bring M&M home, they find him in a delusional state, fearfully trapped in a nightmarish LSD reality.

Bryon and Cathy rush M&M to the hospital, but the cynical doctor offers little hope for a full recovery. Bryon’s love for Cathy and her family overwhelms his loyalty to Mark, and, when he discovers Mark’s stash of pills that same night, facing for the first time the truth about Mark’s drug-dealing activities, he panics. In his worry and anger over M&M’s bad trip, Bryon calls the police. Mark’s subsequent arrest destroys the bond of brotherhood and friendship that sustained the two, and both are miserable in the final outcome. At the end of the novel, Bryon has only questions and self-pity upon which to reflect: Cathy is seeing Ponyboy, and Mark is a hardened inmate of the state reformatory. Mark has become a “dangerous caged lion” who is unable to get away with anything, and Bryon is a straight-A student who longs to return to a simpler, idealized past.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Vietnam and the Antiwar Movement
The 1960s and early 1970s were turbulent times, and the war in Vietnam did not help...

(The entire section is 997 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story takes place in a rough, low income, east-side neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, during the mid- 1960s, an era of anti-war...

(The entire section is 162 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

The story is told in the first person viewpoint, from the perspective of Bryon Douglas, which is consistent...

(The entire section is 811 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

That Was Then, This Is Now is written as a first-person narrative. Because Bryon is retelling the story a year after it happened,...

(The entire section is 388 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

That Was Then, This Is Now is concerned more with questions of personal morality and ethics than it is with social problems....

(The entire section is 273 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1960s–1970s: The United States significantly escalates its military involvement in Vietnam, prompting the government to...

(The entire section is 306 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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...

(The entire section is 101 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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 entire section is 161 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

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....

(The entire section is 255 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Those who have read Hinton's first novel, The Outsiders, will recognize Ponyboy Curtis and the Shepards when they reappear in That...

(The entire section is 332 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Emilio Estevez as Mark Jennings in the 1985 film version of the novel Published by Gale Cengage

That Was Then, This Is Now was adapted as a film in 1985, directed by Christopher Cain, written by Emilio Estevez, and starring Craig...

(The entire section is 55 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Eve Bunting’s Someone Is Hiding on Alcatraz Island (1984) features the story of Danny, a San Francisco boy who saves an old woman...

(The entire section is 650 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Commire, Anne, ed. Something about the Author. Vol. 19. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. Contains a good bit of autobiographical...

(The entire section is 244 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Anderson, Terry H., “Hippies and Drugs,” in The 1960s, edited by William Dudley, Greenhaven Press, Inc.,...

(The entire section is 599 words.)


(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

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.