That was Then, This is Now is told through first-person narration, so that readers are following Bryon in a close perspective. What is the effect of this first-person narration? What does it tell that other perspectives might not tell? Why do you think the author chose to make Bryon the narrator? What is the effect on the narration of Bryon being older and looking back on these incidents?
Although Mark and Bryon have been brothers for a very long time, the story Bryon tells in That was Then, This is Now is really one of realizing that one can never fully understand another person. In some ways, this book is a very gritty and slightly more mature version of a coming-of-age novel. By limiting readers to Bryon’s perspective, Hinton shows her audiences just how little one person—no matter how reflective he is or how astute are his observations—really knows about what is going on in the world, or just in his neighborhood, and even with his own adoptive brother. By placing Bryon’s narration as one which looks back across time, Hinton is able to weave the mature understanding of older Bryon into the thoughts and actions of the younger one—in this way she is able to illuminate the happenings of that year with their “proper” understanding.
The story ends on a tragic, unresolved note. Why might Hinton have chosen to do this? Is there any form of resolution in the book’s current ending? Are there hints of future hope in Mark and Bryon’s current situations?
Hinton’s ending, although depressing in how it leaves off implying ongoing brokenness between Mark and Bryon, is a mature “cap” on this book which has been drifting towards the gritty reality of maturity that the boys have been facing all along. However, given the entire story’s realistic narration—it feels like a “slice of life” sort of story—readers also know that the story goes on for a long time past the beginning and past the end. Even though in the last passage Bryon says that he “doesn’t care about anything anymore” (pg. 159), readers are able to understand this as another immature act of extremity—this time on the side of apathy. The fact that Bryon continues to propose “what if’s?” in the last passage (even if they are in reference to past events) shows that there are still many “what if’s?” to come for his future.
What is the importance of the historical context and setting of the story?
Set during the 1960s in a rough neighborhood in Tulsa, socioeconomic divides, racial divides, and ideological divides are all absolutely essential to a holistic understanding this novel. These divides all lead to tensions between different groups of people, and eventually to tensions between individuals. While The Outsiders focused almost exclusively on the problematic socioeconomic divide between neatly labeled packs of rich kid “Socs” and poor kid “Greasers,” these terms are only mentioned in passing in That was Then, This is Now—and are not actually used anymore. Instead, Civil Rights movements and the Vietnam War loom like shadows over these communities, acting as further causes of divisions along formerly invisible lines. That is, Mark and Bryon come from a similar white, poor background, and yet their ideologies and moral leanings differ. These are not apparent differences, but are easily teased out in tense and important situations. Bryon even notes at one point (pg. 60) that it is now harder and harder to tell “Greaser” from “Soc.”
Perception and perspective are very important in this book, especially to Bryon, as he realizes how different he is from Mark. Discuss the significance of these two terms in light of Bryon’s observations of Mark. Support your answer with examples from the text.
Bryon often realizes that he can only see out of his own eyes—and never Mark’s—in clear passages of reflection on what has just occurred, or on what Mark has just said. These include but are not limited to: reflecting on M&M’s words about getting jumped (pg. 24); Mark’s thoughts on Mike (pg. 42); Mark possibly stealing the shirt for Bryon (pg. 49); describing Mark’s appearance as a lion (pg. 75); Mark’s persuasion about the drugs (pg. 100); Mark in prison (pg. 159-60).
Why does Charlie’s death, out of all incidents, cause such a profound change in Bryon? You may want to address Charlie’s position at the time of his death, and how well the boys knew him.
Charlie was a model of the American dream for Bryon and Mark—mostly for Bryon. Spending time with Charlie makes Bryon hopeful that one day he will also be able to move out of his current position in society. After Charlie’s death, Bryon says to Mark hopelessly: “He was all set for life…he was all set, and then we blew it for him” (pg. 86), and realizes how real life really is. Charlie’s death is a significant occasion in Bryon’s maturation, as he realizes that he differs from lawless people like Mark, who do not think about the future or social mobility.
Bryon is an astute observer and often comments at length about the things he sees. For example, he describes people’s physical appearances in great detail. Pick (at least) two examples of such descriptions, and explain how the physical appearances of these people help readers understand them as characters.
Examples include but are not limited to: Cathy Carlson; Angela Shepard; Mark Jennings; Bryan Douglas himself; M&M Carlson. In almost all cases, the descriptions of their physical appearances mirror something in their personalities or how they will act later down the line. For example: Mark’s lion-like appearance indicates his lawlessness, like an animal, as well as his pride and the respect he commands among his peers.
What is the importance of being “tough” in Tulsa? How are people defined by their “toughness” and what sort of effects does this have on teenagers who are growing into adults?
Bryon describes M&M as strange—even though very nice and kind. He also says that M&M had fared well in this community, especially as someone so pathetic. Bryon also frequently comments on certain people’s abilities to fight (mostly boys’ abilities to fight). There is an unspoken hierarchy based on the capability to defend oneself. Some exceptions do exist to this all-boys-game rule, however, and one example is Angela Shepard. Bryon calls her a tough chick, and is saddened to see her finally break down and spill her secrets when drunk. Growing up with such values forces these teenagers to make quick decisions—often not the best decisions. For example, Angela marries rashly. Mark tries to dismiss his role in Charlie’s death. Many of them do not think beyond their current situations, and stay in this violent, poor neighborhood.
Compare and contrast the various families and familial networks that dominate That was Then, This is Now. How do they form the fabric of the town—how do they bring people together, but also form boundaries? Pick two; examples include: the Jennings, the Carlsons, the Shepards, the hippie commune; or discuss individuals who are not tied to a family, and what sort of effect that has on that character and those around him/her.
Characters not tied to a family include but are not limited to: Charlie, Mark (technically), Mike, and Ponyboy (his family is not illuminated in this story). Clashes often occur between these families as they become defensive of their value systems. Each of these family systems, in addition to having their own values and ideological systems (which things are more important to these families?), also has certain ways of showing love.
Not being tied to a family makes Charlie’s death easier to stomach; Mark’s artificial tie to a family soon becomes unsustainable because he isn’t really part of the Douglas family – he doesn’t share the same values as them, and eventually has to fall apart from them.