“I had been friends with Mark long before he came to live with us. He had lived down the street and it seemed to me that we had always been together. We had never had a fight. We had never even had an argument. In looks, we were complete opposites…He was my best friend and we were like brothers” (13).
Brotherhood is central to this story, and to understanding the complex relationship between the two main characters (which is a relationship that appears simple at first); in this passage at the beginning of the story, Bryon attempts to simplify this relationship for his own understanding. However, as time goes on, this statement will be completely reversed or unbelievable at the end of the story. This quote is a reminder not to believe everything that a narrator says—at least not for the entirety of the story.
“You make me sick! You just rescued me from some guys who were going to beat me up because I’m different from them, and now you’re going to beat up someone because he’s different from you. You think I’m weird—well, you’re the weird ones” (23).
Set during a fraught political time, racial tensions are somewhat explored in this book. Like many of her other books including The Outsiders, Hinton wants to explore the artificial boundaries that divide people, and how people often use them so negatively. Among these include wealth disparity, racial and ethnic differences, or even just ideological differences, like M&M’s pacifist mentality, which is so at odds with the rest of the gang-dominated neighborhood. By writing about such important sociopolitical issues, Hinton is able to encourage thinking about how to defy negativity perpetuated by differences.
“I guess I’m a little funny that way, because Negroes just don’t get me all upset, I mean, I can see a black guys and a white chick together, and it sure don’t bother me, while most white guys can’t stand to see that” (35).
Again, Hinton uses Mike’s uncomfortable rhetoric to explore the deep-set issue of racism and how it affects the concept of interracial marriage or love. Mike believes that everyone should be able to love anyone, and that race is really just an artificial boundary set up by political and social thoughts. The fact that he has to preface his statement by calling himself “I’m a little funny” should make readers feel uncomfortable that interracial love isn’t already acceptable.
“Yeah, I mean it. Man, if anybody ever hurt me like that I’d hate them for the rest of my life” (42).
Bryon follows up this statement in the text “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” (pg. 42) – that is, he jumps ahead and explores this event/dialogue from a later point of view. This is one of the more pointed incidents of foreshadowing, and looking back to this passage after the entire story is heartbreaking. Mark will never forgive Bryon for what he has done to him.
“Bryon, you’re an honest kid in most ways, but you lie like a dog. Take Mark—I wouldn’t trust him around anything that wasn’t nailed down, but I’d believe anything he said. I’d trust you with my wife, if I had one. I trust your actions, but I double-check most of your statements. You just think about it, and I think you’ll come up with the reason why you haven’t got a job before now. You just think about it” (44).
One way dialogue is particularly useful in fiction is that it reveals character without character having had to be told to readers. Charlie’s words show what the community at large thinks of Bryon and Mark respectively. This also has to do with perception and reality: how are Bryon and Mark really? To understand a person, we have to know what he thinks of himself, and also how others perceive him. Bryon’s character does reconcile what he has himself told us as readers, and what Charlie is now saying about him. That is most likely some truth of who he is.
“I could tell that M&M was listening to the conversation but was staring at his book, pretending he wasn’t. I understood what he was doing. I have stared at a book pretending I couldn’t hear what was going on around me, too. If people think you can’t hear them, they talk as if you couldn’t. You can hear some pretty neat stuff that way” (52).
The way people perceive others is central to the way Bryon operates around the people in his life. When he visits the Carlsons to pick up Cathy for the dance, he witnesses this particular family dynamic, and through this delivers to the readers the tension between M&M and Mr. Carlson. M&M pretends not to hear, but Bryon knows he does; pointing this out and seeing through this illusion makes Bryon comfortable and uncomfortable at once. Although this comforts Bryon in knowing that other people perform this charade as well, it is uncomfortable understanding that others often know more than one expects.
“I stopped breathing for a second. Cathy was looking at Mark, and I suddenly felt like I’d swallowed a spoonful of red pepper. I felt cold and hot and sick and mad all at once. I only felt it for a second, only for a second and then it was gone—but sometimes now I wonder how it would be to feel like that all your life. You know what the crummiest feeling you can have is? To hate the person you love best in the world” (55).
Another line that is repeated in this book is “hating the person you love best in the world,” which comes back again when Bryon visits Mark—Bryon references the incident on pg. 55 explicitly, saying “I suddenly remembered that time, so long ago, when Cathy had looked at Mark and for a moment I had hated him. I wondered what it felt like to experience that feeling all your life—to hate the person you loved best” (pg. 158). In the repetition of this quote, Bryon then switches over to the past tense on his second time saying this: “loved best” as opposed to “love best.” This quotation is the defining label on Mark and Bryon’s changed relationship. It also presents to readers a very hardened way of viewing the world as one grows up—and yet this hardened worldview is what the characters in the book have to live with given their current socioeconomic situations.
“That’s it! Like we got into those gang fights…We were like brothers, no just you and me, but all of us together. We woulda died for each other then. And now everybody’s kinda slipped away, and then we woulda died for each other. Really, man, remember? It was great, we were like a bunch of people makin’ up one big person, like we totaled up to somethin’ when we were together” (68).
Brotherhood is very important to understanding the relationships between characters in That was Then, This is Now. Mark and Bryon are not real brothers but treat each other as such; this makes their eventual falling apart all the more painful. Likewise, Cathy and M&M and their numerous siblings are tied together by this familial bond and love. For readers who are familiar with The Outsiders, Ponyboy’s feature also evokes memories of the brotherly love that is the focus of Hinton’s earlier novel. In tough environments like poor Tulsa, brotherhood is all that many kids have. Brotherhood is necessary—and not just friendship—for survival. Trust, which is central to brotherhood, is what dissolves eventually between Mark and Bryon.
“It’s kind of a good thing, too, when you know your own personality so you don’t need the one the gang makes for you” (69).
In response to their nostalgic recounting of their brotherhood days, Bryon reminds Mark that individual identity is important as well. While this is a simple and seemingly insignificant line—Mark does not really react violently or anything—this marks the most important difference between Bryon and Mark. It also prompts the delivery of the titular line—this marks the most important difference, again, between Bryon and Mark’s comprehensions of their changing lives.
“Mark was acting strange these days, too…It was as if he felt something slipping and was trying to hang on. I couldn’t help him; I was trying to hang on myself” (87).
That was Then, This is Now is not merely concerned with growing up and coming of age, but also with how individual of a process this is. Whereas before Bryon was content to say that Mark was his “best friend” and “brother” and thus believe that they knew everything about each other, he increasingly realizes that there are many things they don’t know about each other. As they slip apart from each other, they realize that growing up is something that takes self-nurturing, first. Growing up—and realizing that people have their own individual perspectives—also means respecting these new boundaries of individuated perspectives.
That Was Then, This is Now Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for That Was Then, This is Now is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
I think broken families is the main theme here. Mark and Bryon talk about what it means to have real family. Bryon reveals to readers that Mark’s parents are not only dead, but he was also an illegitimate child.