The chocolate candy appears in the book, but features more importantly as the nickname of the young teenager who is an outcast in his poor and violent Tulsa neighborhood. The colorfulness of the M&Ms represents M&M’s natural curiosity in life, and also eventually, in a twisted way, comes to dominate his hallucinations. The sweetness also indicates M&M’s naturally kind disposition, and the candy his mental state of childhood. Constantly carrying around the M&Ms—something normal people/most people do not do—is representative of how M&M also carries around his burden of being a weak and bookish outcast.
Symbol - Peace Necklace
M&M’s peace necklace is a tangible representation of his pacifist, hippie ideology. He wears it around his neck, since it is a value he keeps close to his heart. However, when the Shepard Gang slices the leather of the necklace, it reminds everyone that this sort of peaceful worldview is not tolerated in this violent neighborhood.
Symbol - String-less guitar
A guitar with no strings sits in the way on the floor in the hippie commune. It adds to ridiculousness of the house and what happens inside the house. Once a functional instrument, the guitar represents what happens to some of the hippies when they embark of drug trips instead of pushing their actual peaceful agendas: they tear out the strings, and become useless drug addicts instead.
Symbol - Charlie's bar
Charlie’s bar is a tangible representation of what people raised in this area of Tulsa can one day become through hard work and passion. Bryon and Mark frequent the bar because of the sense of possibility there—whether they can hustle and make money, or try to sneak beer or Cokes from Charlie—the bar is a place of opportunity and possibility and dreams, until Charlie dies.
Motif - Fistfights
Several fistfights happen throughout the book. Not only do they establish the preconceived reality of the danger in this neighborhood, but they also show the rawness of the boys’ reality: they fight with their hands rather than with weapons. Like their socioeconomic conditions, they are stripped down to their bare essentials.
Motif - The color gray
The color gray occurs in Cathy’s eyes, Angela’s appearance, and even Charlie’s gravestone. This grayness implies death, or at least things that have to end. It is, however, interesting to remember that gray is the mixture of white and black, and racial tensions between these two racial groups are relevant to this story.
Motif - The color gold
Bryon constantly references Mark’s strange golden coloration, whether that is his hair or his unnaturally amber eyes, or the sunlight hitting his figure. This gold represents an unnatural, untainted innocence, yet also one that cannot remain. Mark’s golden appearance is also what throws him back to his biological father, and connects him to the rowdy, lawless cowboy side of his heritage.
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.