That Was Then, This Is Now


S. E. Hinton

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That Was Then, This Is Now Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on S. E. Hinton's That Was Then, This Is Now. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of S. E. Hinton

Susan Eloise Hinton was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hinton wrote her first novel, The Outsiders, while she was still in high school, and it was published in 1967, during her freshman year of college at the University of Oklahoma. Her publishers suggested she write under her initials, noting that her feminine first name might dissuade male readers from reading her books. The Outsiders garnered widespread critical and commercial success due to its gritty and realistic treatment of issues that teenagers faced while coming of age, such as gang violence, drug use, and poverty. Four years later, she published her second novel, That Was Then, This Is Now, which garnered even more critical success. Hinton then published Rumble Fish in 1975, Tex in 1979, and Taming the Star Runner in 1988—all of which, like her first two novels, take place in Oklahoma and focus on young adults. Hinton also published two children’s books in 1995—Big David, Little David and The Puppy Sister. Later in her career, she shifted to writing adult fiction with Hawkes Harbor in 2004 and a collection of short stories in 2007. Hinton’s first four young adult novels have all been adapted into films. She received the inaugural Margaret A. Edwards award in 1988, which recognizes an author whose body of work speaks to young adults. Hinton is credited by many as having introduced the Young Adult genre, and she currently lives in Oklahoma with her husband.
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Historical Context of That Was Then, This Is Now

That Was Then, This Is Now takes place in the late 1960s in Tusla, Oklahoma. Several historical events shaped the economic and political landscape of the city. First, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. Despite this law, however, the city remained deeply segregated, both in terms of race and class. Additionally, violence permeated the city, with gangs like the Greasers and the Socs frequently fighting in the streets of Tulsa. Although Bryon and Mark do not belong to either of these gangs in the book, they reference the fact that these gangs inspired an increase in street fighting more generally. At the same time, the United States entrenched in the Vietnam War, a conflict between the Soviet Union-backed North Vietnamese government and the American-backed South Vietnamese government in the 1960s. America escalated its involvement in the conflict in 1964, and 2.2 million American men were subsequently drafted into the war. In the book, Charlie receives his draft notice for Vietnam, though he does not ultimately go to war due to his prior police record. Opposition to the war and this compulsory conscription grew across America, particularly among hippies. Many members of this counterculture movement held protests to voice their opposition to the war. Many hippies also experimented with drugs to rebel against the establishment. Unfortunately, such experimentation sometimes permanently damaged drug users, as Hinton illustrates in the novel through M&M’s bad drug trip that permanently warps his brain.

Other Books Related to That Was Then, This Is Now

Hinton wrote her young adult novels in part because at the time she was writing, there were so few examples of fiction that spoke to the grittier young adult themes she tackles, such as violence, betrayal, revenge, and responsibility. Her other books—The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, Tex, and Taming the Star Runner all deal with similar settings and themes as That Was Then, This Is Now. Other early examples of young adult and coming of age fiction include John Knowles’s A Separate Peace, J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and the anonymously published Go Ask Alice. Since Hinton’s work, the young adult genre has exploded: other notable works that deal with the darker side of coming of age include Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Laurie Anderson’s Speak, and the novels of Richard Peck.
Key Facts about That Was Then, This Is Now
  • Full Title: That Was Then, This Is Now
  • When Written: 1970
  • Where Written: Norman, Oklahoma
  • When Published: 1971
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Novel
  • Setting: 1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Climax: Bryon discovers Mark is selling drugs and calls the cops.
  • Antagonist: Gang violence, drugs
  • Point of View: First Person (Bryon)

Extra Credit for That Was Then, This Is Now

Recurring Characters. Many of Hinton’s same characters appear across her novels. For instance, Ponyboy Curtis, who is a minor character in That Was Then, This Is Now, is the protagonist of her debut novel, The Outsiders. Curly, Tim, and Angela Shepard also appear in The Outsiders. Similarly, Mark Jennings and Cathy Carlson, two of the main characters in this book, appear briefly in her later novel, Tex.

Writer’s Block. After publishing her first novel, The Outsiders, Hinton experienced a years-long period of writer’s block. She has stated that she wrote two pages of That Was Then, This Is Now a day in order to force herself out of that writer’s block.