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Tex ★★½ 1982 (PG)
Fatherless brothers in Oklahoma come of age. Dillon is excellent. Based on the novel by S.E. Hinton. 103m/C VHS, DVD . Matt Dillon, Jim Metzler, Meg Tilly, Bill McKinney, Frances Lee McCain, Ben Johnson, Emilio Estevez, Charles S. Haas; D: Tim Hunter; W: Tim Hunter, Charles S. Haas; C: Ric Waite; M: Pino Donaggio.
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S. E. Hinton
For Further Study
Susan Eloise Hinton is considered the unquestioned master of young adult (YA) literature. Although not nearly as famous as The Outsiders or Rumble Fish, Hinton's fourth novel, Tex, is deemed by many critics to be her best artistic effort.
Tex explores the same themes of her earlier novels: youth, the loss of innocence, the coming of age, and violence. It also utilizes similar plot devices. Yet this novel differs from earlier efforts because of its inclusion of an articulate female character, Jamie.
The novel chronicles a year in the life of a young, easygoing lad named Tex McCormick. In the course of the book, Tex must face questions about his family's future—particularly his brother's yearning to leave Oklahoma and his father's abandonment. He must also address his burgeoning sexuality and questions about sex and women.
Born in 1950, S. E. Hinton has spent her entire life in Tulsa, Oklahoma. While growing up in Tulsa, Hinton was a keen observer of her friends and fellow classmates. Although not a member of any social clique, she got along well with her schoolmates. As she told William Walsh, "everyone looked at me sort of strangely, but I was accepted."
Hinton began to write when her fifth-grade teacher gave the students a story writing assignment. The result was a fantastic, mystical story about the sun and moon. The exercise hooked her on writing, and several events over the next few years convinced her to write a story revealing the absurd but brutal world of teen cliques.
During her junior year of high school, while her father was ill with cancer, Hinton began writing The Outsiders (1967). The novel has sold more than four million copies in the United States.
The huge commercial success of The Outsiders enabled Hinton to go to college at the University of Tulsa. While attending university, she met her future husband, David E. Inhofe, a mail-order businessman. They have one son, Nicholas David.
Since then, she has written several more novels, including the critically well-received Tex. She also lectures and plays an active role in her son's school. In the early eighties, she worked on the film adaptations of her novels.
In 1988 she published her last novel to date, Taming the Star Runner. Since then, she has written two works for young children, Big David, Little David (1994) and The Puppy Sister (1995).
Tex opens on what seems to a routine day at school for Tex, the teenage protagonist of the novel. After school, Tex returns home to find that his brother Mason has sold his horse, Negrito, as well as his own horse, Red, because they have run out of money. Tex reacts violently to this news, and he and Mason fight.
Tex goes to look for the horses and runs into his friends Jamie and Johnny Collins. They are shocked by the bruises on Tex's face. Soon after, Mason pulls up in the truck and orders Tex to come home with him.
Mason's friend, Bob Collins, visits and Mason tells him that his father—who has been touring with a rodeo—is the one he should have punched out. He is sick of being the man of the house and hopes he can leave soon on a basketball scholarship.
Bob drives Tex and Johnny to the county fair. They visit a fortuneteller, who tells Tex that some people go, and some people stay—he will stay. After leaving the fair, the boys visit Charlie Collins and Tex gets drunk for the first time.
When Mr. Collins finds them passed out the next morning, he blames Mason and Tex for being bad influences on his boys. That same night, Mason's friend Lem Peters shows up to announce that he's become a father. They sneak into the Collins' house to share the news. Jamie insults Lem by telling him that he and his wife don't know anything about taking care of kids. Mason later agrees with her.
After a fight with Johnny, Tex goes to look for him at the gravel pits. After Johnny fails to jump the creek with his motorcycle, Tex manages to make it. Mason is displeased to hear about Tex's stunt. He discovers he has an ulcer after he goes to the city hospital for tests.
On the way to visit Lem, Tex learns that Mason is a virgin because he doesn't want to endanger his future by getting some girl pregnant. Tex realizes what Mason means when they discover that Lem is dealing drugs.
Returning from the city, Mason and Tex pick up a hitchhiker. Suddenly, the man puts a gun to Mason's ribs and tells Tex to drive to the state line. When Tex sees a patrol car behind them, he spins out into a ditch and the hitchhiker dies in a shootout with police. Tex and Mason learn that the hitchhiker had killed one man and tried to kill another.
The news story about Mason and Tex's encounter with the hitchhiker is shown in Dallas. Their father finally calls, saying he'll be home the next day. Soon after his arrival, Mason and Pop have an argument about his long absence. When Tex goes to school that day, he is sent to the principal for talking so much about the incident with the hitchhiker.
Despite his promise, Pop does not take Tex to buy back Negrito. Mason takes Tex instead, but when the new owners refuse to sell Negrito, Tex tells Mason he'll hate him for the rest of his life.
Tex starts to date Jamie against her father's wishes. Jamie tells Tex that Cole is more impressed with Mason than his own kids, who are all disappointing to him.
At an important basketball game, Mason is injured. After the game, an opposing fan insults Jamie and Tex hits him. Later, while they are making out, Tex goes too far. Jamie tells him she's not ready for sex. When he tells her he loves her and wants to marry her, she replies that she doesn't think it will work out. Like Mason, she can't wait to leave town; Tex wants to stay. They break up.
A month later, Johnny and Tex are suspended for gluing caps on the school typewriters before midterms. When Cole and Mason confront the two young men, Mason stands up to Cole by telling him that neither Johnny nor Tex is a bad kid.
The principal informs Tex that Mr. Kencaide has offered him a summer job taking care of horses. Tex is overjoyed. When Pop finally arrives at the school, he and Mason get into a fight because Pop doesn't take Tex's pranks seriously. In the course of the argument, Mason blurts out that Pop is not Tex's biological father. Shocked, Tex runs out of the school.
Tex meets up with Lem and they go to the apartment of a drug connection, Kelly. Lem and Kelly argue. Tex tries to leave the scene, but Kelly pulls a gun on him. Tex grabs the gun.
It is only after they leave the apartment that Tex tells Lem he's been shot in the struggle. He wakes up in the hospital, where Mason tells him he beat up Lem Peters. Later, Pop explains that Tex's mother had had an affair while he was in prison years ago. Tex asks him if that was why Pop paid more attention to Mason when they were growing up, and Pop says, "I reckon it was."
When Jamie visits, she tells Tex what happened when he was brought to the hospital: Mason beat up Lem and wept when he found out Tex was going to be okay. Tex and Jamie kiss, and Tex realizes she's the only girl for him.
When Mason announces that he's not going to college, Tex tells him he should, that he'll hate Tex if he stays. The story ends with the final reconciliation of the two brothers.
Blackie refuses to live up to the expectations of his demanding father, Cole. Rather than enroll in college, Blackie runs off to San Francisco.
The oldest of the Collins children, Charlie is a medical student who lives in an apartment in the city. A popular guy, he represents the perfect son.
Cole Collins represents the corporate, middleclass white man. He has high expectations for his children and blames their failures on the influence of the McCormick boys, whom he perceives as bad boys. Eventually he realizes his mistake through his interaction with Mason. He also recognizes Tex's bravery.
Jamie is Tex's love interest and the only girl among the five Collins children. Like Mason, she is destined to leave the country for the city. This is symbolized by her insistence that the window be kept open while she sleeps. Cole is disturbed by her refusal to adopt conventional ideas of womanhood. As Jamie tells Tex, "being a girl doesn't mean I'm going to be a devoted little mother just like Mona."
Jamie is a feminist. Mason respects her for speaking her mind, especially the way she sees through Lem. Jamie says what she thinks, particularly about sex. She has no intention of risking pregnancy, but she is curious about sex.
Johnny is Tex's best friend. He is "flamehaired as a matchstick," and is also described as flighty, which frustrates his brother Cole. He receives a motorcycle for his birthday; unfortunately, the privilege of riding the motorcycle is the way his father tries to maintain his control over the boy.
Johnny dotes on Tex, and they are such good friends that when they pass out on the ride home from the fair they are "flopped together like puppies."
Mona is Cole's wife. She represent the traditional role of women in marriage: she basically goes along with everything Cole says and lets him make all of the important decisions in their lives.
Bob Collins is Mason's best friend. As the oldest Collins boy at home, he tries to have the same influence over Jamie and Johnny as Mason has on Tex.
Roger is a hoodlum and the school bully. It seems that he will eventually follow the path of Lem Peters and the Hitchhiker. Tex gets along with Roger; in fact it is Roger who drives Tex out to the gravel pits.
For Tex, the Hitchhiker symbolizes the criminal life. Tex realizes he has a choice to make and he decides, with Mason's influence, to reject that life.
The only positive adult role model in the story, Mrs. Johnson is the vice-principal and guidance counselor of the school. Tex respects her because she is consistent in her level of care and punishment. She takes a genuine interest in his future. When she reveals how close he came to being expelled, he realizes the seriousness of his situation. He accepts her offer to work for Mr. Kencaide.
Mason is Tex's older brother. He is one of the most popular guys in school and an excellent athlete. Yet Mason has many problems: he can't wait to leave his rural home and move to the city; he worries about Tex's future; and he is afraid of getting close to women because he does not want an unwanted pregnancy. Mason is forced to step into the role of parent and head of household because of his father's absence.
Mason wants respect. For this reason, he does not ask his friends for money or to buy the horses: "You think I could take knowing you guys had our horses on top of everything else you've got?" To Mason's shame, he belongs to a poor family and it "hacks him off" whenever he thinks about it too much.
It is Mason that reveals that Pop is not Tex's father. In the end, the brothers are completely reconciled. Tex gives Mason the blessing he needs to leave town and pursue his dream. In turn, Mason is happy that Tex is growing up and choosing the right path in life.
Tex's father represents the absent parent—he spends six months a year on tour with the rodeo. He is not close with his sons. Pop fears that Tex will wind up in prison like he did (he went to prison for running moonshine).
Texas McCormick, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, is a good-natured young man growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He looks up to his older brother Mason, and looks forward to a life in Tulsa, probably training horses. He enjoys hanging out with his best friend Johnny, doesn't have much interest in school, and likes to pull pranks. During the novel, he also falls in love with Johnny's sister, Jamie.
Tex is not close to his father. He feels that he has been treated differently his whole life. At the climax of the novel, when he realizes that Pop is not his biological father, he understands why. With this new information, he realizes that he wants to stay in Tulsa. He is able to reassure Mason that he will be okay, so that his brother can go to college.
Connie is Lem's wife. A new mother, she is careful that either she or Lem stays "straight" to care for the baby. A drug user, Connie uses speed to keep her weight down. Although Connie managed to leave the rural life for the city, she represents the things that Jamie is terrified of—accidental pregnancy, forced marriage, and domestication. She also represents motherhood in the story.
Lem was once Mason's best friend. He fell in love with Connie; unfortunately both families were opposed to the match. Yet that only encouraged them. When she became pregnant, they married and broke off contact with their families. With only a high school education and limited employment prospects, he turns to drug dealing in order to make ends meet.
Tex faces many life changes during the course of Tex; like many young adolescents, he wants to avoid dealing with them. To escape his problems, he attends the local fair—riding the rides and losing himself amongst the happy people.
Tex knows that Mason is determined to leave home; but he is annoyed that Mason will no longer go with him to the fair. This action represents Mason's embracing of adulthood and inevitable separation from Tex. Rejecting adulthood, Tex childishly says to Mason, "I ain't going to outgrow it, either. I'll think the Fair is fun no matter how old I get."
- Walt Disney released a film adaptation of Tex in 1982. Hinton assisted director Tim Hunter with the casting, Scriptwriting, and Hinton's starred as Tex and Emilio Estevez played the role of Johnny Collins.
As is typical of storybook characters at the fair, Tex has an encounter with a fortuneteller. She informs him that change is inevitable, but it doesn't have to change him:
Your next year: change. My advice: Don't change. Your future: There are people who go, people who stay. You will stay.
The fortuneteller's words bother him. Later, he learns that Jamie and Mason are leaving. Eventually, he accepts these events. He realizes that change will come and that people who are important to him will leave. Others will stay. He also recognizes that one day he will choose his own fate: whether to stay in Oklahoma or leave, like his brother.
Tex's education does not take place only in school; it involves learning about what it takes to be a man from other men and the world around him. This happens through interaction.
Tex describes this process at the beginning of the story. While riding his horse, Tex relates his theory of horse handling: he never hits his horse but respects it, while nudging Negrito toward the behavior he would prefer. This is why he holds in the reigns before allowing the horse to run.
As a result of this respectful interaction, Negrito behaves like a person. The other horse, Red, is not so well behaved. "Mason had never treated him like a person, so Red had never acted like one." When you acknowledge a horse, the horse will acknowledge your command. In the same way, when a young man is allowed to be a young man, he will become one. This passage to manhood is not an easy one.
Topics For Further Study
- Due to the commercial success of Hinton's novels, young adult literature has become a popular genre. Educators are divided as to whether this is a good development. Some assert that it panders to a poor education system in which teachers are so desperate to foster literacy skills that they use such "easy" texts. Other commentators and librarians applaud that fact that young adults want to read these books. What do you think? What are your favorite young adult books?
- In an article for the New York Times in 1967, Hinton wrote:
Reflecting on the book and on your own experience, explain how perceptions behave as a disease. Apply your thoughts to the general perception today of youth and postulate whether anything has changed since Hinton's 1967 article.
You've heard of people reading the symptoms of a disease, and then suddenly developing the disease? Well, you can't pick up a magazine or a newspaper that doesn't declare that teen-agers are rebellious, over-worked, overpampered, under-privileged, smart, stupid and sexcrazed. No wonder some develop the symptoms.
- To the charge that her fiction contains too much violence, Hinton maintains:
What do you think of censorship, such as the "v-chip" or banning books at the library? Write an essay outlining your opinion on the issue.
Adults who let small children watch hours of violence, unfunny comedy, abnormal behavior and suggestive actions on TV, scream their heads off when a book written for children contains a fist fight. But violence too is a part of teen-agers' lives. If it's not on television or in the movies, it's a beating up at a local drive-in….
- In Tex, what is the attitude towards guns and drugs? Today, we worry about loners and troublemakers selling narcotics, pulling guns, and planting bombs. What has changed in our society since 1979? Has society become more violent?
In school, Tex learns from observing the behavior of other people. He also realizes the effects of his pranks on students and teachers. From his own experience, he finds pranks and ditch-jumping far less rewarding than being respected by Mr. Kencaide for his horse-riding skills and his ability to help other people.
Love and Relationships
"Love ought to be a real simple thing," according to Tex. Yet he realizes that "with humans it gets so mixed up." At first Tex believes that love leads to pain, both physical and emotional. Yet by the end of the novel, he feels differently—that expressing love is fulfilling and rewarding. His growing romantic feelings for Jamie also signal a new perspective on love and relationships opening up for the young protagonist.
Except for the thorny and unresolved question of sex, Tex's lessons about love are all very similar. He realizes he has to accept people for who they are. He comes to an understanding with Pop, reconciles with Johnny, is acknowledged by Cole, and settles things with Mr. Kencaide. Finally, he is able to reach out to Mason.
Tex is characterized by simple first person narration; in other words, the story is told from Tex's perspective. There are no superfluous tricks or scenes. Everything in the narration relates to the plot, and the reader knows only what Tex knows.
The majority of the novel takes place in the country, which represents space and peacefulness. On the other hand, the city is full of cars, people, and danger. Each setting presents a challenge to the hero and his friends.
Within the conventions of fiction, the action—both emotional and actual—gradually rises until it reaches a crisis point. This is known as the climax.
The climax of Tex occurs in the school office, when Tex hears how close he came to being expelled and witnesses Mason fighting with Pop. Mason utters the very line of the climax, "he is my brother even if he isn't your son." The action of the novel reaches its greatest moment of tension when the truth of Tex's conception is revealed.
A bildungsroman is a kind of German novel, typically about a boy struggling through his formative years. Such tales involve survival of physical and mental anguish in high-pressure schools or military academies. There is a positive ending, as the main character survives his earlier foolishness and mistakes and grows as a person.
Hinton has redefined this class of literature into a distinctly American genre. In these stories, a troubled youth—typically a boy one mistake away from expulsion or prison—gains a moral center. Moreover, it is often a retrospective account that relates moral lessons; Tex exemplifies this new kind of bildungsroman.
The Late Seventies
During the late 1970s, the United States struggled to overcome the upsetting legacy of the Watergate scandal, the subsequent resignation of Richard Nixon, and the wounds of American participation in the Vietnam War. Adding to the frustration of many Americans was a volatile economic situation: high inflation, high unemployment, and a worldwide energy crisis.
In addition, farming communities and small towns begin to disappear across America. This trend was exacerbated in the 1980s, especially in farming communities like that in Hinton's Oklahoma. Record numbers of farming families went bankrupt as a result of this farming crisis.
The Carter Administration
Running as an outsider, Jimmy Carter (1924–) won the presidential election of 1976. Two issues challenged the Carter Administration: first, the energy crisis caused the cost of living to increase by thirteen percent; second, the Islamic revolution in Iran resulted in the taking of American hostages in Iran. In November 1979, Carter had allowed the hated Iranian leader—known as the shah of Iran—to enter the United States for medical treatment; and in retaliation, fifty-three Americans were taken hostage from the American embassy in Tehran.
When Carter refused to return the shah to Iran, the captors refused to release the hostages. In April an attempt to rescue the hostages failed. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance resigned over the mission and its failure. Carter came under relentless media and political attack for his unsuccessful efforts to free the hostages, who were finally released shortly af-ter Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president in January, 1981.
On the brighter side, the Carter Administration successfully negotiated the SALT II nuclear treaty with the Soviet Union, which allowed for the nuclear missiles on both sides to balance out. Carter also facilitated better relations between Egypt and Israel through landmark negotiations known as the Camp David Accords (1978), which led to a historic Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
Periods of industrialization depend on easy and cheap access to low-cost fuels, usually fossil fuels. Between 1952 and 1972, energy consumption doubled while generation of electrical energy more than tripled in the United States. With such an abundant supply of energy, the United States and many other nations continued to increase consumption.
In order to guarantee a constant supply of oil, industrialized nations essentially colonized countries rich in oil beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. After World War II, these countries regained their sovereignty; by the late 1960s, they began to assert their independence in matters of the pricing and export of oil. Protesting United States aid to Israel, Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) place an embargo on oil to the United States.
As a result of the embargo, the price of crude oil doubled in 1973. Further price increases followed—most of them in 1979. A barrel of oil, which cost $7.00 in 1972, increased to $33.50 in 1982. Industrialized nations implemented energy conservation programs, but not before recession set in and, in the United States, inflation indices reached nearly twenty percent.
The energy crisis affected every sector of the American economy. The lessons of oil dependency, however, are lost and consumption levels increased and even surpassed 1972 levels as prices fell throughout the 1980s.
In Tex, Jamie often refers to the concept of "women's lib." This movement was prominent in the 1970s, as women struggled to fight gender discrimination and bring attention to specific issues such as equal pay for equal work and abortion rights. Organizations such as the National Organi-zation of Women (also known by the acronym NOW) also fought for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), as well as fought against sexual harassment and date rape.
Hinton is considered the most successful writer for young adults in contemporary times. In fact, she is often credited with creating the genre of "young adult literature" as a viable and attractive genre for junior high and high school audiences. Critics have generally been impressed with her work since her first novel, The Outsiders, was published in 1967.
Critics compare her favorably with Ernest Hemingway in terms of sentence structure, minimal description, and the exploration of conventional male and female roles. She has often been faulted for these same qualities: in particular, that her work presents an unreal and violent male culture where viable female personalities, let alone mothers, scarcely exist. Despite the criticism, Hinton remains popular among young readers. She continues to win awards, especially from librarians.
The most contentious issue in Hinton's work is her use of violence. Some commentators view the violence as integral—not gratuitous—to her work. Another of Hinton's tendencies is to revisit the same themes with the same devices in each novel. In fact, most of her stories are about young male protagonists who survive several obstacles to gain self-knowledge.
Many readers and fans of Hinton's agree with Jay Daly's praise in his Presenting S. E. Hinton. There he wrote:
Tex is clearly the most seamless of her books. The voice is consistent and appropriate throughout. It is Tex's voice, Tex's consciousness. The controlling, manipulating hand of the author is far in the background.
Yet critics view Tex as a breakthrough for Hinton, partly for her successful development of a strong, complex female character. Cynthia Rose, in "Rebels Redux," notes that Hinton is undoubtedly influenced by Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries because Hinton's heroes are also delinquents. Like Carroll, Hinton focuses solely on males, until the character Jamie in Tex.
Rose contends that Hinton's early female characters fulfill the "good girl/bad girl stereotype in a manner which recalls West Side Story." This pattern is shattered by the articulate Jamie, who is not just a tomboy but a young woman obviously influenced by the women's liberation movement. Jamie reflects the fact that girls have more options of expression than they once did.
June Harris concurs with Rose's assessment that Hinton finally "uses an interesting female." Harris also asserts that Tex is Hinton's best novel, but the story might possibly have too much action in such a short span. For Harris, Tex not only reveals Hinton's maturity but also raises some questions. Harris asserts:
Tex uses a line that is almost verbatim the same line used by Mark in That Was Then, This Is Now: "Nothing that bad ever happened to me." Tex also suffers from the same sort of unexplained nightmares as Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders. Is such repetition simply a dearth of imagination, or does Hinton cannibalize her own work for plot ideas?
It is true that many of the central themes of Tex can be found in earlier works.
One critic, Michael Malone, is not enthralled by the Hinton phenomenon. He derides the depiction of the "tough as nails" youth as a heroic cowboy. In fact, he illustrates how outrageous the depiction is. Even Tex, maintains Malone, "the most recent, the least riddled with gang romance and the best of the books" features an ex-convict who kidnaps the protagonist and then is shot in a drug deal gone wrong a few pages later.
In response to a comment by Tim Hunter, director of the Disney film adaptation of Tex, who said he liked Hinton because she weaves social problems into the fabric of her stories, Malone contends that "in fact, the fabric is mythic. There are no verisimilar settings."
According to Malone, Hinton continues to celebrate juvenile delinquency and broken families. Malone even has a comment on Hinton's abilities:
Moreover, while praised for its "lean Hemingway style" and natural dialogue, Hinton's prose can be as fervid, mawkish and ornate as any nineteenth-century romance, although this is less true in the later books, especially Tex.
Yet many critics believe that Hinton's fiction is valuable and praiseworthy for its exploration of troubled youth. More immediately, she gives young adults something that they like to read. The story has a message that appeals to countless kids in reformatory schools and prisons; many have written to Hinton to say that they appreciate her novels and her characters.
Jane Elizabeth Dougherty
Dougherty is a Ph.D. candidate at Tufts University. In the following essay, she examines the themes of change and stability in Tex.
As Jay Daly notes, throughout S. E. Hinton's novel Tex, the narrator, Tex McCormick, divides the people he meets into two groups: those who go and those who stay. In the beginning, this seems like a straightforward division, but by the end of the novel, it is clear that the question of whether to go or to stay is a complex one.
Not only is it difficult for the characters to choose whether to go or to stay, it is clear by the end of the novel that sometimes the only way to stay somewhere emotionally is physically to go. Through Tex's ruminations on the differences between those who stay and those who go, Hinton's themes of change and stability emerge.
Tex knows that he is a "stayer"—that he will probably always remain in his hometown. In part, this is because he enjoys rural life, particularly working with horses, which he calls the "best high" he knows. He has experienced true communion with his horse Negrito, whom he treats like a human. Tex prefers the joys of the country to the temptations of the city, saying that
Me, I liked living in the country and some of the other kids liked it, too. Some of them pretended they did because they couldn't live anywhere else. Then you had the people like Mason, who were itching to stay out. I couldn't quite figure out why.
Throughout the novel, Tex identifies his brother Mason as a "goer." Mason expresses his dissatisfaction with their life in the country, hoping for a basketball scholarship in order to get out of town. Tex is worried about Mason's desire to leave; he is the only stable element of Tex's life, once Tex's horse Negrito is sold. Mason takes care of Tex, worries about him, and supports him.
By contrast, Tex loses his girlfriend Jamie because he wants to get closer, both physically and emotionally, than she wants. The other Collins kids are discouraged from seeing Tex and Mason by their father, Cole.
Tex's mother is dead, and his father isn't around much. When Pop is around, he indulges Tex, which Mason sees as evidence of Pop's lack of concern for the kid. When Tex gets in trouble at school, Mason punishes him. Pop is amused by Tex's behavior, especially since Tex was mimicking something Pop had done when he was a boy. Mason is disgusted by what he sees as Pop's lack of concern, as Tex notes:
I couldn't see what else he could do, besides take it calmly, but Mason was absolutely enraged.
"Okay," he stalked around the room like a frenzied panther. "Okay, so you can't take Tex serious. So you can't give a damn about what happens to him. All right, I'm trying to live with that. Then think about me! For God's sake, how do you think I feel, seeing you being 'nice' to him, like you'd be nice to a goddamn stray puppy! While I'm the one who has to look out for him and what's going to happen when I'm not here?"
Pop and I were both staring at him. I was ready to call in the straight jacket people.
"Geez, make it easier on me if nothing else! He is my brother even if he isn't your son!"
Tex is stunned by this news, but it makes sense to him emotionally. When he lies in the hospital after being shot, he asks Pop if the reason he clearly favored Mason was because he wasn't his son. Despite Tex's hopes that Pop will blame it on birth order or personality, Pop says simply that he reckons that was the reason.
It is clear that the only person Tex can rely is Mason—and it appears that Mason badly wants to leave. In spite of Tex often feeling angry with Mason, he is aware that Mason cares about him and is there for him.
Yet Mason wants to go to college. Indeed, Mason has seen what can happen to those trapped by circumstance. Throughout the novel, Lem Peters is an example to Mason of the costs of staying. Lem has impregnated and married his girlfriend at the age of seventeen and descends into drug use and dealing. When Tex asks Mason if he's "gone all the way," Mason replies:
"I never could stand the thought of getting tied down," he went on. "I never wanted anybody to have any kind of a hold on me. Look what happened to Lem. Nobody is ever going to stop me from getting out of here."
Well, I knew that. But, boy, that was desperate! It was almost scary.
"It hasn't been easy. And don't think I haven't had plenty of chances."
"Sure," I said. Lord, I knew he had chances. Being the school hero gave a guy chances.
"When I get to college, and at least have that much … if I can get over the feeling I won't be trapped…."
Mason longs for a sense of security and safety, but he believes that he can only acquire it by leav-ing town. For his part, Tex attributes Lem's misfortune to leaving—Lem has left the country for the city, and Tex thinks to himself that Lem "should have stayed."
In the contrast between Mason and Lem, it becomes clear to Tex that although there are people who go and people who stay, sometimes people don't know which category they fall into. Lem's example makes Tex realize that sometimes people make the wrong choices for themselves. Daly notes that Tex is himself extremely self-aware, but Tex notices that other people do not always know themselves as well as he knows himself.
Tex's girlfriend Jamie is a person who doesn't know herself. She tells Tex that sometimes she loves everyone, and other times she hates everyone. She recognizes that her uncertainty is part of adolescence, and that she is not yet ready to establish a firm identity. Her conversation with Tex in the truck makes him realize that people can be ambivalent about whether to stay or go. Secure in the knowledge that he will stay, he tells Jamie he wants to marry her.
I wanted to know Jamie was going to be there the rest of my life.
"I can see me marrying you," Jamie said slowly.
"Yeah. When I'm eighteen or nineteen and scared of the way things are changing, the way people are going off in different directions, and the simple life looks romantic, a good way to keep everything the same … yeah, I can see me marrying you. It'd last about a year."
Jamie recognizes that because of her own fear of change and willingness to romanticize "the simple life," she may make the wrong choice. She does not yet know whether she is one who goes or one who stays, and she can't be with Tex until she figures that out.
Likewise, even Mason feels ambivalent about whether to stay or go. At the end of the novel, he tells Tex: "I don't know what to do. I can't go. I can't stay. Sometimes I feel like I really am going to go nuts." He is torn about leaving Tex alone.
What Do I Read Next?
- Hinton wrote her first book while still attending Tulsa's Will Rogers High School. The Outsiders (1967) focuses on the interaction of familiar social groups: the lower-class "greasers" and the upper-class "socs." The book remains popular among teenagers, though parents often complain that it is too violent.
- That Was Then This Is Now (1971) is Hinton's second book. This novel chronicles the story of two foster brothers. One brother becomes popular with girls and does well in school, while the other gets involved with drugs and crime.
- Hinton's 1975 novel, Rumble Fish, revisits the themes of her first novel. The protagonist of the story, Rusty-James, struggles to earn a tough reputation through his relationship with Motorcycle Boy.
- First published in 1944, Esther Forbes' Johnny Tremain remains a popular novel for young adults. Johnny is a young apprentice silversmith with a maimed hand. He becomes involved in the Revolutionary War through his relationship with James Otis, John Hancock, and John and Samuel Adams.
- Paule Marshall's 1959 novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones is a good complement to Tex. Selina's family are Barbadian immigrants who move to Brooklyn. She faces the tough challenges of sexism and racism in her new home.
- James Joyce's A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1916) is considered to be the greatest bildungsroman in the English language. In this story, Stephen Daedalus is completing his studies at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, but is distracted by aesthetic questions and the temptations of the flesh.
Ultimately, Mason does decide to stay with Tex—at least while Tex is still in high school—and to defer his college scholarships. Yet Tex tells him that he should go. He realizes that the best hope of Mason "staying" is actually for him to go—that their loving relationship will continue only if Mason does go.
In this way, the boundary between the people who stay and the people who go is shown to be an ambiguous one—even an artificial one. The only way Tex and Mason can really stay together is by Mason's departure. In this way, change becomes the best way to maintain stability. Hinton's novel shows that sometimes you have to stay to go, and go to stay—and that stability can mean change and change can be the best way to maintain stability.
Source: Jane Elizabeth Dougherty, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 2000.
In the following essay Daly discusses Hinton's growing maturity of style as reflected in Tex.
There was close to universal agreement among the reviewers on the new "mature" style of Tex, usually the result of comparison with the youthful exuberance of The Outsiders or with the more personal, more demanding Rumble Fish. There will always be strong individual arguments for readers who prefer the unalloyed intensity of The Outsiders or the spine-tingling mythmaking of Rumble Fish, but there is little doubt that, as an example of mature, polished storytelling, Tex is Hinton's most successful effort. All the discipline and control she had to force into That Was Then, This Is Now is here brought effortlessly to bear. Tex doesn't take the chances that Rumble Fish took, but it knows what chances it is willing to take and how to handle them.
In fact Tex is clearly the most seamless of her books. The voice is consistent and appropriate throughout. It is Tex's voice, Tex's consciousness. The controlling, manipulating hand of the author is far in the background. For us, the readers, it has disappeared.
This is a style of writing that puts the welfare of the book, and the integrity of the book's voice, above its own need to show off. The most successful fiction—that which will last beyond one day in the sun—always seems to work its magic upon the reader in concealment, lying in wait like an enemy agent, familiar and friendly and certainly unsuspected, until at some point it explodes into an awareness that is truly subversive, that shakes the foundations of the reader's version of comfortable reality. Tex's subversion is a modest one, as befits a book of such "unexpected contentment" but in its own way, in the conclusions it draws, the world view that gradually comes into focus behind its exceptional main character, it is as meaningful, and as important, as the shattering monochrome vision of Rumble Fish.
The structure of the book resembles that of the conventional novel much more than anything we've seen before. There are no tricks, no frame chapters or flashbacks. Hinton shows the same restraint with regard to her structure as she has with her style. The approach is straightforward, without embellishment, without anything that might distract the reader from the important matter at hand: the story, as conveyed through the continuing, sure voice of the narrator.
The story rolls along in real time, event upon event, so as to achieve a kind of momentum, a not-to-be-averted quality that reminds us of the carnival gypsy: "There are people who go, people who stay. You will stay". There is no intervention by a more knowing narrator with access to the future, no one to tease us with hints of secrets he knows and we will only later find out. Tex knows no more than we do about his future. He knows only what he's been told by gypsies and what he's inferred from meetings with hitchhikers and drug dealers, which isn't much. Tex's is a future without the kind of guarantees an omniscient narrator provides. It's the kind of future that needs to be lived in order to see what will happen.
The structure of the novel emphasizes the flow of events. It is the opposite of the staccato structure of Rumble Fish, whose technique emphasizes the here-and-now (and the timeless), rather than the gradual flow of time. Chapters in the earlier books are shorter and tend to concentrate on one scene, with the result that—though there are some powerfully rendered scenes—the overall effect is episodic. The action in the earlier books tends to move in an almost cinematic fashion, from scene to scene, with the mood and flow of the story building up out of an accumulation of episodes. There is nothing wrong with this technique and when it works it works very well but the structure of Tex is the more traditional (let's say, literary, rather than the cinematic) way to do it.
The structure of the book is, finally, in keeping with the ars est celare artem (true art conceals art) approach of its style. Understated, conventional, it defers at all times to the story line, to character and plot.
The plot, outlined earlier, is certainly not lacking in action scenes. Why is it then that we don't emerge from the book with the sense of having read an action/adventure story, as we certainly might have with The Outsiders, and even with the other books? Part of it has to do with the more controlled, more confident writer Hinton has become. The action scenes, while still vividly written, are more integrated into the flow of the story line. The impulse of the younger writer might have been to make sure that her action scenes packed a wallop—something she knew she could achieve—to compensate for what she might have felt were inadequacies in other areas. By the time of Tex she seems to have become more comfortable with her talent, and those inadequacies, real or imagined, no longer hold much sway on her.
The result is, once again, a more organic, integrated novel. Nothing stands out; nothing detracts from the movement of the book as a whole. Even the central scene with the hitchhiker—major melodrama on the face of it: it could easily have been made as obvious a turning point as the church fire in The Outsiders—is quickly disarmed by the horseplay of the television/local hero scenes and by the new turning point (or so we think) of the return of Pop. It is rather surprising, in fact, to note that the hitchhiker, as we shall see, is a rather important figure in the book, so quickly does he come and go.
Another point to consider is that events and scenes don't make it into S. E. Hinton novels as a result of serendipity. Certainly not since The Outsiders anyway. All the novels since then have been very clearly worked over, shaped and controlled by the author. Hinton's method of plot construction is a painstaking process, based—as it has been from the beginning—on character, on the reactions of characters to incidents, and to the more subtle structural weave that surrounds them. This is not something that comes without effort.
Her comments in the interview published in the 1983–84 University of Tulsa Annual are instructive as to both her methods and her goals.
I have a real hard time plotting things anyway. And I always have an end in mind. The beginning is kind of easy because you can put characters in any situation. Getting from point A to Z is just so hard for me, and I get off on tangents and write 50 pages on a minor character. So I think, this isn't going in the direction I thought, and I tear it up. What's going to happen next? I need to get "Tex" from there over here, but how do I do that? Sometimes I put it away for months at a time.
Behind her usual self-deprecating tone (the same voice that says the gas bill is an inspiration) there are clues to the close attention paid to the requirements of fitting plot with character: the false starts and wrong turns, the clear direction of the book from its inception, and the occasional frustration when the fit between character and event is wrong ("Sometimes … months at a time").
Hinton is, as she has said from the start, a "character writer." "I always start off with characters, and I have to know my characters real well…. It doesn't matter if they show up in the book or not, I have to know them." When you know your characters real well, when you know "what they eat for breakfast, what their sign is," then you will not sacrifice them to the poor fit of an overblown crisis scene. No, their actions and reactions must be true to themselves, or there is no reason to write the book at all.
"I like to think my books show character growth in some way, that the character is always different in the end than he was in the beginning." Action is Character, we will recall, was Fitzgerald's uppercase imperative to himself in the notebooks for The Last Tycoon. We have applied this prescription to The Outsiders and seen where the book met—and failed to meet—its requirements. With Tex it must be introduced once again because, while the character of the first-person narrator, and character in general, is important in all the books, in Tex it is truly sine qua non, that without which there is no book. And the character is, of course, Tex.
We are inside Tex's head and with his thoughts from the first line. Once inside his head we never leave; we're coaxed into believing in that voice from the start, and the voice never falters, so our belief remains strong. It's clear that just one "clanger," just one miscalculation of what the character might do or say in a given situation, can destroy the illusion of reality and the reader's complicity in making that illusion seem real. Many's the novel that one such foolish move has reduced from the miraculous to the merely good. Tex, whether it be miraculous or not, at least makes no foolish moves.
S. E. Hinton knows Tex, intimately. She knows how he thinks and, like a good actor drawing on the experience of her own emotion to animate a character, how he feels. Consequently, the voice does not seem contrived; it is a true voice.
Other than Ponyboy (whom Hinton admits is perhaps the closet to being an extension of herself, her own voice at the time), she has never taken the easy way out with her narrators. Bryon Douglas was an intellectual jigsaw puzzle, a snapshot of bitterness, or betrayal, or self-reliance, or … but the pieces never could be made to fit. Rusty-James, whom Hinton has termed "my biggest challenge as a writer," emerged out of an inarticulate haze to steal the book away from his "perfect" brother. Now Tex, neither as bright and analytical as Bryon nor as emotion-driven and vulnerable as Rusty-James, comes to us with his "unexpected contentment."
There is a flip side to the requirement that successful characters be always true to themselves, always "in character," and that is that they not be boring, that they be, in some sense, unpredictable, unexpected. Dallas Winston was unpredictable in this sense, as was, because innocence is always unexpected, Rusty-James. Thus, when Margery Fisher uses the word unexpected to describe Tex in the phrase above, she renders him a distinct compliment.
What about the second part of her compliment, the "contentment" part? What is contentment, anyway? Fisher goes on to define it more expansively as "his cheerful approach to life as it is and not as he would like it to be," which is close, but doesn't quite explain it. Tex's approach to life-as-it-is when life-as-it-is happens to include the sale of his horse hardly qualifies as cheerful. No, Tex is too complicated and real a character to be reduced simply to "cheerful," nor is he always content, satisfied with things as they are, particularly in the early parts of the book. Contentment is an appropriate word, though; it describes something special about Tex, something that distinguishes him from the other Hinton narrators. What it describes, however, is not some quality he possesses in abundance, something he brings to all his human interactions like the wisdom of Solomon, but rather a state of being he achieves, by the end of the book, with the considerable help of other qualities that he does possess in abundance.
Included among Tex's better qualities is his honesty. We believe everything Tex tells us (as opposed to Bryon Douglas, for example, or even Ponyboy) because we believe that he would no sooner lie to us than he would to himself. What Tex knows about himself he will not conceal from us, or from himself. This sometimes means revealing things that are unpleasant. After he tells Mace that he will hate him for the rest of his life, he sees a muscle in his brother's face jump, "and I knew I'd hurt him. It felt good. It was the first time I realized hurting somebody could feel really good."
Tex's honesty (or maybe his inability to be dishonest) makes for a tricky kind of relationship with "the truth." For Mason, truth is "a present I always wanted," but it is a gift for him because it is something he can use. Tex does not have that luxury. For Tex, who cannot compromise his honesty, truth is often better left unknown. Once known, it cannot be ignored or used as he sees fit. Tex won't turn away from unpleasant truths. This is what he tries to explain to Mason in a scene after the shootout in which the hitchhiker was killed.
"Texas," [Mason] said, "why did you have to go look, after they'd killed him? It wasn't exactly a sideshow at the Fair." I was shocked that he could think such a thing. What kind of a creep did he think I was, anyway? "I had to," I said finally. "Mason, I killed that guy, as sure as if I'd pulled the trigger. I knew it when I ditched the truck. I couldn't just walk off like nothing had happened. I had to face what I did."
This is a rare kind of integrity in a character, a rare sense of responsibility.
Even more rare—in a character of any age but surely in one so young and presumably self-in-volved—is the kind of generosity Tex shows toward those around him. It is this generosity of spirit, which he exhibits throughout the book, that paves the way for his unexpected contentment at the end. Not that he's perfect, or ego-less, or free from any taint of spite. He wouldn't be human if he were. But that's what makes so continuously surprising his naturally generous character, his impulse to think the best of people, to give them their best possible lives and to let them diminish those lives if they must themselves.
He looks into oncoming cars on the highway and sees not featureless strange faces but people with stories, stories that are just as important to them as our stuff is to us. Miss Johnson—the vice principal—"might swat me once in a while, but she always asked me how we were getting along, if we'd heard from Pop," and made other such overtures that, for Tex, were enough to show that she cared whether he lived or died. "If you get the feeling somebody cares about what happens to you, then you don't mind if they swat you once in a while." Johnny Cade, who had to endure the latter without ever feeling the former, would have agreed.
Miss Johnson's asking about Pop brings up another good case, because Tex's generosity extends particularly to him, especially because Pop does practically nothing to earn it. He forgets Tex's birthday. He show his obvious preference for Ma-son, who doesn't even "much like being named after Pop," over and over again. He goes to a pool game in Broken Arrow rather than helping to get Negrito back as he had promised he would do (this last an insensitivity that even the movie version of Tex apparently could not stomach; Pop goes with Tex and Mace to try and get the horse back in the movie). Still at the end of it all, Tex forgives him, the way a patient, loving parent forgives a wayward child. It's not Pop's fault if he forgets. As Tex notes, "He doesn't have a very long attention span."
He is also generous toward the hitchhiker. He needs to explain, if not to justify, the fact of his existence. "Mace, something really bad must have happened to that guy." But his motivation for generosity toward the hitchhiker is a bit more complicated than that which prompts his generosity as a rule; we will look more closely at this later.
Tex is also a creature of hope. Hope is a conclusion that is perhaps impossible for the generous spirit to avoid. It is the conclusion of Smoky the Cowhorse that sometimes bad things happen—they can nearly take the heart out of you—but if you hang on you will see that, like Tex in his time of troubles, "in the morning I'd still be alive, and sometimes the pain seemed a fraction less." This is a definition of hope, to expect that day by day you will awaken and the pain will seem "a fraction less."
Tex also has more conventional hopes, like the poignant "Mason would be gone for college pretty soon and then Pop would have to notice me a little more. I mean, I'd be the only kid, then," but the hope that animates the book is Smoky's hope. "I've been bashed up pretty good, Mason, but I'm going to make it." And we have no doubt that he will.
All these qualities give Tex a kind of innocence, an attitude he shares with characters like Johnny and Ponyboy and Rusty-James, characters who are, at least on the surface, as far from innocent as a street kid can get. There are, of course, two ways of defining innocence: (1) freedom from sin, guilt, imperfection, etc. and (2) freedom from knowledge of sin, guilt, imperfection, etc. In this world, since the Fall, there is no innocence in the first sense. There is only innocence within terms of the second definition, and for Hinton characters this innocence is usually under attack, it by nothing else then always by the eroding effects of time in a world of unfriendly truths. Mason's "present; I always wanted," truth, is, like Eve's apple, a gift of uncertain value.
Tex's innocence is particularly vulnerable because of his unwillingness to compromise his honesty. He manages to hold onto his enduring innocence, despite all the assaults made upon it, because it is important to his generous view of life. Mason puts it this way, when Tex refuses to feel anything but happiness for Lem and his new baby: "Tex, you are not stupid, and you're not all that ignorant. But how anybody as simple-minded as you are has managed to survive for fourteen years is beyond me." Tex answers back quickly, revealing the temporary, fragile nature of the simple-mindedness (innocence) that Mason deplores: "'Well, I had a wonderful smart sweet brother lookin' out for me,' I said. I'm not sarcastic by nature, but I reckon you can learn anything if you're around it long enough." The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge includes sarcasm, and much worse.
The theme of innocence, of staying gold, arises in Tex nearly unchanged from its statement in The Outsiders (and its counter-statement in That Was Then, This Is Now). As long as Tex stays "simple-minded," as long as he stays a kid, he stays gold. "I ain't going to outgrow [the fair]," he says to Mace. "I'll think the Fair is fun no matter how old I get." It's Peter Pan again, but Peter's solution, as we saw in The Outsiders, is incompatible with life in the real world. One cannot stay gold and stay around. Tex, who is from the beginning one who will stay around and knows it, must make another, more realistic solution. This is where Tex takes over and expands upon The Outsiders. This is where Tex is, in many ways, the summation statement of the unresolved concerns of all three earlier books.
Tex is a character study, and it is an action novel, but at its core it is also a novel of ideas. Not surprisingly, the ideas the novel feels impelled to grapple with are those we have seen before, the troubling, unresolved problems of The Outsiders, That Was Then, This Is Now, and to some extent Rumble Fish. And Tex the novel is like Tex the character; it wants to find solutions to these problems; it wants to make a working arrangement that will let them all live in the real world. To do so it must deal directly with problems of the real world that have left earlier characters bitter, or puzzled, or just numb.
Source: Jay Daly, "Tex: Those Who Go and Those Who Stay," in Presenting S. E. Hinton, Twayne, 1987, pp. 94-103.
Jean Duncan with Carol Dye, Joan Lazarus, Diane Schwartzmann, Jill A. Hendin, and Rita Hendin
The following review is a synopsis of the novel, highlighting a teen's relationships and his path to young adulthood.
In Tex, S. E. Hinton has created another engaging character—a carefree, easygoing, fifteen-year-old who learns some hard lessons on the road to maturity. Hinton's skillful handling of the first person narrative easily involves the reader in Tex's changing feelings and relationships with his brother, his father, and his friends.
Tex is an appealing Huckleberry Finn sort of character—natural, mischievous, and instinctive. He and his seventeen-year-old brother, Mason, shift for themselves, with only a memory of a mother and an "absent minded" father who is away "rodeo-ing" most of the time. Mason (or Mace), as serious as Tex is carefree, is forced to be the father and manager of the family, and the responsibility gives him an ulcer and a burning desire to leave. Tex, in his immaturity, cannot understand Mason's dilemma. He resents Mace's authority and misinterprets his concern and worry. He is also jealous of his father's attention to Mace, and he yearns for affection from Pop, whom he tries to emulate.
Tex and his world begin to change when Mace sells his horse to pay bills. His resentment of Mace turns to real bitterness and Tex suffers some traumatic losses. Besides his horse, he loses forever the hope that he will be someone special to Pop, and he almost loses his life. However, he also gains a lot including a growing awareness of how much a girl's affection means to him, an acceptance of Pop as a person, and a better understanding of how much he and Mace really mean to each other.
Source: Jean Duncan with Carol Dye, Joan Lazarus, Diane Schwartzmann, Jill A. Hendin, and Rita Hendin, "Tex" in English Journal, Vol. 70, No. 4, April, 1981, pp. 76-77.
Jay Daly, "Tex: Those Who Go and Those Who Stay," in Presenting S. E. Hinton, Twayne Publishers, 1987, pp. 89-111.
June Harris, in review in Contemporary Popular Writers, edited by Dave Mote, St. James Press, 1997.
S. E. Hinton, "Teen-Agers are for Real," in The New York Times Book Review, August, 1967, pp. 26-9.
Michael Malone, in a review in The Nation, Vol. 242, No. 9, March 8, 1986, pp. 276-78, 290.
Cynthia Rose, "Rebels Redux: The Fiction of S. E. Hinton," in Monthly Film Bulletin, Vol. 50, No. 596, September, 1983, pp. 238-39.
William Walsh, in an interview in From Writers to Students: The Pleasures and Pains of Writing, edited by M. Jerry Weiss, International Reading Association, 1979, pp. 32-8.
Jay Daly, Presenting S. E. Hinton, Twayne, 1987, 127 p.
A guide to the first five of Hinton's novels, including major themes of each book.
Gene Lyons, "On Tulsa's Mean Streets," in Newsweek, October 11, 1982, pp. 105-6.
Examines Hinton's works that have been adapted as films.
Kevin Phillips, Boiling Point: Republicans, Democrats and the Decline of Middle-Class Prosperity, HarperCollins, 1994, 307 p.
A political analyst for the Republican Party during the 1968 election, Phillips has been praised for his work on economic issues. In Boiling Point, he gives a comprehensive picture of middle-class prosperity in decline.
Brett Singer, The Petting Zoo, Simon and Schuster, 1979, 254 p.
Like Tex, this young adult novel focuses on themes of maturity, independence, and burgeoning sexual relationships.
"Tex." Novels for Students. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/tex
"Tex." Novels for Students. . Retrieved February 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/tex