Introduction to The Outsiders
This coming-of-age novel, The Outsiders, was written by S. E. Hinton in 1967 after he contracted with Viking Press to print the story. It is, however, interesting that she started writing it when she was a teenager of just 15 and finished it when she was still in high school the next year. It got published in 1967 when she was 18 years of age. The novel presents the story of a class struggle between the Socs and the greasers, the elite class and the downtrodden respectively. Ponyboy Curtis, the main character of the story, presents this saga in the first-person narrative. The popularity of the story could be gauged from the fact that it was adapted for television as well as cinema in 1983 and 1990 respectively.
Summary of The Outsiders
The story starts with Ponyboy Curtis, a greaser, stopped by the Socs after which the greasers, including the Curtis brothers, reach to save Ponyboy from their teasing. To retaliate, the next night two greasers meet two Socs’ girls where Dally, one of the greasers, faces consternation after Cherry, the Socs girl, spurns his advances. However, to Dally’s surprise, she rather accepts Ponyboy as her friend, a thing entirely unacceptable in the Socs circles. Soon Ponyboy, with his friends, takes both the Socs girls to their homes but Bob, Cherry’s Socs’ friend, stops and wishes to thrash Johnny. However, the things do not cross hot taunts from Bob, though, Cherry saves the day. This makes Ponyboy becomes delayed at which Darry thrashes him, but he flees from home to meet Johnny with whom he expresses his resentment for living with Darry, his elder brother, for his parents have left for their final abode in a recent roadside accident. Estranged with his brother, Ponyboy joins hands with Johnny to leave the house but both of them find themselves surrounded by five Socs including Bob. After an exchange of hot words, Ponyboy spurns the Socs but finds himself caught by them as they try to drown him in the pond at which Johnny becomes furious. He immediately takes out his knife and kills Bob on the spot, making others run for their lives.
After Johnny and Ponyboy come to their senses, they run to find Dally. He helps them with weapons and money and asks them to hide in Windrixville in a deserted place. They go into hiding in an abandoned church over there. After some time, Ponyboy tries to come out of his hiding by changing his appearance. However, at the church, they pass their time reciting Gone with the Wind and the poetry of Robert Frost. Soon they come to know the escalation between the greasers and the Socs when Dally comes to inform them about it. He also informs them that Cherry is working as their spy at which Johnny decides to surrender. When they are about to leave, they find themselves in the fire around them with some children also trapped. Ponyboy soon loses his senses, while greasers enter the church to save the kids. He comes to his senses in the hospital and finds that Dally is also not injured but Johnny is bedridden. Soon his brother Darry arrives and breaks down, realizing Ponyboy that he cares much for him.
It transpires in the next day’s papers that the greasers have declared Ponyboy and Johnny as their heroes but that Johnny would be tried for assassinating Bob, the Socs boy. Meanwhile, Two-Bit arrives to inform Ponyboy about the final rumble to end the rivalry and they contact Randy who feels remorse at the ensuing war between both the communities. When Ponyboy visits Johnny he sees his heart-wrenching condition but returns and meets Cherry who does not want to ask about Johnny for killing Bob, her friend. After an exchange of bitter words, they reconcile. However, Dally appears for the rumble in which the greasers have their day. When Pony takes Dally to the hospital, they become aggrieved at his death, making Dally run amuck out of the hospital toward his home. He has fits of hysteria, telling his family that he has become a robber after which they find him pointing his empty gun at the police and getting killed in retaliation. Ponyboy loses his consciousness at this tragedy. Later, he is exonerated by the court for Bob’s assassination.
Soon Ponyboy, again, starts schooling but does not have the heart to continue after which he fails badly in English, though, the teacher assures him to pass him for his good work. When later, he opens the novel, Gone with the Wind, he finds a letter from Johnny writing him about his death and the burning of the church. He also advises him to study hard after which he tries again to pass English and start his career.
Major Themes in The Outsiders
- Anarchic Situation: The novel, The Outsiders, presents the theme of an anarchic social situation in which different conflicts are going on side by side. There is a class conflict between the Socs and the greasers as both communities are at loggerheads. Then there is a family conflict going on in the Curtis family that Darry does not like Ponyboy, though, later, he cries for him. There is another conflict between different groups of the Socs and the greasers. It seems that the social fabric has crumbled under the weight of class discrimination, leading to this anarchic situation in which Bob and Johnny with several others become the fodder of prejudice and anarchy ensuing from this rivalry of two communities.
- Communal Discrimination: The novel shows the theme of communal discrimination in that the Socs see condescendingly toward the greasers and this community prejudice seeps into the psyche of individuals. Ponyboy hates Bob and his gang and attacks them when they meet on the way in which Johnny kills Bob, leading to riots and fire in the church as well as the death of Johnny. This communal discrimination occurs almost everywhere including the cinema and the highways and takes the lives of several persons from both communities.
- Empathy: The theme of empathy runs deep in the novel in the midst of the communal prejudice and racial hatred raging in the city. Several persons break the class stereotypical behavior. The first one to cross this boundary to feel empathy for any greaser is Cherry who becomes a friend of Ponyboy. Not only she tries to mend matters between both communities but also between gangs. She sees things going bad to worse when she advises Ponyboy to be not hostile to the Socs. Randy, too, forces Ponyboy to feel sympathy for the Socs, and finally, he does this himself by starting his essay from a sympathetic note.
- Childhood Innocence: The novel shows the theme of childhood innocence in the midst of raging hatred, hostility, and discrimination as Ponyboy sees things differently from other boys of his gang. It is also that as Dally and Johnny, both, have shown hardened youth and Johnny goes on to stab Bob, while Dally becomes not only rough but also tough during the gang fights. This contrast shows that children are still innocent and the final cry of Dally for his brother, Ponyboy, shows that he still loves his brother.
- Individual Identity: The novel shows the collective identities through the Socs and the greasers, two communities, so much so that individuals have very hard times finding their own identities. Johnny is otherwise a very good boy but kills Bob when he is with the greasers’ lads. Ponyboy is an innocent boy who could argue with Cherry, the loving face of the Socs, and yet he leaves his own home. This identity even works on the micro-level within the household as Ponyboy loses his identity to the group when Dally turns against him. When Bob dies, Ponyboy starts thinking about the conflict and its results, leading him to think about other individual boys.
- Conflict Between The Rich and the Poor: The novel shows the conflict between the rich and the poor through the groups, the Socs, and the greasers. The bitter conflict ensues between both the communities only because of the acute poverty of the greasers and the wealth of the Socs. Despite some commonalities such as Cherry Valance finds in Ponyboy, the differences continue to widen. Even the children find harmony with each other through their common thinking, yet the gang wars and deaths of some youths, such as Bob and Johnny, lead to widening this gulf.
- Lawlessness: The novel shows the theme of lawlessness through class difference, communal violence, and gang war/conflict. The class difference is clear in the hostility between the Socs and the greasers, while communal violence has been shown in which Bob dies and the church is set on fire in the ensuing mob attacks. The conflict is also going on between the gangs of the greasers and the Socs.
- Violence: The novel shows the theme of violence in the gang fight, church on fire, and the death of Bob and Johnny. Both the gangs from the greasers and the Socs turn against one and another when the time suits each group. When Johnny stabs Bob the situation worsens, leading the mob to set the church on fire in which several people breathe their last.
- Minor Themes: Loyalty, education, isolation, sympathy, and love are some other minor themes.
Major Characters of The Outsiders
- Ponyboy Curtis: Ponyboy Curtis, the youngest of the Curtis family, is not only the protagonist of the novel but also its first person narrator from whose eyes the readers see the events of the story. His slangy and young voice lends credence to the events he has to go through as the greaser young member of just fourteen. Although he belongs to the greasers, he also has a link with the Socs through Cherry and understands Darry as the dominating leader, while Dally and Two-Bit as dangerous and wise young persons. Although he stays loyal to his group, he learns through Cherry that the Socs and the greasers have various commonalities. Despite his banal nature and low background, he refers to some literary masterpieces, showing his interesting and cultured nature. He sees mob psychology taking over the crowds, burning the church where he hides with his friend after having a fierce brawl with the Socs gang. He ends the novel by writing an introductory line of his story.
- Sodapop Curtis: Simply known as Soda, he is the elder brother of Ponyboy and is a highly energetic fellow interested only in movies and his own appearance. He impacts Ponyboy with his style and penchant for stylish personality, while his relationship with their elder brother, Darry, is somewhat complex and distant. As seen from the lens of Ponyboy, he, later, admits that he has not gone much deeper into his brother’s personality. In the end, he advises his brothers to patch up for the sake of family unity.
- Johnny Cade: He is the second important character of the novel and an adolescent greaser having a sense of his being an invincible young boy of sixteen. Despite his broken family background, he leads the greasers in forming a gang and having a sense of protection and justice against the attacks of the Socs. His sense of justice even spans over his own gang when he asks Dally to stop harassing the Socs girls. Although his act leads to estrangement against him in his gang, it gives him a sense of his personality. When the Socs gang attacks them, he braves the confrontation heroically and ends up in a hospital after his hiding place catches fire in the mob violence. He dies by the end of the novel as a martyr.
- Cherry Valance: This female character enters Ponyboy’s narrative and forms a good rapport with him after he asks his gang to stay away from girls, trying to mend fences with the Socs’ gang. However, it is interesting to see the Socs girl liking the greaser’s boys like Johnny and Ponyboy and talking to them. Despite their innocent relationship, Dally makes the water muddy for them, adding to their woes that Cherry dislikes. Despite these intimacies with the boys, she still has some group loyalties to which she sticks by the end.
- Darry Curtis: The eldest Curtis boy, Darry leads the family of three boys after the death of their parents, but shows his domineering behavior toward his younger brothers as Ponyboy leaves the house after he treats him badly. It is Darry who later incites violence in which Johnny stabs a Socs’ boy and causes mob violence. However, in the end, when Sodapop coaxes Ponyboy and makes him understand the adult role Darry has played, both of them patch up.
- Dallas Winston: Known as Dally in the storyline, Dallas is a teenager of 17 years, having sharp features and rough manners. On account of spending some period in the prison at a very young age, he has proved a tough fellow who keeps an eye on Johnny on account of his being the younger fellow among the greasers. However, he is loyal to Ponyboy and stands by him.
- Two-Bit Mathews: A wisecracker, Two-Bit is also known as Keith who is a regular shoplifter. On account of his instigation, the two communities, the Socs and the greasers come to blows.
- Steve Randle: A teen greaser, Steve is Sodapop’s friend and stays with him most of the time. A young boy of an athletic body, he is a tough opponent when it comes to fighting and feels Ponboy’s company irritating.
- Randy Anderson: A Socs, Randy is Bob’s friend whom Johnny kills during a confrontation with the Socs. However, his attitude toward the greasers stays reasonable and humanistic as he does not see any rationality in hostilities and fighting.
- Bomb Sheldon: The significance of the character of Bob lies in his being the center of the fight as Johnny kills him, causing an inter-communal feud.
Writing Style of The Outsiders
The style of Hinton in the novel, The Outsiders, comprises constant use of foreshadowing to keep the readers on their toes about what is going to happen next. In this context, he has used very simple sentences that create suspense as well as predict future events. But one thing that makes this novel specifically Hintonian is that he uses a variety of sentences to make his readers feel being entertained, surprised, and puzzled simultaneously. The reason is that this epistolary type of style makes the readers feel the very voice of the beloved characters in their bones. For literary devices, Hinton turns toward allusions, metaphors, and similes.
Analysis of the Literary Devices in The Outsiders
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises the narrative of a greaser boy, Ponyboy, and his life in the mob violence with the Socs. The rising action occurs when his close friend Johnny kills a Socs, Bob. The falling action occurs when the greasers win the rumble.
- Anaphora: The novel shows the use of anaphora such as,
i. One of them kept saying, “Shut him up, for Pete’s sake, shut him up!” (Chapter-1)
ii. He likes Soda—everybody likes Soda— but he can’t stand me. (Chapter-3)
iii. I walk in that house, and nobody says anything. I walk out, and nobody says anything. I stay away all night, and nobody notices. At least you got Soda. I ain’t got nobody.” (Chapter-3)
These three examples show the repetitious use of “shut him up”, “likes”, and “nobody says anything.”
- Allusion: The novel shows examples of allusions such as,
i. We killed time by reading Gone with the Wind and playing poker. Johnny sure did like that book, although he didn’t know anything about the Civil War and even less about plantations, and I had to explain a lot of it to him. (Chapter-6)
ii. Robert Frost wrote it. He meant more to it than I’m gettin’ though.” I was trying to find the meaning the poet had in mind, but it eluded me. “I always remembered it because I never quite got what he meant by it.” (Chapter-5)
The first example refers to a novel, the American Civil War, while the second refers to a popular American poet, Robert Frost.
- Antagonist: The Socs gangs are the main antagonists who raise obstacles for Ponyboy.
- Conflict: The novel shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between the greasers and the Socs, while the internal or mental conflict is going on in the mind of Ponyboy about his relations as well as his role in the tussle between the two communities.
- Characters: The novel, The Outsiders, shows both static as well as dynamic characters. Ponyboy and Johnny Cade are dynamic characters as they show a considerable transformation in their behavior and conduct by the end of the novel. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Dally, Cherry, Sodapop, Dallas, and Bob.
- Climax: The climax in the novel occurs when the Socs set the church on fire and Johnny and Ponyboy try their best to save the children.
- Imagery: The Outsiders shows the use of imagery such as,
i. The dawn was coming then. All the lower valley was covered with mist, and sometimes little pieces of it broke off and floated away in small clouds. The sky was lighter in the east, and the horizon was a thin golden line. The clouds changed from gray to pink, and the mist was touched with gold. There was a silent moment when everything held its breath, and then the sun rose. It was beautiful. (Chapter-5)
ii. She was a little woman, with straight black hair and big black eyes like Johnny’s. But that was as far as the resemblance went. Johnnycake’s eyes were fearful and sensitive; hers were cheap and hard. (Chapter-8)
These two examples show images of sight, color, sound, and emotions.
- Metaphor: The Outsiders shows the use of various metaphors such as,
i. We killed time by reading Gone with the Wind and playing poker. (Chapter-5)
ii. There was an uneasy silence: Who was going to start it? Darry solved the problem. (Chapter-9)
These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the novel such as the first shows time and silence as animals or human beings.
- Mood: The novel, The Outsiders, shows a very bitter and rebellious mood in the beginning and becomes violent in the middle after which it shows a calm and peaceful mood.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the novel, The Outsiders, are the literature, color, and consciousness of Ponyboy.
- Narrator: The novel, The Outsiders, has been narrated by a first-person narrator, Ponyboy Curtis. Therefore, he is also the protagonist of the story.
- Paradox: The novel shows examples of paradoxes such as,
i. He’s always happy-go-lucky and grinning, while Darry’s hard and firm and rarely grins at all. (Chapter-1)
It seems funny to me that he should look just exactly like my father and act exactly the opposite from him. (Chapter-1)
Both of these examples show that the writer has put paradoxical ideas or things together.
- Personification: The novel shows examples of personifications such as,
i. The pool was empty now in the fall, but the fountain was going merrily. Tall elm trees made the park shadowy and dark. (Chapter-4)
ii. A cool deadly bluff could sometimes shake them off, but not if they outnumbered you five to two and were drunk. (Chapter-4)
iii. My hair looked funny, scattered over the floor in tufts. “It’s lighter than I thought it was,” I said, examining it. “Can I see what I look like now? (Chapter-5)
iv. There was an uneasy silence: Who was going to start it? Darry solved the problem. (Chapter-9)
These examples show as if the fountain, bluff, hair, and silence have life and emotions of their own.
- Protagonist: Ponyboy Curtis is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his entry in the story immediately when he starts narrating it and ends on him.
- Repetition: The novel shows the use of repetitions such as,
i. I winced inside. I’ve told you I can’t stand it that Soda dropped out. “He’s a dropout,” I said roughly. “Dropout” made me think of some poor dumb-looking hoodlum wandering the streets breaking out street lights— it didn’t fit my happy-go-lucky brother at all. (Chapter-2)
ii. “Rat race is a perfect name for it,” she said. “We’re always going and going and going, and never asking where. (Chapter-3)
iii. Remembering. Remembering a handsome, dark boy with a reckless grin and a hot temper. A tough, tow-headed boy with a cigarette in his mouth and a bitter grin on his hard face. Remembering— and this time it didn’t hurt— a quiet, defeated looking sixteen-year-old whose hair needed cutting badly and who had black eyes with a frightened expression to them. (Chapter-10)
These examples show “dropout”, “going” and “remembering” repeated several times in the sentences.
- Setting: The setting of the novel, The Outsiders, is Tulsa area in Oklahoma.
- Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes such as,
i. You know how it is, when you wake up in a strange place and wonder where in the world you are, until memory comes rushing over you like a wave. (Chapter-5)
ii. The water from it was like liquid ice and it tasted funny, but it was water. (Chapter-5)
iii. But I realized that these three appealed to me because they were like the heroes in the novels I read. (Chapter-5)
iv. Curly, who was a tough, cool, hard-as-nails Tim in miniature, and I had once played chicken by holding our cigarette ends against each other’s fingers. (Chapter-9)
v. The excitement was catching. Screeching like an Indian, Steve went running across the lawn in flying leaps, stopped suddenly, and flipped backward. (Chapter-9)
These are similes as the use of the words “like” and “as” showing a comparison in the first memory with the wave, in the second water with ice, in the third persons with heroes, in the fourth hardness with nails, and in the fourth screeching with an Indian.