Almost every literary tradition can present the world with at least one child prodigy — the author of a sensational book that makes a significant impact on the whole world. Susan Eloise Hinton, who wrote her novel The Outsiders in 1965, is the American version of such cultural archetype.1After its publication, the novel was faced with both a massive scandal and enormous popularity; in some states, it was prohibited, and in others, it was included in the school curriculum. The Outsiders is a small book that evokes different emotions among readers. The novel depicts teenage boys who are forced to protect themselves from the attacks of their peers from a wealthier neighborhood. Therefore, it is crucial to get acquainted with the essence of the novel and analyze its main characters to genuinely comprehend Hinton’s view on the challenges of the teenage age within the framework of this paper.
The Summary of the Novel
The main character of the novel, with a comical name Ponyboy Curtis, is a 14-year-old orphan with big dreams. His parents died in a car accident a year ago, and now he lives with two older brothers — a 20-year-old strong man Darry and 16-year-old handsome Gas. Gas is a favorite person in any circle, while Darry is cruel and arrogant: Ponyboy Curtis is convinced that he tyrannizes him in vain and wants to take his younger brother to a shelter. Ponyboy Curtis, his brothers, and their friends are “greasers”: they comb their long hair back, smoke cigarettes from their youth, steal from shops, and turn empty bottles into Molotov cocktails in one polished motion. What is more, many of the “greasers” have switchblades in their pockets. However, the main thing that all the “greasers” are busy with is the hostility towards the rival gang, the “socs”—neat and elegant children from wealthy areas.
The “greasers,” teenagers from working-class families living in poverty, are convinced that the “socs” are less valuable people since they are more privileged from birth. Thus, the “greasers” hate them to a great extent due to the difference in their social status. Moreover, the “socs” indeed behave in a challenging manner: they attack weaker groups of people, beat the smallest, and generally do not demonstrate fidelity to the street honor code.2 Once, Ponyboy and his best friend, Johnny, get in serious trouble: first, they want to date two girls from the “socs” party, then they get involved in a fight with their enemies, and later they accidentally kill one of the attackers. What happens next in the novel is entirely predictable. When Johnny and Ponyboy pull defenseless children out of the fire in the church, they appear heroes in readers’ eyes. The story ends with the bitterness of loss, Ponyboy’s long-awaited reconciliation with his brother, and a fantastic discovery that the “socs” are also people with the same feelings, problems, and challenges.
An Analysis of the Main Characters
The protagonist of the book, a teenage boy, Ponyboy Curtis, is a person with a complex and stubborn character. He suffers from a problematic relationship with his older brothers and has difficulty in finding common ground with peers. All his life Ponyboy lives with a feeling of hatred and rejection, especially in relation to a hostile gang, the “socs.” Later on, faced with poverty, hunger, and the pain of losing his best friend, Ponyboy realizes that all people are the same.
As a consequence, after realizing all the mistakes he made in life, Ponyboy says: “It seemed funny to me that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.”3 Thus, within the framework of the novel, Ponyboy goes through the difficult path of rebirth to break free from hatred and evil and become a completely new person.
The other important character in the novel is Johnny, who is forced to hide in a church from the police after killing a boy from the “socs” group. Together with Ponyboy, Johnny lives in the church for some time, but the two boys do not use this time in vain, reading famous poems and novels. Subsequently, a terrible fire breaks out in the church, and trying to save the children, Johnny suffers from serious burns and finds himself in the hospital. He soon realizes that he will not survive and spends the last moments of life with his best friend, Ponyboy. Before dying, realizing all his mistakes in life, Johnny says, “Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold,”4 and peacefully passes away. Therefore, the main characters of the novel are a great example of a real friendship, mutual assistance, and support.
The Theme of the Novel
The most prevailing topics covered all through The Outsiders novel are social and class conflicts between youngsters. These conflicts take place between two opponent groups, the “socs” and the “greasers.” The distinctions in personal qualities and the financial status between the “greasers” from the East Side and the “socs” from the West Side have turned the two groups against one another in enmity. Throughout the novel, Ponyboy comes to change his point of view about favoring one side, and discovers that class conflict is unsafe and inefficient for all people in spite of the social and financial status. Accordingly, the main theme of the novel revolves around social differences and class conflicts.
Personal Opinion about the Novel
For me, The Outsiders is the novel that should not be judged by its retelling. It is a very uneven book with a rather weak plot. However, there is something in the story that cannot be found in more mature books: from Hinton’s novel comes lively energy that Kurt Cobain sang about in “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”5 This very teen spirit, the spirit of rebellious youth, completely naturally pays for all shortcomings of the novel. If readers are in their twenties, they will recognize themselves in this book, and, most likely, they will feel frustrated. In the contemporary world, not many people think about what real poverty is and how youngsters can survive it. The book The Outsiders shows the very life of poor people in distressed neighborhoods that have to survive challenges of modern life. However, the most valuable thing about the book is that it depicts how teenagers are trying to find their place in this cruel world.
Overall, the distinctive feature of The Outsiders is Hinton’s power to deal with difficult topics in an easy-to-read manner. In its essence, the novel shows the recognition by the narrator, Ponyboy Curtis, of the fact that there is no way out of the world of brutal gangs, discrimination, and poverty in which he lives. Heroes have to survive without the support of a stable family or state in constrained financial circumstances. Nevertheless, the author shows that embarking on the path of crime and violence as self-defense is the only possible way out for the protagonist-narrator and his friends. Although this story is very bleak and violent, Hinton brings a touch of optimism when Ponyboy, at the end of the book, realizes the need for change in his life.
Dorling, Danny. Injustice (revised edition): Why Social Inequality Still Persists. New York: Policy Press, 2015.
Hinton, Susan. The Outsiders. London: Penguin, 2016.
Prasad, Suji, and Rangasami Periyan. “Factors Influencing Intimate Partner Violence.” Indian Journal of Community Health 31, no. 1 (2019): 4–9.
Raudenbush, Stephen, and Robert Eschmann. “Does Schooling Increase or Reduce Social Inequality?” Annual Review of Sociology 12, no. 2(2015): 443–470.
- Stephen Raudenbush and Robert Eschmann, “Does Schooling Increase or Reduce Social Inequality?” Annual Review of Sociology 12, no. 2 (2015): 445.
- Suji Prasad and Rangasami Periyan, “Factors Influencing Intimate Partner Violence,” Indian Journal of Community Health 31, no. 1 (2019): 9.
- Susan Hinton, The Outsiders (London, United Kingdom: Penguin, 2016), 77.
- Hinton, 166.
- Danny Dorling, Injustice (revised edition): Why Social Inequality Still Persists (New York, NY: Policy Press, 2015), 77.