The Outsiders

Literary analysis: "The Outsiders" by S. E. Hinton

The novel "The Outsiders" was written by the American writer S. E. Hinton in 1967. At that time, everyone thought this was a remarkable effort, since Hinton was only seventeen years old at the time of publishing. The book revolves around a gang called Greasers, situated in an American suburb some time during the 50s or the 60s. The Greasers are constantly quarrelling with another gang called the Socs. Socs is short for socialists, and they are the successful, rich kids, whereas the Greasers are from the poor part of the town. For some reason, the Greasers and the Socs dislike each other intensely, and to solve conflicts, the two gangs frequently have fistfights.


The book’s main character is Ponyboy Curtis - a 14-year-old boy, whose parents perished in a car accident, forcing him and his two brothers Sodapop and Darry to paddle their own canoe. The three brothers live alone in a house in very poor state of repair. Apparently, Ponyboy’s two older brothers Sodapop and Darry have great impact on him. Ponyboy obviously rates family values highly, and when things don’t work out like he would want them to, he often turns to Johnny Cage in despair. Johnny neither has an easy time at home; his parents neglect him. In the beginning of the book, Ponyboy doesn’t feel like he knows his oldest brother Darry completely, but as the plot progresses, it seems like his personal feelings towards Darry increases for literally every page of the book that passes by. This is one of the most distinct character changes in the book. There are no hooks or hurdles in the beginning of the book; the first sentence starts right away with the plot - without any foreword. This is the beginning of the first sentence: "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house..." As you can see, Hinton goes straight to the point without any prologues or any kind of introduction. She continues to use this straightforward style of writing through the whole novel. This makes the book ideal for both experienced readers and people who lack fluent English knowledge - everyone can understand most of it, and you don’t have to twist your brain to keep up with the plot. Reading the book is enjoyable and there is no need to look up words in the dictionary. Nevertheless, some slang words are used, but Hinton explains through Ponyboy what these words exactly mean.


There are strong bonds amongst all Greasers; they all feel like they are members of one big family. When something goes wrong with one of the members, the other ones promptly stand up for him and protect him. All types of human beings are present in the gang - Ponyboy is the smart member and probably the only one with humanitarian values, Johnny is the gang’s "pet", whereas Darry is the gang’s uncrowned king and the best fighter. Sodapop is the gorgeous one who gets all the women, while Two-Bit does not take anything seriously, hence his name. Finally, Dally is the distracted member who very well could have killed a person without any scruple at all.


The characters are not heroic - they are just humans - it is easy to believe that this is the way they would have acted if they’d existed. The characters in the plot give the reader a feeling this could have been a true story. The author has created the personality of the characters through the descriptions of Ponyboy - the narrator - and through their actions. S.E.Hinton uses a first person perspective point of view in this book, in other words: Ponyboy is actually talking to you in his own voice throughout the whole story. This makes the book informal, and it’s easy to become part of the scene and the story. Hinton’s way of writing opens for in-depth descriptions of the characters, incidents and surroundings. Ponyboy is, as previously said, the main character, and Hinton describes literally everything he meets on his way in a thorough matter. You feel highly strung in certain situations, for instance when Ponyboy and Johnny enter the burning church to save the children who are stuck inside it. Listen to the way Hinton summarises Ponyboy’s feelings after his friend Johnny has just killed a Socs in self-defence: "A panic was rising in me as I listened to Johnny’s quiet voice on and on. ’Johnny!’ I nearly screamed. ’What are we gonna do? They put you in the electric chair for killing people!’ I was shaking. I want a cigarette. I want a cigarette. I want a cigarette. We had smoked our last pack." It’s easy to see that Ponyboy already, in a young age, relies on cigarettes to help him calm down in mentally challenging situations. The book makes perfectly clear that Ponyboy is a fond lover of sunsets: "...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." Descriptions like this one can be found almost everywhere in the story. The author puts them there to let the reader get familiar with the characters. The descriptions make the reader know the characters better and understand their actions.


The ending of the story did not come as a surprise on me. I anticipated the death of Johnny because having a broken neck usually means death - sooner or later. The death of Dally was not as predictable as Johnny’s death because the book often tells how big and mentally strong Dally is: "He was tougher than the rest of us-tougher, colder, meaner." A cute feature with "The Outsiders" is the fact that it ends with the exact same words as the book started with. In the end, Ponyboy decides to write an essay at school about all the things he’d experienced in the last few days. He begins the essay in the same way as the book starts. Hence is the novel actually the essay Ponyboy writes in the end. Smart, eh?


To conclude I would like to say that the book gave me a taste of what life on the street might be like. It bows low into the emotional life of its characters, and tells us how they behave and feel within themselves. The book is not just about gang warfare; it also deals with loyalty, courage, frustration, and despair. It encourages people to stick together, even if the odds are against them.

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