From the moment I first read The outsiders as part of my English class I was enthralled; it’s one of those books that if read at the right point in your life resonates with you long after the cover is closed. For a long time I lived in that book and implore every young teen to read it. It is a fantastic representative of youth culture, both in the sixties and now, and has many positive influences.
Respect and Social tolerance are the most prominent themes in the book; It is highly didactic and the narrative is hugely driven by the social injustice that protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis, encounters. The divide between social classes (the rich socs and the impoverished greasers) will resonate with many teens and helps provide understanding of the unjust divide between the popular and unpopular.
At the beginning of the novel the soc’s are painted in a bad light, they are violent for the sake of fun and end up robbing a fearless Johnny of all his confidence.
If you can imagine a dark puppy that’s been kicked around too many times, you’ll have Johnny Cade.
As the book progresses and things escalate to the point of murder we start to see a change in the socs when they begin to take responsibility for their actions and realise that their bit of fun has serious consequences. Ponyboy remains civil with the socs throughout the novel and we become increasing aware of his mature point of view.
Ponyboy’s strive to bridge the gap between the social and economical classes is demonstrated by his and Cherry’s relationship. He sees good and bad qualities rather than good and bad people which he assesses before judging them, instilling the sentiment that there’s no such thing as good and bad people there are only people. We all live under the same sun.
It’s okay… We aren’t in the same class. Just don’t forget that some of us watch the sunset too.
Dally on the other hand has a black and White perspective and rather than seeing good and bad qualities in people as Ponyboy does, he simply see’s Greasers and Socs and treats them as friends or foes. Unfortunately for Dally his hot headed nature catches up with him and gets him killed.
Literature is also a huge aspect of the novel, which written by Hinton at the age of Sixteen is inspirational for any young budding writer.
Ponyboy Curtis is a avid reader who lives in his own little poetic mindset. The focus on classic literature and poetry is important for teaching any child the value and sentiment that the arts have. Poetry is not solely a girls game, it is the basis of Ponyboy’s and Johnny’s worldly perspectives. Ponyboy identifies with Great Expectation’s Pip because he too is an impoverished orphan, drilling home the fact that books are so much more than stories, they are a source of identity and can be therapeutic tools.
There is a large focus on the importance of education and Ponyboy is encouraged to embrace his intelligence by teachers and peers alike. This is a great lesson for any child who feels they need to adapt their personality or dumb themselves down in order to fit in. Ponyboy may struggle with his identity but he is honest with himself and doesn’t give in to peer pressure.
The theme of death is something that a lot of parents like to shy away from when it comes to their children which is fair enough; but it is important that children appreciate life, whether it be their own or other peoples. It’s a brutal truth that youth does not make you invincible.
There is a drive towards the appreciation of life in this novel which stems from Ponyboy’s personal experiences. He looses both his parents and therefore relies hugely on this network of friends and his brothers for parental substitution. One of these friends dies because of his reckless, animalistic nature and another of an intrepid act of selflessness, demonstrating that death does not discriminate and it is important to make decisions wisely.
My copy of this book is well read and annotated to the point of destruction. I loved it when I was eleven and I love it now, and it will remain on my bookcase for my sons to read when they are older. But if you aren’t much of a reader or you’ve already read it then watch the film. Honestly it’s not as good as the book (the films rarely are) but it’s worth watching if only for Rob Lowe and Matt Dillon.