“The Outsiders” – How Do The Greasers Compare To Gangs Today?

Book Review : The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Spoiler Alert!

Ponyboy Curtis lives in a world where there are two types of people, the Greasers who have no chance and the Socials, or Socs, who have all the chances. One of the most important things for the Greasers is loyalty, often the only family they have is their gang.

Darry is their leader and Pony’s oldest brother, Soda is Pony’s next brother, and handsomer than anyone else. The others include Dally, who is an unfeeling hood from New York and Two-Bit, who steals stuff just to keep his rep and is always cracking a joke. Finally, there is Johnny, who is like a little dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers.

Pony isn’t like all the other Greasers. He loves to read and watch sunsets, and he even has good grades. One night the Socs jump him and Johnny, and suddenly their world is turned upside down when Johnny pulls out a knife to protect Pony. The Soc was dead. There was nothing else Johnny and Pony could do but run, a Greaser would never catch a break with the law.

S. E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was 16 years old and it was published in 1967 as she entered college. She felt that this was a story that needed to be told.

She was inspired by the two gangs at her high school and wanted to show things from the point of view of the outsiders, the Greasers.

Readers were shocked when The Outsiders was originally published because of the honesty, the raw subject matter and the way she tackled teen issues.

Adult Point of View

I thoroughly enjoyed The Outsiders. Some of the sentence structure is rough and the words don’t always flow and it all adds to the believability that a teenager is talking. I doubt that this was intentionally done by Hinton, and yet if it only sounded like a teen speaking it wouldn’t have been successful, it is successful because of the themes.

The Outsiders explores themes such as, innocence, ostracism, prejudice and privilege.

A good illustration on the theme of innocence is found in the quote from Johnny’s letter, “I’ve been thinking about it, and that poem, that guy that wrote it, he meant you’re gold when you’re a kid, like green. When you’re a kid everything’s new, dawn. It’s just when you get used to everything that it’s day. Like the way you dig sunsets, Pony. That’s gold. Keep that way, it’s a good way to be.” (p.186) To “Stay gold,” is a reference to Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” poem. Pony also refers to his mom as being golden and beautiful. (p.56) Though she is not in the novel, her presence remains as Pony remembers how she could talk to Dally, who was the lease innocent of the boys in the gang.

The theme of innocence and the loss of innocence causes an internal conflict in Ponyboy and the external realization of that loss in Dally. The other members of the gang have all lost their innocence to varying degrees. Pony desperately wants to be part of the gang and he knows he is a dreamer and can’t share that side of his life with his other buddies. Ironically, the other boys know that Pony is innocent and yet they still accept him. Two-Bit tells Pony, “Ponyboy, listen, don’t get tough. You’re not like the rest of us and don’t try to be…”(p.179)  Two-Bit is relieved to see Pony picking up the pieces of glass from the bottle he had broken to be a weapon when threatened by the Socs, because it was proof that Pony was not becoming tough. When Pony had threatened the Soc with the bottle it was so out of character the other Greasers were shocked. For Johnny to stay gold he will need to finish his education and leave his gang, and this is his older brothers’ goal for their baby brother. Dally, who has lost his innocence, no longer has a reason to live once Johnny dies and sees his only option as death.

Cherry acts as the bridge between the worlds of the Greasers and the Socs. Pony is able to talk to her about ‘stuff’ that he doesn’t share with his buddies and they both see that they have held a prejudice against the other class. Cherry sums up Pony and Johnny when she says, “No, not innocent. You’ve seen too much to be innocent. Just not … dirty.” (p.34)

Pity is another way of saying that you are superior and the one you pity is inferior. Ponyboy says, “I’d rather have anybody’s hate than their pity,” when he remembers Curly Shepherd being sent off to reform school. Divisions among people come in many forms, whether it is race, money, pity, religion, politics or any other dividing point that is focused on rather than our similarities.

Everyone has a desire to belong. Pony explains the division between the Greaser and the Socs to Cherry saying, “That’s why we’re separated. It’s not money, it’s feeling – you don’t feel anything and we feel too violently.” (p.46) The Greasers were ostracized by polite society and developed their own code of ethics to belong to their gang. The outward symbols that you were a greaser included, the long hair greased back, switch-blades, swearing, drinking and ultimately the poverty. The Socials had their own rules for their class, which included fast cars, beer-keg parties and privilege due to their social standing from their parent’s wealth. Hinton points out that privilege did not lead to happiness, the Socs had their problems too, though their problems were inconceivable to the Greasers.

Today teens are still seeking acceptance, to belong to a group. Interestingly, the suburban children who would have been similar to Socs when The Outsiders was written are now emulating gang members to find acceptance. Gangs have powerful symbols through their clothing, signs and violent lives. The worst thing a gang member can do is rat out his fellow gang members because to do so means the snitch has defected and no longer belongs, he is alone, he is on the outside. I have witnessed many kids who come from a privileged background wearing baggy jeans, giving their friends gang signs and using ghetto terms. The problem in living the gang life is the final destination, as described by Pony, that you end up hating the world, in prison or dead.

A turning point in the novel is when the church burns down. Fire can be a symbol for cleansing. Johnny was overwhelmed by his guilt over the death of the Soc, and needed to redeem himself by saving others. Even though Johnny dies he also was released from his internal prison of guilt by doing what was right. After the fire Pony has to define who he is going to be, defined by society by his social circumstances or become something more.

Pony’s realization for his purpose comes as he absorbs the death of Johnny and the suicide of Dally. As Pony remembers Johnny he think, “I couldn’t forget him telling me that he hadn’t done enough, hadn’t been out of our neighborhood all his life – and then it was too late.” (p.186)

After Pony reads the letter left for him he has an epiphany, “Suddenly it wasn’t only a personal thing to me. I could picture hundreds and hundreds of boys living on the wrong sides of cities, boys with black eyes who jumped at their own shadows. Hundreds of boys who maybe watched sunsets and looked at stars and ached for something better. I could see boys going down under street lights because they were mean and tough and hated the world, and it was too late to tell them that there was still good in it, and they wouldn’t believe you if you did. It was too vast a problem to be just a personal thing. There should be some help, someone should tell them before it was too late. Someone should tell their side of the story, and maybe people would understand then and wouldn’t be so quick to judge a boy by the amount of hair oil he wore. It was important to me.” (p.187)

Many other themes could be explored, but I will end with saying that I highly recommend this book for high school students. The language is fairly clean, there are some sexual references, such as, a girl being pregnant and “what happens in the bedroom” , there is violence and death. The Outsiders is not a perfect novel, but it takes pertinent issues that teens need to understand as they grow up.

4.25 out of 5 stars

– the Mother

Teen Point of View

I loved the names in this book. They were very unique and fun. I liked the characters for the most part and Sodapop was my favorite. I think it is a good book for young people to read.

3.5 out of 5 stars

– the Daughter

About Tales Untangled

I am a mother of four children and have a passion for reading. I love sharing my treasury of books with my kids. I also do experiments in cooking which includes such things as Indian Tandoori Chicken slow-cooked in a tagine. I write stories and illustrate in ink.
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