I’m 49 Years Late to the Party,
But I recently finished reading The Outsiders (Yes, the famous S.E. Hinton novel that millions of American elementary and high school students are forced to read in English class) and I think it may be one of my favourite books of all time.
I never had to read the book in school. Some of the books I had to read were Tuck Everlasting, The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time, and Rice Without Rain. I’ve heard of the book in passing many times before, and I’ve heard of the 1983 movie adaptation, but I never delved into the world of 1960s Oklahoma until just a few days ago.
I decided to read the book because I’ve been on a reading binge lately, and I somehow remembered a random conversation with my ex when we were still together and she mentioned that The Outsiders was one of her favourite books. I bought the book off Amazon (One cent!!! …But it was 6 bucks for shipping, dammit) and it arrived in the mail a day later. I told my best friend Jay about it the other night, and it turns out that it’s one of his favourite books too. We ended up talking until 2 or 3 in the morning about it and its film adaptation.
Now, get ready for a very, very long, semi-analytical, semi-personal reflection-ish post about this book.
Obviously, if you haven’t read the book/seen the movie and are planning to, there are going to be a lot of spoilers up ahead. You have been warned.
Appearances Mean Everything, Apparently
The book was a lot shorter than I thought it was, but I remembered that it was a young adult novel and a lot of novels from this genre aren’t very long anyway. I couldn’t put it down; I ended up finishing it in one sitting. After that, I scoured the Internet for the movie (I ended up watching The Complete Novel/Director’s Cut edition, but I’m gonna watch the original cut too, eventually. I’m a film nerd, sue me).
What I found fascinating about the book and the movie was its themes, and how they carried on throughout generations. The socioeconomic division — the working class and the middle/upper-middle class — is still prevalent today.
The greasers are seen as menaces to society. They were shunned by everyone else because of their lifestyles and the way they looked. Funny how back then, something as trivial as wearing jeans, listening to Elvis, talking like James Dean, and growing out your hair somehow meant you were a bad person.
The greasers represent the social outcasts, or the group of people who don’t quite fit into the status quo. They don’t meet the minimum requirements to be accepted by everyone else: they listen to loud music, they wear denim, they grow out their hair and style it funny with oil and grease, they’re uncouth and refuse to listen to authority figures…they’re basically the exact opposite of what their parents want them to be. Sounds familiar, right?
Every generation has its own version of “The Greasers”, or a counter-culture. Greaser culture was heavily popular throughout the late 40s and 50s. Hippie culture saturated the 60s. The punk movement and heavy metal music came to life in the 70s. Hip hop started out in the 80s. Grunge rolled into the 90s. Today, it’s the hipster movement that’s captured society by storm (Though, arguably, you can say that hipster culture also counts as the status quo nowadays too). All of these sub-groups have one thing in common: they refuse to conform to society’s standards.
But there are other groups that can be represented by Ponyboy and his band of greasers. Marginalized groups like people of colour, for instance, or the LGBTQ+ community can be seen as social outcasts. They don’t fit the bill for “conventional human being” quite yet, even though our society is slowly beginning to open up to a wider umbrella of acceptance. Basically, life kinda sucks for you if you aren’t a heterosexual, suburban-inhabiting, middle-to-upper-class, Caucasian male.
What’s significant about the greasers and their role in The Outsiders, however, is that being a greaser usually meant you were poor, and that made you vulnerable (I guess back then, the only thing worse than not being white was being poor…so if there weren’t any black people to make fun of, you move down the food chain and find new prey). The main conflict of the book was the perpetual war between The Greasers: poor, working class youths who are often seen as criminals and thugs simply because of their social status, and The Socs (Pronounced sohsh; soh-shiz plural): a group of affluent, upper-middle class teenagers who didn’t have to work for their money because their families were rich enough to provide for them for the rest of their lives. The Socs are neatly groomed white guys who drink too much and were generally really shitty towards people whom they thought were beneath them — specifically the greasers, or “hoods”, which is an even worse term to call them. Their privilege gave them the edge. They could get away with murder if they could simply because of their social status.
There’s a part in the book (and in the movie) that really spoke to me. It was the day of the big fight and Randy, a Soc, told Ponyboy, a greaser and the protagonist, that it didn’t matter who won. In the end, even if the greasers ended up winning the fight, the Socs will still have their privilege and their money and the greasers will still be poor.
“You can’t win, even if you whip us. You’ll still be where you were before — at the bottom. And we’ll still be the lucky ones with all the breaks. So it doesn’t do any good, the fighting and the killing. It doesn’t prove a thing. We’ll forget it if you win, or if you don’t. Greasers will still be greasers and Socs will still be Socs. Sometimes I think it’s the ones in the middle that are really the lucky ones…”
Again, this sounds really familiar.
How many stories have you heard of the cookie-cutter suburban white guy getting the easy way out? The most recent example I can give you is the gigantic hot mess that is the Brock Turner trial. This kid would definitely fit in with The Socs: he went to a good school, his family is middle-class and privileged, he’s a white male, he’s a star athlete…on the outside, he looks like the poster boy for perfection. He raped an unconscious girl behind a dumpster during a party and all he got for it was 6 months in prison — 3 if he exhibits good behaviour. The minimum sentencing for rape is usually 2 years. The reasoning for the drastically reduced sentence was because the judge was concerned for his reputation (Though Turner will still have to live out the rest of his life as a registered sex offender). Seriously.
Now, imagine if Brock Turner wasn’t Brock Turner. What if he was black? What if he came from a poor family? What if he had a mohawk, or tattoos, or facial piercings? Would the sentencing be different? Would the media portray him as something other than a kind, innocent boy who simply made a slight error in judgement?
Jay, my closest friend, is who you would call a “punk”. He listens to punk music, he wears a heavy leather biker jacket with pins on the lapels (and in warmer weather he wears a denim vest covered in even more pins and patches), and he used to have a mohawk when he was in college. He was driving around one day when a cop pulled him over. There was absolutely no reason for it; the cop assumed he was up to no good simply because of the way he looked.
Judging by appearances is a recurring theme throughout The Outsiders. At first, Ponyboy thought all Socs were the same. He thought all of them were spoiled rich kids who drank too much and liked to vandalize buildings and beat up poor people just for fun. It wasn’t until he befriended Cherry and Randy that he realized Socs have their own share of problems too. Randy and Cherry weren’t just Socs. They were teenagers, just like him, who had their own worries, fears, dreams, and group of friends they loved and cared for. That’s why Ponyboy asks Cherry if she can see the sunset from her side of town, and when she says yes he tells her he can see the sunset from his part of town too. No matter who you are or where you come from, everyone has the capacity to admire a nice sunset. They both looked at sunsets the same way, despite their differences.
Socs were just guys after all. Things were rough all over, but it was better that way. That way you could tell the other guy was human too.
There’s a thing about teenagers and social labels. I’ve always wondered why kids were so eager to define themselves with a single word. Greaser. Soc. Punk. Jock. Nerd. Cheerleader. Stoner. Raver. Cheerleader. Emo. Metalhead. Gamer. Hipster. Each sub-group has a distinct look and feel to them.
I thought about it for a bit and I think the reason why teens (and even some young adults) thrive with labels is because they’re looking for a group to belong to — a place where they can feel comfortable being themselves, and with these labels it’s easier for them to find like-minded people. Ponyboy and his friends weren’t exactly a gang; he saw them as more of a bunch of friends who stuck together, and they saw each other as family. They all come from poor or broken homes. They like the same music. They like the same cars. They wear the same clothes and they style their hair the same way. Whenever one of their own was in trouble, they’d all pitch in to help. For characters like Johnny Cade, who hated his household because his parents were abusive alcoholics, friends were the only family they had. I think it’s the same case with a lot of adolescents, even up until today. Even though “greaser” was generally seen as a derogatory term, these boys embraced the title because it gave them an identity. It didn’t make them feel like outcasts because they knew there were others who were like them.
Being a teenager is hard. You’re stuck in this strange, in-between area, where people don’t really know how to deal with you because you’re not exactly an adult yet but you’re not a child anymore either. Hormones are also kicking in so you’re feeling and experiencing new things…so it’s really overwhelming. Adolescence is a shitstorm, to say the least. Your head is in a constant whirlwind, and the only way you can control it is by finding people who are weathering the same kind of storm. That’s where the cliques and the groups come in. You find a bunch of kids just like you, who feel the same way and think the same way, and it’s like the storm dies down a little and things become a little clearer. The need to fit in is so crucial with adolescents because it’s such a chaotic period in their life, and they feel like the only people who understand them are other adolescents. You stick with your group because you feel like you can get through anything as long as you’re with them. You stick up for each other and you defend your group from outsiders who threaten to dominate or rule over you.
But this groupthink mentality also comes with its handful of downsides. When you’re in a group, you think like and for the group. Since it’s the one place you feel like you can truly be yourself in, you become sort of defensive about it. You’d do anything to defend your label and what’s associated with it. That can lead to a lot of prejudice and ignorance towards other groups. I think that’s what happened with the greasers and the Socs. They were trained to think a certain way about each other. To a Soc, a greaser is nothing but poor white trash with greasy hair. To a greaser, a Soc is a spoiled rich kid in tacky clothes. You’re walking down the street and you see a kid in a leather jacket and his hair up in a pompadour, you’ll automatically assume he’s a thug who’s been to jail more times than he’s been to school. It might not be true — like Ponyboy, who’s one of the two people in his group who still goes to school and is also a track athlete — but you’ll think he’s like that anyway.
Stereotypes exist because of the groups we affiliate ourselves with.
Racial stereotypes aren’t that much different. You see a Chinese guy in a car and you’ll automatically think his insurance is through the roof because he drives really bad. You see an Indian guy at the grocery store and a part of you will wonder if he drives a taxi cab or owns a convenience store for a living. You even have sexual stereotypes: if you’re a gay man, you’re expected to act “feminine” and have good fashion taste. If you’re a lesbian, you’re supposed to be “butch”. Every group comes with its own list of stereotypes.
You’d think that it would be easier for people to realize that underneath their clothes and the music they listened to and the cars they drove, they’d see that no matter what group you affiliated yourself with, you weren’t much different than the person sitting next to you. A Soc and a greaser could be experiencing the same kind of disillusionment within their respective groups, just like Randy and Pony did — but they never realized it until they actually set aside their differences and talked to each other about it. Randy felt like he couldn’t tell his fellow Socs about his thoughts because he knew they’d think he was crazy, but for some reason he felt comfortable opening up to Pony about it. Why was that? I think Randy was more critical about his role in the group than Bob and the other Socs (Which is probably why he ended up becoming a hippie in S.E. Hinton’s next novel, That Was Then, This Is Now). He was torn between the loyalty to his friends and plain common sense. After his conversation with Pony, I think Pony felt the same way too — that same inner conflict. It was then, I think, he realized that everything his friends and brothers were telling him about the Socs might not actually be as true as he thought. Maybe we force ourselves to believe people outside our familiar group are different from us because it makes it easier for us to figure out where our place is in the world. If we thought everybody was the same, then it wouldn’t be as interesting, I suppose. It’s one of those very few exceptions where having boundaries between you and other people are more fun than no boundaries at all — at least that’s what the mentality was like back then.
I don’t really know why stereotypes exist. In a sense, they bring people together just as much as they separate them. If you want to be a greaser, you have to have pomade in your hair, you have to listen to rock and roll, and you have to wear a leather biker jacket with the collar popped…but when someone makes fun of the way you look and the music you listen to, it’s suddenly derogatory. It’s okay for greasers to call each other greasers, but when someone outside of their group calls them a greaser, it’s offensive. How does that make sense? It contradicts itself. Culture is so weird.
If I had the time, I could talk about stereotypes for hours…but alas, there are other parts of The Outsiders that I want to talk about.
Stay Straight, Ponyboy, Stray Straight
One other thing I found very interesting about The Outsiders is the themes of brotherhood and friendship. The book frequently mentions the boys leaning against each other, and even resting their heads on each other’s laps. Ponyboy and Sodapop share a bed at home, and they hold each other when they’re cold or if one of them is upset about something. They have no qualms about dressing and undressing in front of each other. They wrestle and play-fight. They hug each other a lot. Whenever Ponyboy cried, one of the boys would comfort him instead of making fun of him. Most of these things aren’t things many guys do today. They’d probably wrinkle their noses and think Ponyboy and his friends were gay.
Why is it that back then, boys were more comfortable being affectionate with each other? It’s a bit of a paradox because back then, boys were still expected to adhere to stereotypical (Again with the stereotypes) “masculine” qualities. They were supposed to be tough and hard-faced. Crying or showing any sort of affection was more of a “girl thing”, and if any boy expressed any of that he’d be seen as a sissy.
Girls are allowed to be openly affectionate with each other in a platonic sense. They’re allowed to hug and sleep in the same bed. They’re allowed to call each other beautiful. Affectionate friendships have somehow become a “girl thing” overtime. What exactly do guys do to express their fondness for one another, then? Bro fist? I bet they found a way to make that look “too gay” for friendship too, somehow.
Some can argue that the characters are so openly affectionate with each other because the book was written by a woman, but I don’t think gender has much to do with the relationships between Ponyboy and his friends. I mean, the book was controversial back in the day but it wasn’t because of any pseudo-homosexual implications — it was because it depicted gang violence and abusive families. Funny how that was seen as a bad thing back then; I guess adults feared it would influence their kids to join a gang or something.
Nowadays, straight guys go really out of the way to make sure that people don’t misinterpret their friendships with other men as homosexual. I think today’s society is so deprived of openly affectionate platonic relationships between males that when it actually does happen, people misinterpret it as romantic attraction (Axel and Roxas from Kingdom Hearts or pretty much any male character from Supernatural, for example). This is also why the “bromance” trope is so popular nowadays. It’s as if we’ve never heard of two guys being really good friends before. It’s weird.
Johnny and Dally’s relationship has often been interpreted by fans as lowkey homosexual. Johnny and Ponyboy’s relationship is being treated in a similar fashion. I mean, you’re free to interpret the relations between the characters all you want — and I’m not saying there isn’t evidence to prove that the characters might have felt something more than just platonic love for each other, but in my opinion I think it’s more of a brotherly love than anything else.
Johnny admires Dally because Dally is everything he isn’t: tough, bold, brash, brave, and independent. Dally (and the rest of the greasers) dote on Johnny because he’s one of the younger members of the gang, and it’s quite possible that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to getting beat up by the Socs and his abusive home life (But this book was written in the 60s and was set in the 60s, which was a time when mental illness wasn’t really seen as an actual problem yet, so it was never officially called PTSD), so he needed a little more support from his friends. I also think Dally saw a part of himself in Johnny, a part of him that died when he started getting into legal trouble. The reason why Dally was such a hard ass was because he felt like behaving this way was the only way he could survive. His parents didn’t care about him and he didn’t really have much of a home — much like Johnny. He had to grow up very fast (His first stint in jail was when he was only ten years old), and it hardened him. It soured his look on the world. Then there’s Johnny, who’s wide-eyed and so young and still has hope that the world isn’t as bad as it seemed. I think Dally wanted to protect that optimism. He wanted to protect Johnny from going down the path he did, which is why he was so devastated when the younger boy perished. Johnny, in my opinion, was Dally’s last hope for humanity — and it died along with him.
“…that’s what you get for tryin’ to help people, you little punk, that’s what you get…”
Johnny and Pony got along especially well because they had similar personalities: they were sensitive dreamers who didn’t see the thrill of fighting like the rest of the gang did. It was Johnny that got Pony thinking about his role as a greaser, and why there was even a war between the greasers and the Socs in the first place. What was the point in fighting if there was just going to be another fight later on? It never changed anything, and it didn’t really benefit anyone either. It just got people in trouble. Johnny instilled the hope of a better world in Pony, and I think Pony felt that Johnny was the only person he really felt comfortable talking to about it. Johnny’s death ravaged Pony because I think he felt like he lost the only other person in this world who shared the same worldview as him.
Male bonding was especially important in The Outsiders. Like I mentioned before, the gang is all most of these boys have. There is genuine love between all of the characters, and I really admired that. These guys weren’t afraid to love their friends, and they definitely weren’t afraid to show it either. Their admiration for each other was got them through tight spots — like how Johnny killed Bob to save Pony’s life, or when Dally helped them escape to the countryside.
I wonder how their relationships would be interpreted if someone made a remake of the movie today. Would they still show Johnny and Ponyboy huddling against each other for warmth in the abandoned church? Would Sodapop be sleeping on Darry’s lap at the hospital? Would Darry still carry Ponyboy from the car to his bed? Or would there be a strict “no homo” rule to any of that? I think the whole point of the story would be lost if they didn’t show any of those scenes, honestly. Friendship is still a form of love, and when we love our friends we want to show how much we love them. It really isn’t that hard to understand.
What is hard to understand, however, is bro/straight boy culture…but that’s a whole other can of worms that we can spend years dissecting. I mean, for a group that’s so adverse to being seen as remotely gay, they sure do crack a lot of dick jokes. And why are they so insecure over their masculinity, specifically the size of their dicks (What is it with bros and dicks? Honestly…)? I know why you drive that unnecessarily gigantic, 4-wheel drive pickup truck, Joe — and it’s not because you think the chicks dig it.
Mama Needs Another Pop, Pop, Soda Pop, Soda Pop
Can you tell who my favourite character is?
Sodapop is my favourite for a bunch of different reasons. He didn’t really have much to be cheerful about, but he was cheerful anyway. His brother described him as being drunk on life. He didn’t need drugs or alcohol to get high. He appreciated things for the way they were, and he always found a way to put a positive spin on things. According to the movie, he seems to have a thing for plaid shirts (Just like me! My closet is stacked with so much plaid you’d think I worked as a lumberjack). Also, I’m very partial to Rob Lowe.
In our neighbourhood it’s rare to find a kid who doesn’t drink once in awhile. But Soda never touches a drop — he doesn’t need to. He gets drunk on just plain living. And he understands everybody.
Like me, Sodapop tries his best to see things from other people’s perspectives. He likes to include everyone, and he hates it when he’s expected to take sides — specifically when it comes to his brothers. I think he’s the only one out of the three who’s aware that he, Derry, and Ponyboy are all they have left in the world, and that it’s important to stick together. I think, for him, it’s very easy to see why a certain thing can upset one person but not phase another, which is why he gets so frustrated when Derry and Pony fight. If it weren’t for him, I don’t think the three brothers would have stayed together as long as they have. Sodapop is the mediator between his two brothers. He’s the middle ground in between two extremes, and he knows that. It’s a very hard role to fill, but he knows that if he doesn’t do it, no one will, and he and Pony would end up separated from Derry in different foster homes.
Sodapop may be optimistic and cheery by nature, but it also gives way to recklessness. He likes dancing, fighting, and drag racing because of the thrill it gives him. He likes doing things for the sheer rush of it, which reminds me of myself when I was his age. I also think he does reckless things for the attention (Which is also why I was reckless when I was his age). He’s the middle brother, and usually middle children don’t get much attention, which is why Derry and Pony were surprised when Soda ran out on them in the middle of their argument. He’s so understanding when it comes to other people’s thoughts and feelings that people tend to forget that he has thoughts and feelings of his own.
Sodapop would always be the middleman, but that didn’t mean he had to keep getting pulled apart. Instead of Darry and me pulling me apart, he’d be pulling us together.
When Soda loves something, he loves it ferociously, and I think that’s his biggest strength as well as his biggest weakness (Aside from his recklessness). His best friend Steve Randle has been his best friend since they were kids, and they work at the same gas station. He loved Mickey Mouse, his horse, and when the horse was sold he cried all night long. He loves his brothers more than anything else in the entire universe, and he would do anything for his friends. When it comes to his brothers, I think he puts their feelings before his, which also contributes to his frustration. Pony and Darry don’t exactly think about his feelings either (Since they’re too busy disagreeing on everything), so that doesn’t really help. I don’t think he thinks much about his own happiness because he’s too busy trying to keep everyone else happy.
He’s also sort of a closeted romantic (Like me). Despite being a major flirt (One of the few things he and I don’t have in common), he was in love with his girlfriend Sandy — so much, in fact, that he wanted to marry her, and when he found out that she moved away because her parents didn’t approve of him (And it was hinted that she didn’t really love him as much as he loved her), he was devastated and cried for days. When Pony asked him what it was like being in love, the only thing Soda could say about it was that it was “real nice”. I probably would’ve said the same thing, seeing as I’m much more expressive when I’m writing. When I’m talking, it’s like I’ve forgotten how to speak.
It’s possible that Soda might have Attention Deficit Disorder. He constantly needs to be stimulated by something, which is why I don’t think he did very well in school. I really don’t think he dropped out because he was dumb, like what he thought; it just wasn’t the kind of excitement he was looking for (Pony mentions numerous times that it’s impossible to keep Soda sitting still for very long). The only classes he was passing were auto-mechanics and gym, which are physically demanding. I think he works best when his body is moving. He thrives more physical stimulants, rather than mental, but he is very insightful when the time calls for it so it’s clear he’s not stupid.
His constant need to move around adds to his impeccable charm, I think. It makes him a fun friend and an interesting date — and that makes me wonder if that was the only reason why Sandy bothered to stick with him in the first place.
I’m pretty sure that if I was a white boy in the 60s, I’d probably be something like Sodapop.
My favourite characters are the Curtis brothers, honestly. Sodapop is obviously my ultimate favourite but Ponyboy and Darry are close seconds and thirds.
I can see a little bit of myself in Pony too. Like me, he’s sensitive and a bit of a dreamer. I can also relate to his disillusionment with his environment. He’s constantly questioning everything and wondering why things are the way they are, which is what I like most about him. He’s just a kid who’s trying to figure out where his place in the world is, and I think that’s why he’s such a great character — every generation has their own Ponyboy Curtis. I also think he suffered from PTSD towards the end of the book. After the big rumble and Johnny’s death, he became disoriented and started running into things. He also became forgetful, and his grades were beginning to slip in school. I thought that was really interesting to include in a book that was written in the 60s, because back then most people didn’t even know what mental illness was. It was even more interesting to see the way the other characters handled Pony’s PTSD: they were caring and understanding, and they tried to help whenever they could. This book handles mental illness better than a lot of people do today.
I like Darry because while I can’t say I 100 percent relate to him, I know what it feels like being the oldest sibling. He wasn’t just a big brother to Soda and Pony; he was the big brother to everyone in the gang. Everyone looked up to him because he’s the oldest. He’s hard on his youngest brother, but that’s because he loves him and he wants to give Pony the future he couldn’t have. Darry had a promising future as an athlete, but even with a scholarship his family couldn’t afford to put him through college so he couldn’t go. Even though he could’ve worked his way through school he chose to provide for his brothers instead. He knows Pony has the potential to have a bright future and I think he would do anything to secure that (And I think Soda feels the same way). He leaves the front door in their house unlocked so the other greasers can come and go as they pleased, since he knew most of his friends didn’t come from good homes. I think he’s the most selfless character in the book, honestly. I also think a part of him is bitter that he couldn’t get the future he wanted for himself, which is another reason why he’s so hard-pressed on making sure Pony graduates high school and gets into college.
Darry is particularly interesting to me because Pony and Two-Bit mentioned that the only things that prevented Darry from becoming a Soc were his brothers. If it weren’t for the death of their parents, Darry probably would have been able to work his way through college and play football. The Soc he fought during the big rumble, Paul, was his old teammate. Pony thought that Darry might have been jealous of Paul, because Paul got the future Darry wanted. Darry’s a great big brother to Pony and Soda but I really do think a part of him is bitter about his situation (How can he not? Anyone in his shoes would). It’s clear that Darry is smart, and he probably really wanted to head off to college. Before their parents died, he was more laid back and good-natured. I assume that he felt like he had to toughen up after their parents’ death because he felt like he had an obligation to be both a mother and father to his younger brothers. Like Pony mentioned before, Darry had to grow up really fast in a very short amount of time.
Two-Bit is probably my most favourite non-Curtis character. He’s a wise-cracker and he doesn’t really seem to have the capacity to take anything seriously, which is something I can sort of relate to. I think he uses humour as a coping mechanism. He doesn’t exactly have a broken family like his other friends, but he is still a greaser and he is still from the poorer part of town, so he still has a lot of crap to put up with. I also think his constant joking is also a way of keeping morale up; he and Sodapop are alike when it comes to that. I think they both feel like it’s their responsibility to be happy and optimistic for the sake of the group – because Dally sure as hell wasn’t going to cheer you up when you really needed it, nor was Steve or even Darry.
Emilio Estevez portrayed him perfectly, in my opinion, and I really liked his fixation with Mickey Mouse. I think Francis Ford Coppola added that in as a reference to Soda’s horse, since I don’t think they mentioned it in the movie. It also paired well with Two-Bit’s childish personality. Beer and chocolate cake sound really disgusting together, though.
You can’t read the book and not have a soft spot for Johnny, especially with the way Pony describes him. He was the most unfortunate out of all the characters, and he definitely deserved better. What’s most interesting about him, however, was how he seemed to light up (Pun partially not intended) when he helped Pony rescue the kids from the burning church. I think rescuing those kids was the greatest thing Johnny felt like he could do in his sad life, and it gave him hope for something better. I also think it gave him the self-confidence to realize that he’s not weak or helpless, and that he’s capable of doing great things. If he hadn’t been paralyzed from the church incident, and if he survived his injuries, I think he had the potential to have the brightest future out of all of his friends. Despite all the crap that happened to him, he still managed to retain part of his optimism, which was shown in his final letter to Pony towards the end of the book. To be able to see that there was still good in the world, even after so many terrible things happening to you…that’s a trait I will always admire.
Also Johnny is probably the only non-white main character in the book. There was that Mexican guy who was briefly mentioned, but other than that everyone mentioned in the book was white. Pony has described Johnny as having darker skin, and when Johnny and Pony were hiding out in the church Johnny explains he can’t get his hair bleached because his skin is too dark, so it wouldn’t look good or natural. In the movie adaptation, Ralph Macchio plays him (He was the only person I could actually picture playing Johnny), and he’s Italian and partially Greek. It’s possible Johnny might be Mediterranean, or possibly even Middle Eastern. Other characters also refer to him as the “black-haired kid”, as if having dark hair was an uncommon trait, and black hair is common amongst people of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent. Pony described the most of the other characters as having either red, brown, or blond hair.
Finally, Dally caps my list of favourite characters from this book (SORRY, STEVE RANDLE — though Tom Cruise was great in the film, even if he was in it for, like…5 minutes). In a weird way, he kind of reminds me of my dad: a tough hard ass who, outwardly, isn’t very expressive but he has a lot going on inside. I think Dally is a perfect example of being a victim of circumstance: he was driven to make bad decisions because he really didn’t have much of a choice. Aside from Johnny, he probably has the worst life out of the greasers. What I find really interesting about the way his character is written is that you can really see his character flourish and open up as the story unfolds. Initially, Pony doesn’t see Dally as anything other than a hardened criminal who lived on the streets of New York at some point in his life — but as time passes and more shit goes down, he sees that there are reasons for Dally’s behaviour, and he becomes more sympathetic towards him.
I think Dally died because he felt like he had no other choice. He died the way he lived: trapped in a corner with nowhere to go. He put himself in that situation because I think Johnny’s death made him feel like the last pure, genuinely good thing left in this world was no longer here — and if the last, pure, genuinely good thing left in this world is gone, then what’s the point in living? There was no hope, at least for him. Johnny was probably the only thing Dally actually really loved.
Honestly, all of the characters in this book are super interesting — even the Socs. Plus, young, redheaded Diane Lane? HELLO!
The Outsiders can be seen as a pioneer of the young adult genre. Back then, the only stories you could read about teenagers were idealistic depictions of the stereotypical American nuclear family. Most, if not all of them were carbon copies of Leave It to Beaver: a perfect family with perfect problems. I think one of the worst things Beaver Cleaver has ever done in that show was pretending to be sick so he could miss school, or something.
Most media aimed at children and adolescents back in the 50s and 60s weren’t gritty or realistic like The Outsiders was, which is why the book was banned in several schools and libraries. Parents and teachers disliked the book’s themes of gang violence, underage substance abuse, and dysfunctional families, and they thought it would influence their children to copy these behaviours.
What The Outsiders did was give people a down-to-earth portrayal of American teenage life. It wasn’t always pretty. My copy of the book has a brief interview with S.E. Hinton, and she stated that the reason why she wanted to write this story was because she felt that no other media at the time had a realistic portrayal of what it was really like to be a kid from the working class during the 60s.
One of my reasons for writing it was that I wanted something realistic to be written about teenagers. At that time realistic teenage fiction didn’t exist. If you didn’t want to read ‘Mary Jane Goes to the Prom’ and you were through with horse books, there was nothing to read. I just wanted to write something that dealt with what I saw kids really doing.
There’s a lot I could relate to with this book — both with the characters and the story. I remember being a dumb teenager doing dumb things with my friends (And believe me, we did a lot of dumb things). We aren’t exactly social outcasts, but we’ve known each other for so long that we see each other as family, and just like Ponyboy and his greasers, we would do anything for each other. I remember trying to figure out who I was and where my place was in this world. I remember being confused about the way people worked and why they were so adamant to prove they were different — and better — than the others. I remember wondering why some people thought they were better than others. I remember wanting to belong somewhere, to feel like I had a place where I could go so I can be myself, surrounded by people who were liked the same things I did and thought the same things I was thinking. I know what it feels like to be on the outside looking in, and I also know what it feels like to be a part of something.
The book isn’t just about a bunch of poor white kids getting into fights with rich white kids. I think each character represents a different facet of adolescence, and teenage culture in general. It’s about figuring out who you are and what you can do with the identity you’ve forged for yourself — but I think it’s also about testing the boundaries between your identity and other people’s identities as well. Cherry admitted to Pony that she couldn’t see Johnny in the hospital because it would damage her reputation as a Soc. Where have you heard this kind of story before? Take The Breakfast Club, for instance: Claire says that there’s no way her and Andy would say hello to Brian if they passed each other in the hallways. Their different social statuses — Claire and Andy as the popular kids, and Brian as the outcasted nerd — wouldn’t allow them. What about Mean Girls, which was released 19 years after The Breakfast Club and 39 years after The Outsiders? There’s an entire scene dedicated to pointing out the different cliques at North Shore High School. Is it possible for the lines between these sub-cultures to blur, or will they forever be highlighted and bolded?
That feeling of belonging and forging a sense of identity is still a theme that’s being explored in many adolescents and young adults today, and that’s why The Outsiders will always be relevant. No matter what generation you’re from, there’s always going to be a struggle between counter-culture and the status quo. There will always be a majority group and a minority group. There will always be a privileged person and an oppressed person. It’s a very Marxist way to look at things, but I think everyone can take something from this book.
“Nothing gold can stay”, says Robert Frost — but Johnny tells Ponyboy to stay gold. Staying gold is probably one of the hardest things you can do in this world, especially when there’s so much that can take your sheen away. I think, aside from the overarching themes about socioeconomic class, brotherhood, friendship, family, a sense of identity, and wanting to belong, the whole point of The Outsiders is to always find something to look forward to, regardless of how shitty things look. This world is dark and scuffed up as it is. You might as well shine.
I can’t believe it took me the entire day to write this. Honestly, I feel like watching the movie again (The original cut, this time!).