In the Eyes of an Outsider
(A Book Review of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders)
For Ponyboy Curtis life is tough. For one thing, he is poor living in the not-so-pleasant East Side part of town. His parents recently died in a car crash forcing his brothers, Darry and Sodapop, both school drop-outs, to jobs that barely make ends meet so that Pony can still study. He’s also a Greaser, looked down as “white trash,” with the reputation of a hood. It’s mostly in their rank where the usual juvenile delinquents come from. Still, life for Ponyboy is good for he still have his brothers and his gang to count on when things get rough.
If living as a Greaser is hard enough, it is made more miserable by the Socs, “the abbreviation for the Socials, the jet set, the West Side rich kids.” But they’re no different from the Greasers in that they, more often than not, “wreck houses and throw beer blasts for kicks” and yet almost always get easily off the hook “being a public disgrace one day and an asset to society the next.” Their typical idea of a good time is “jumping at Greasers” and beating them up just for the hell of it.
Then, during a night of unexpected confrontation things were taken too far — and Pony has to make a run for it.
From simple country lass Susan Eloise Hinton, or simply S.E. Hinton, was catapulted to literary sensation with the overnight success of The Outsiders, published in 1967, when she was only seventeen years old in her freshman year at the University of Tulsa. Written by a teenager that focuses only on teenagers, it single-handedly created the Young Adult Literature as we know it today. Based on a true clash between two gangs, the Greasers and the Socs, the author witnessed during her high school year, it portrays the lives of teenagers outside the narrow world of high school prom, a world with no parents or adult authority figure, a place where teens lived by their own rules.
What’s astonishing about the novel is it rawness, its authentic account told in the first-person narration style that effectively expresses the anxieties and insecurities of a fourteen year old boy makes for an immediate reading experience as Pony takes the reader through a two-week period that will shape the rest of his life. The novel tackles issues that are close to the hearts of adolescents, area of concerns they could easily identify with such as class rivalry, underage smoking and drinking, the importance of staying in school and graduating, suicide, teenage pregnancy and, ultimately, the need to “fit in,” that sense of belonging to a group who understands their problems and to whom they can relate to. Many of these matters are still prevalent today because the emotions and the struggles the characters face are universal themes which accounts for the novel’s enduring appeal not only to teens of today but to adults as well. Touching upon these topics adds a realistic feel and dimension to the book and Hinton, I think, did a good job by not being preachy to her readers. Her control over the material can be seen with her skillful use of foreshadowing, encouraging critical thought and increasing anticipation as you’re pulled in, caring for this gang of Greasers without distracting the reader’s attention at all.
Adolescents have a tendency to embrace people and events as absolute — either someone or something is right or wrong. To see the world as neither black nor white, good nor bad, Greasers nor Socs, insiders nor outsiders lies at its heart as we witness Ponyboy’s maturity and growth and as he ultimately find out that there’s a middle ground where two sides can be seen objectively and one might be surprised to find out that previously opposing sides are in fact just one and the same all along and, more often than not, the middle ground presents an alternate choice. The fact the ending of the book is like a full circle prompts the reader to read the book again and lets one discover that the outcome is within Pony and, to a certain extent, within us.
Teenagers then and now may wear different kind of clothes, call themselves in various bunch of names, and display an entirely different attitude; yet the fact remains that the youth of today grasp how similar their situations are to Ponyboy and his friends. Teens have little or nothing to do with adults and every teenager feels that “adults have no idea what’s going on.”
Teenagers are usually on their own — truly outsiders.