The Outsiders: Staying Gold

S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders. New York, New York: Dell Publishing Group, Inc, 1967.

outsiders.JPGThe Outsiders is a bildungsroman, focusing on the protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis. The novel focuses on Ponyboy and his family in transition. A few years prior, Ponyboy’s parents were killed in an automobile accident leaving behind himself, and his older brothers, Sodapop and Darrel (a.k.a. Darry).

Ponyboy is 14 years old and starting high school, but aside from being an orphan, he lives in constant fear of being placed into a boy’s home. Darry works long hours doing construction work, and is often not home to take care of Ponyboy and his brother Sodapop. In a turbulent time, Ponyboy also feels that he cannot relate to his older brothers anymore, and repeatedly feels that his oldest brother Darry hates him. Sodapop dropped out of high school and works at a local gas station, while Ponyboy’s sole occupation is to be an outstanding student and make his brothers proud by being successful. Both of his brothers struggle to support the family and stay together despite their growing poverty. The pressure of success, being an orphan and starting high school are not Pony’s only problems: he’s a Greaser.

Ponyboy depends on his gang just as much as his brothers. The novel focuses on the camaraderie between Ponyboy and his gang. The gang represents a family for him, a group of extended brothers including Dallas Winston (Dally), Two-bit Matthews, Steve Randle, and Pony’s best friend, Johnny Cade.

The novel is written in a time setting Greasers in conflict with Socs (slang for Socials--also slang for Preppie / yuppie). Socs, the rich kids from the West side of town, often pick fights with Greasers, and vice versa. This undying feud comes to a head when Johnny and Ponyboy are attacked by a group of Socs. As Ponyboy is being drowned in a fountain by a group of Socs, Johnny pulls a switchblade and kills one of the attackers to defend Ponyboy. In a panic, Ponyboy and Johnny run in an effort to save themselves.

Since it was first released, The Outsiders has become a phenomenon of almost cult-like proportions. Many songs and albums refer to The Outsiders or characters. For example:
  • the band The Bravery wrote a song titled "Time Won't Let Me Go" in which one of the lines is "..never had a Cherry Valance of my own."
  • The band New Found Glory's first album was titled "Let's Do It For Johnny!"
  • The band The Get Up Kids have a song titled "Stay Gold, Ponyboy"
  • The band Bury Your Dead have a song titled "The Outsiders"

There are also countless references in television to Ponyboy or the book.

Recommendations for Teachers:

The Outsiders focuses heavily on Ponyboy and his life, since the novel is written from his point of view. Even though Ponyboy is male, he is often described with delicate qualities which will help engage female readers in the novel as well. There are minor female characters also, so the reader gets a sense of relationships during this time period. The events in the story are more real to young adults because of the first person narrative; it gives them the feeling that they are interacting with another person.

The novel has an authenticity that young adults recognize because it was written by a young adult. The language contains slang, which may seem antique to some youths, but can easily be translated into today’s slang. The themes present in the novel can be present in any high school setting; cliques, fighting, honor, bullying, socio-economic differences, and friendship. There are surprisingly few instances of vulgar language, making the text classroom friendly. The only concern about the novel is the prevalence of violence; Johnny killing a Soc, Socs attacking Greasers, and a rumble in the end of the novel. With explanation and class discussion the prevalence of violence should not be overpowering on the student, but rather another theme to explore.

The reader meets Ponyboy as an innocent youth, staying close to his friends for survival in a harsh world. In a short period of time, Ponyboy experiences events that may haunt him for the rest of his life, including witnessing a murder, running away from home, risking his own life to save young children, and the death of 2 close friends. In the end of the novel, Ponyboy is writing his experience so he can share it with his English teacher as a class assignment.
This novel can be used in the classroom by:
  • Exploring the theme of honor through the text: what is honorable in the world of the Greasers? What is honorable in the world of the Socs?
  • Exploring the purpose and functions of gangs; the dangers of these occurrences and how to avoid them.
  • Exploring what causes the violence in this novel? Finding ways in which characters could have made other decisions to negate the outcomes present in the novel.
  • Exploring relationships between the socio-economic classes-- are they really that different after all?
  • Writing projects where students share events that have changed their perspective on life, or events that have made them who they are today.

About the Author:

Susan Eloise Hinton was born July 22nd, 1948 in Tulsa, Oklahoma and began writing The Outsiders when she was just 16 years old. The idea for the book came to her when her friend was assaulted by 2 other students in her high school. The two cliques in the novel were based on the cliques in her own high school: The Greasers and the Socs. At the recommendation of her publishers, Susan Eloise Hinton became S.E. Hinton, so male readers would not be deterred from reading books written by a woman. She continued to sign novels with her initials because she found it very comfortable keeping her writing persona separate from her everyday life.

In 1970, S.E. Hinton earned her Bachelor’s of Science degree from the University of Tulsa. In 1988 she won the Margaret A. Edwards Award, which is presented to authors depicting experiences and emotions of teenagers.

Other Publications include:
That Was Then, This Is Now
Taming the Star Runner

--Biographical information taken from the S.E. Hinton Wikipedia page.


Clips from the beginning of the movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

A clip from the end of the movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Additional Resources:

--Jamie Ringelberg