The Outsiders Introduction
In A Nutshell
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A lot of things were different in the 1960's. Beehive hairdos were trendy. Cigarettes were acceptable accessories. Essays were typed on typewriters. Flying was way more expensive... but also way more luxurious. Music was—according to your grandpa, at least—way better.
But some things haven't changed at all. As The Outsiders shows us, the world has always been split along class lines. There have always been straight-laced girls interested in daring bad boys. Buddies have always looked out for each other.
And being fourteen has always been the pits.
The Outsiders is narrated by a fourteen-year-old called Ponyboy Curtis (weird name, but a cool kid). Ponyboy is pretty smart and has a lot of opportunity in front of him, but he comes from the "wrong side of town" and hangs out with a bunch of similarly weirdly-named friends who drop out, smoke cigarettes, and get busted for robbing stores and stealing cars.
The biggest ordeal in Ponyboy's life is the war waging between his friends and family (called Greasers), and the "Socs," or wealthy kids who live on the other side of town. These gangs go at it like the Capulets and Montagues, and Ponyboy's world spirals quickly out of control.
Violence? Anger? The Outsiders has got it.
S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders in 1965, and it was published in 1967. Did we mention Hinton was born in 1948? For all you non-mathletes out there, that means she was in high school when she wrote it. Not too shabby.
Also not bad? The movie version. Can't go wrong with Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane, Matt Dillon, and The Karate Kid.
Why Should I Care?
One quick look around your school cafeteria will confirm it: people are cliquey creatures. They move in small packs, kind of like meerkats... only taller and generally less hairy. Once formed, these cliques can be very hard to break into—or out of.
In a way, we can see why cliques exist. After all, there's safety in numbers, and people naturally gravitate toward others who may have similar interests: this is why all drama kids congregate together, the entire rugby team inexplicably has the same haircut, and the phrase "one time at band camp" is still being thrown around... even though it's from a movie that came out in 1999.
And this phenomenon doesn't go away, even in adulthood. Corporate lawyers hang out together. Artists form cooperatives. Expats sit in cafes and pretend to be Hemingway. Yup: cliques are for life.
But, because by definition cliques have to exclude most people to include a few, they can also cause a lot of hard feelings, loneliness, and tension.
The Outsiders deals with this same phenomenon. Sure, we get two rival gangs, but they're grouped as the rich kids (the Socials) and the poor kids (the Greasers). Since we get the perspective of Sodapop, Ponyboy, and the Greasers, we really get a feel for what it's like to be—that's right—an outsider.
More than likely, though, that's not exactly news to you. Everyone, at some point in their life, has been on the outside looking in. It's one of the sad facts of life.
But that also means, despite all these cliques, we're all in the same gang. We're all outsiders.