The Outsiders Introduction
In A Nutshell
The Outsiders was first published by American author S.E. Hinton in 1967, though she wrote it in 1965. Now here's the juicy part – she, Susan Eloise Hinton, was a fifteen-year-old high school student at the time! And it gets even better. Hinton's book contract came through on the day she graduated high school (source).
That has to be one of the best graduation presents ever! Especially since the book helped her go on to fame and fortune, plus a movie contract. The 1983 film, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, was a box office smash, bringing in some $25,600,000 (source). Its then young and gorgeous cast includes Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, and Emilio Estevez, plus Diane Lane – not too shabby. The original Karate Kid himself, Ralph Machio, plays Johnny, and C. Thomas Howell won a Young Artist's award for his portrayal of Ponyboy. The movie is of the same flavor as Over the Edge (Matt Dillon's screen debut), A Bronx Tale, and Deuces Wild.
Because Hinton was a "tomboy," had many male friends, and saw a need for more literature for boys, she chose to focus almost entirely on male characters in The Outsiders and in her later works. In doing so, she broke new ground in Young Adult literature by presenting an unflinchingly honest picture of the trials and tribulations many boys face growing up.
The Outsiders is the story of the orphaned Curtis brothers. They belong to a gang of East Side Greasers, and the novel focuses on their struggle to stay together as a family in the face economic hardship and violent conflict with a rival gang, the wealthy West Side Socials. Hinton's novel paved the way for frank discussion of gang violence in later Young Adult novels, including Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, Walter Dean Myers's Scorpions, and Victor Martinez's Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida .
Hinton has won numerous awards for this and other books, including the American Library Association's Best Young Adult Books. The Outsiders is number two on Publisher's Weekly's "All-Time Bestselling Children's Books" in the paperback category. It has been frequently banned and challenged due to objections about its focus on gangs and its fairly graphic depictions of violence. In addition to her Young Adult books, Hinton has published several stories for even younger children and a novel for adults, Hawkes Harbor.
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.
In a way, we can see why cliques exist. After all, there's safety in numbers, and folks naturally gravitate toward people who may have similar interests or experiences. But, because by definition they have to exclude most folks to include a few, cliques can also cause a lot hard feelings, loneliness, and tension. We, naturally, were beloved by everyone, being so charming and witty and all… but you get the point.
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—and 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.