Outsiders Main Characters a Review Thesis

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¶ … Outsiders

Main Characters

A Review of the Outsiders (1967) by S.E. Hinton

By any measure, adolescence can be a challenging time of life for anyone, but it was a particularly difficult period in the lives of the characters in S.E. Hinton's best-seller, the Outsiders. Set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, this novel was written by the author when she was just 16 years old, and provides some fascinating first-hand insights into what took place during these turbulent years in America's history and in the lives of the "socs" and "greasers" who managed to live through them and come out in one piece on the other side. Although much has changed in the intervening years since the book was written, some things, most especially the manner in which young people tend to relate to each other, have not changed that much at all. To determine what critics and the author had to say about growing up during this period in American history, this paper provides a review of S.E. Hinton's the Outsiders, followed by a summary of the research in the conclusion.

Review and Analysis

Background and Overview

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When's. E. Hinton was 16 years old, man had not yet quite walked on the Moon but the nation had recently lost a popular president to an assassin's bullets in Dallas. The Vietnam War was just beginning to grind up America's youth in an increasingly bloody way that was being television in the nation's living rooms and hippies, pot and LSD were everywhere. The godless leadership of the Soviet Union was telling the world they intended to "bury" America and they meant it -- and after all, they were ahead in the space race and had plenty of nuclear weapons in their arsenal so this was a very real possibility. Indeed, Americans were building bomb shelters in their backyards left and right and the nation's schoolchildren were still being indoctrinated with Christian-only prayers in the schools and a duck-and-cover mentality complete with drills that assured them their desks were nuclear bomb-proof and they could actually hide from a thermonuclear explosion.

Thesis on Outsiders Main Characters a Review of the Assignment

In addition, a real sense of "we" versus "them" was beginning to emerge on the nation's campuses and no one knew what the future would hold for them and even if there would be a future. It was in this environment that'd. E. Hinton wrote the Outsiders, a reflection of the increasing alienation that young people across the country were beginning to feel at the time. According to Whissen (1992), "By the mid-sixties, alienation had become a buzzword for the young and disaffected, the outcasts of the establishment, the misfits who were out of sync with a society that they felt was suffocating them. It was in 1967, the year that'd. E. Hinton's the Outsiders became such a success and went on to become a classic of teenage rebel literature" (p. 179).

The America of the sixties was a country that was in sharp contrast to the Red Scare era in the years that immediately followed World War II and the unruly behaviors described by Hinton were regarded just being as normal for teenagers at the time. For instance, Whissen adds that, "By the late sixties, rebellion had become institutionalized as an expected and accepted way of behavior among normal, healthy, restless youth" (p. 184). Although not all of the characters in the Outsiders were rebellious in flagrant ways, they were all faced with the same types of problems that all adolescents face during this period in their lives and the way they handled these issues forms the basis of the storyline which is discussed further below.

Summary of the Outsiders

A relatively short book, the Outsiders is narrated from the perspective of Ponyboy Curtis, the 14-year-old younger brother of Sodapop and Darrell who goes by "Darry," with whom he lives following the death of their parents in an automobile accident. The story is set in the Southwestern region of the country but remains unidentified. Ponyboy, together with his brothers, are so-called "Greasers," a group of socioeconomically handicapped teens and young adults who are known by this term because they grease their long hair and demonstrate their masculinity by acting "tough." In fact, all of the boys in the Outsiders (1967, p. 17) are described as being "tough as nails" (Bereska, 2003, p. 157), but this reference is not to be confused with "tuff," but both terms are regarded as high compliments in Ponyboy's neighborhood). The hoods and/or greasers with whom Ponyboy and his brothers are affiliated are pitted against a rival group of adolescent males from across the tracks on the good side of town who are known as the "Socs" (short for Sociables).

Not surprisingly, their rivals are comprised of affluent teens who sport Madras shirts and can afford to drive nice cars. The runt of the greaser gang is Johnny (aka Johnnycake), described by Whissen as "a pint-sized, dark, and brooding Greaser who still carries scars from a beating he suffered at the hands of the Socs. When a gang of Socs attacks the two boys, and their leader, Bob, tries to drown Ponyboy in a playground fountain, Johnny stabs Bob to save Ponyboy's life" (p. 185). When Ponyboy recovers enough from his near-drowning, Johnny tells him, "I killed him. I killed that boy. . . . I had to. They were drowning you, Pony. They might have killed you. And they had a blade . . . they were gonna beat me up" (pp. 64-65). It was later revealed that the soc, Bob, was drunk at the time and was "looking for a fight" after he dropped Cherry off (p. 115).

It is a sad reflection of their perception of their lot in life that the thought of calling the police and explaining what happened as being justifiable self-defense never occurred to these two young boys, but rather a fear of the police and being caught drives them to their next action. According to Whissen, when the soc attacker, Bob, dies, the two greasers engage in a Huck Finn-Tom Sawyer type of adventure: "Ponyboy and Johnny fulfill the teenage paranoid fantasy of being pursued, of running away, of having to survive as fugitives even though they are in the right" (p. 185). The two boys manage to catch a freight train for their getaway, much like Huck and Tom use the Mississippi River for theirs, and after they find an abandoned church where no one is around, they survive by eating baloney and entertain each other by reading a dog-eared copy, of all things, Gone With the Wind. This lifestyle quickly grew untenable though, and as Ponyboy observed, "By the fifth day I was so tired of baloney I nearly got sick every time I looked at it. We had eaten all our candy bars in the first two days. I was dying for a Pepsi" (p. 87).

After Dallas "Dally" Winston shows up at the church and assures them that "the fuzz won't be looking for you around here" (p. 88) with a letter from Sodapop, Johnny reaches an epiphany of sorts about the whole affair and determines that giving himself up to the law is the right thing to do ("I got a good chance of bein' let off easy" he tells Ponyboy and Dally while they are eating at a snackbar, p. 97), the abandoned church burns down and Johnny dies while trying to rescue some small children who were trapped inside. According to Ponyboy, Johnny, who had a hangdog look about him since his beating by the socs, was a different person during the rescue: "That was the only time I can think of when I saw him without that defeated, suspicious look in his eyes. He looked like he was having the time of his life" (p. 101). Ponyboy, too, was a hero in the children's rescue (the headlines about the rescue, for example, read "Juvenile Delinquents Turn Heroes," p. 115), but he did not see himself that way, of course and only when he was in the ambulance did he find out that that Dally had saved his life because his back was on fire (p. 102). Ponyboy recovers and while he is waiting in the hospital for word concerning Dally and Johnny's condition, his older brother Darry shows up and the two are reconciled.

Johnny's ultimately succumbs to the injuries he received in the church fire during the rescue efforts but before he does, Ponyboy visits him in the hospital for a final time, he says, "I'm pretty bad, ain't I, Pony? . . . I won't be able to walk again. I used to talk about killing myself . . . I don't want to die now. It ain't long enough. Sixteen years ain't long enough" (p. 129). Tragic stuff to be sure, but the tragedy was not over yet. After beating the socs in a revenge-match rumble, Dally dies by suicide-by-cop when he pulls a gun… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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