The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

I’m continuing with my theme of the outcasts with one of my favorites and probably one of the most obvious choices for this category, The Outsiders.  I may do one more post in this series (probably Stargirl… ?) and after that, no guarantees. 🙂 

Since this book is a classic, I’ll  talk more about the plot and will probably say spoiler-type things. But if you’re looking at this blog entry to get out of reading it for class, STOP. This book is amazing.  You will hate yourself if you skip reading it for a hack blogger’s interpretation.  

Synopsis: There are two types of people in Ponyboy Curtis’ world: the Greasers and the Socs.  Ponyboy is the youngest in the gang of Greasers and one of the more sensitive of the group. While he’s daydreaming about a movie he had just watched, a group of Socs jump him. This is especially terrifying since Johnny, Ponyboy’s closest friend, was seriously injured a few months back by some Socs.  Everyone freaks out, saying that Pony should go to the movies with someone, and hey, tomorrow night Dallas is going to a drive-in, so he and Johnny should come.

This gang is family. Darry and Sodapop Curtis are Ponyboy’s older brothers. Their parents died a few months ago, and Darry has to take care of the boys at age 20. He’s pretty tough on Ponyboy because he’s young and raising two teenagers, and sometimes Pony can’t see how much Darry loves him. Sodapop is ridiculously handsome, charming, and loves to steal the show. Soda’s best friend Steve is an angry guy and kind of a pain. Two-Bit can’t keep his mouth shut as the jokester of the group. Dallas is the hardest of the group, having been kicked out of his home ages ago and is the local jail’s “usual suspect.” Johnny is like the lost puppy of the group, abused by his parents and protected by the gang.  He’s the sensitive one in the group, and he and Pony can see things others can’t.

Dallas takes Johnny and Pony to the movies, where they hit it off with two Soc girls, “Cherry” and Marcia. Pony opens up to Cherry about a lot, including Johnny’s attack. She figures out it’s her boyfriend Bob who beat up Johnny. She tells Pony things are rough all over. Pony, Johnny, and Two-Bit drive Cherry and Marcia home, or drive them until Bob catches up to them at any rate and Cherry goes with the Socs to avoid a confrontation.   Johnny and Pony fall asleep in the park, and when Pony gets home way past curfew Darry hits him. Pony freaks out and runs back to the park, where  Bob and his gang corner Pony and Johnny. When the Socs are drowning Ponyboy, Johnny kills Bob to save Pony. They have to make a run for it, so they go to Dallas for advice. He gives them directions to a church a few towns away, and says to lay low.

They jump a train and follow Dally’s instructions. They cut their hair and Pony gets his bleached.  (That’s the worst part, in Ponyboy’s opinion.) They buy Gone with the Wind and pass the time reading that, playing poker, and watching the sunrises.

Dally comes by to give them an update.  Johnny tells Dally it’s time for them to come home, because it’s not fair for Darry and Soda that they don’t know what’s going on with Ponyboy, and he’s tired of hiding. Dallas is really upset, because he knows jail hardens a person and he doesn’t want it to happen to Johnny.  (Johnny’s probably the only person that Dally cares about.)  They go back to the church to get their stuff, and the church is on fire. A class was having a picnic at the church and some of the kids were inside the church. Johnny and Ponyboy run in to save the kids. Johnny gets hit by a fiery timber. Dally knocks Pony out since he was on fire and goes in to save Johnny.

Separate ambulances take them to the hospital.  The teacher Jerry is with Ponyboy and is not put off one bit by the fact that Pony, Johnny, and Dally are wanted for murder– they’re heroes for saving the kids. When Pony asks about the others, Jerry hesitates, because while Dally is okay, Johnny is not good at all, and he’ll probably be paralyzed if he lives. Pony has a tearful reunion with his brothers, and he finally realizes that Darry’s worst fear is losing another loved one.

So… day or so after that… there’s a rumble that that the Greasers win, and after the rumble Pony and Dally run to the hospital to see Johnny.  Johnny says the fighting’s not worth it, tells  Ponyboy to stay gold, and dies. Dally loses it, and commits suicide by cop.  Pony goes through some post-traumatic stress, believing he (not Johnny) killed Bob and Johnny’s still alive, letting his grades slip, etc. His English teacher lets him write a semester theme, his choice, to bring his grade up to passing.  He struggles with it until he opens up the copy of Gone with the Wind  Johnny had in the hospital: Johnny wrote a note to Pony saying that he knew he was dying, but it was worth it to save the kids, and Pony shouldn’t be worried about being a greaser, and to stay gold– unaffected by the violence and hate they’re surrounded by.  Pony’s theme becomes his therapy as he writes out their story.

Bookworm’s Commentary 

  • I never read this book as a kid, and I really wish I had. I think I read it for the first time when I started my M.Ed. and I think I have read it once a year since. And I cry every single time.
    • The movie is mostly true to the book, and it’s highly enjoyable– granted, I haven’t seen it in a while.  Most of the people in the movie are up-and-coming stars, and that makes me smile.  It’s like they rose up from the streets and made something of themselves! All right!
      • When I was student teaching in eighth grade, someone asked who Patrick Swayze was since he had just passed away. I asked the obvious, “Have you seen Ghost or Dirty Dancing?”
        “EVERYONE asks me that, and I haven’t!”
        “Um, have you seen The Outsiders?”
        “DARRY DIED?”     All right, so when referencing ’80s superstars, go with the literary movie!
  • Hinton wrote this when she was sixteen. SIXTEEN, people! Never mentioned specifically, which made me curious, but this takes place in Tulsa, Ok…  which also explains the rodeos and horses mentioned sporadically through the book.
  • The best thing about this book are the characters, especially Johnny and Ponyboy. Everyone is so protective of them and they don’t want them to be “tough”, which seems to be a requirement of being a Greaser.
    • Dally’s protectiveness over Johnny and Johnny’s admiration for Dallas is really touching. Johnny’s the type that watches sunrises and reflects on Robert Frost. He wants to be a gallant Southern gentleman like Rhett Butler, and this is how he sees Dally. It’s clear how much having Johnny means to the gang if hardened, bad boy Dally is devastated when he’s gone.
    •  I love this particular scene when Pony gets cornered by Socs, and he breaks a bottle and threatens them with it.  After they leave, Two-Bit says, “Ponyboy, don’t get tough, you’re not like the rest of us and don’t try to be… what in the world are you doing?”  Ponyboy looks up and says, “Picking up glass,” like, duh, broken glass on the ground, don’t want anyone to get a flat tire.   This calms Two-Bit right on down, because clearly, anyone worried about a stranger getting a flat is not going to use a broken bottle in a fight.
  • Truly, I don’t know what else to say to give this book justice.  It has a lot to say about appearances and becoming who you want to be.  It deals a lot with feeling too little  or too passionately.
Class stuff:
Grades: 7 & up.
 A lot of 7th and 8th grade reading classes include this book. 
Grade: A+  
Um, I read a lot. I don’t re-read something on a yearly basis four years running.  I’ve mostly done that with this book because of where I’ve been and when I’ve seen it (subbing and needing something to do, for example), but still, I could have found another book and didn’t. It’s good for reluctant readers since it’s action-packed. It does have references to tobacco and alcohol; probably important to note that “getting high” is drinking, and the “weed” they’re referring to is cigarettes; like I said in my Misfits posts, the kids should probably be mature enough to not giggle when they read something like that.  This is another book that can help the outsiders feel like they’re worth something and the insiders can understand that what matters is the heart.
Stay gold.
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Filed under Action, Middle school (6-8), Realistic

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