Second Book of the Summer: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Today I finished my second book of the summer, S.E. Hinton’s 1967 classic, The Outsiders.  For some reason, I was never assigned to read it in middle/high school (as most people are), so I figured I’d give it a read.  And I’m so glad I did.

The OutsidersBrief synopsis (I’ll tell you when the spoilers come):  The Outsiders follows the life of fourteen-year-old, 1960s “greaser,” Ponyboy Curtis (and yes, that is his real name).  He and his band of “hoods” live a tough life: they’re living in relative poverty compared to their arch enemies, the “Socials” (“Socs” for short); most of them experience little affection from their parents (if they have parents at all); and they are always getting into trouble with the police for stealing or fighting.  The Socs, though, are even meaner than they are; they often jump the greasers for fun simply because they have nothing better to do.  The greasers’ lives are relatively peaceful until one fight turns grim and one of the Socs is killed.  The majority of the story follows Ponyboy as he and his friend, Johnny, escape from their neighborhood, and the band of greasers learn what true brotherhood means.

OKAY HERE COME THE SPOILERS JUST READ AFTER THE QUOTE IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK

The novel reveals a wealth of insight about class differences, family, life, and death.  Without his parents, Ponyboy and his two brothers learn that sticking together no matter what will always be the best way to live, even if they don’t have much.  And when the inevitable, heart-wrenching tragedy of Johnny’s death occurs, I realized as a reader that truly their band of friends is the closest thing to family that they have.  Johnny might not have lived a life full of adventure and travel like he desired, but he serves as a martyr for the greasers; he is a symbol of what a brother should do for a brother, what a brother shouldn’t have to do for a brother.

Along his journey with Johnny and through the trial of his death, Ponyboy sees that there isn’t much difference between the greasers and the Socs.  They’re all people and only fight because they feel like that’s what they are required to do, given their financial and aesthetic differences.  He learns that each person, no matter who they are, struggles with something, even if they seem to have it all like the Socs or seem not to care about anything like his brother, Sodapop.  Ponyboy sees the struggles that his brother, Darry, goes through in order to provide him with a decent future, and he understands that Dallas, the worst greaser of them all, was hardened by the coldness of others and feels there is nothing left to live for when Johnny dies.  Ponyboy sees his world for what it is: honest people trying to live their lives despite hardship, loneliness, and catastrophe.

Stay Gold
“Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold…”

OKAY I’M DONE WITH THE SPOILERS NOW YOU CAN READ ON

From a writing standpoint, I can’t even fathom that S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders at just sixteen years old.  She captures the voice of Ponyboy perfectly, perhaps because, as she says in the interview at the end of my copy, “A lot of Ponyboy’s thoughts are my thoughts.  He’s probably the closest I’ve come to putting myself into a character.”  Even though Hinton claims to have been good friends with many real-life greasers at the time that she wrote the novel (which started out as a short story written out of anger toward the violence shown to them), it takes a great deal of talent to translate that voice onto the page.  Each of the seven boys has such development that becoming engaged in their story is as easy as slipping off into sleep.  Hinton accomplishes what every writer attempts to do: she makes the reader feel.

I read an article today about how we often look for home in all the wrong places; we consider a house a home, yet we continue to improve it and expect some sort of ultimate happiness when we have turned the house into the home we want it to be.  And when we stop searching for wholeness in the house, we look for it in other people.  We cling to others to steady ourselves in our chaotic lives and to resist spending time to assess ourselves.  The author, Kathryn Stanley, says that we must learn to “build home in ourselves;” she says, “Maybe we’d find that it’s only once we [do so] that we’re able to really share our lives with others, that we can want people rather than need them.”

I thought about this when I finished reading The Outsiders.  None of the greasers in the book have homes in their houses per se; they seek a home amongst themselves, in their trust in and loyalty to one another.  By the end of the book, Ponyboy realizes that despite his dependency on his brothers and his friends, his life, his experiences, are ultimately his story.  It is no one else’s but his.  And he deserves to tell it.

Altogether, The Outsiders is a powerful yet short (only 180 pages) story about brotherhood, loss, and perseverance.  I highly recommend it to people in their teens and older; I think it is one of the most important coming-of-age stories from the 20th century.

Have you read The Outsiders?  What did you think of it?  What do you think are its most important lessons?  How are you learning/have you learned to build home in yourself?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!!

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