Free Study Guide: The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton - Free BookNotes

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The Outsiders, from the beginning to the end, is centered on the gang rivalry between the underprivileged Greasers from the east side of town and the rich Socs from the west side. In particular, the plot is about the development of one of the Greasers, Ponyboy Curtis, as he journeys down a path of self-discovery. The story unfolds in classical form. Chapters 1-3 serve as an introduction; the main characters are described and the conflict is established. Chapters 4-11 present the rising action, including Bob’s murder, Pony and Johnny’s flight to Windrixville, the rescue of the children from the burning church, Johnny’s death, and Dally’s death. The climax occurs late in the novel, during the last and final chapter. After reading Johnny’s letter written to him before his death, Pony at last accepts that his friend is gone and decides to follow his advice and rise above a life of gangs and violence. The falling action is very brief, with Pony pledging to spend his time and energy in teaching other people about the problems that underprivileged children must face, hoping to find them help. He begins his mission by writing his semester theme for English class on the subject.

The novel is unified by time, place, and character. Only a few weeks pass in the book, from start to finish. Most of the action takes place within a small town in or around Pony’s house, with the only exception being the time spent in Windrixville. Most importantly, the book centers on the development of Pony Curtis, the main character and narrator of the novel. Since he tells the story, Pony is always present, and everything is seen from his point of view. Additionally, Johnny, Dally, Darry, Soda, Two-Bit, and Cherry are repeatedly woven in and out of the narrative like a thread holding the story together. Finally, the emphasis on the futility and tragedy of gang violence throughout the story further unifies the plot.

Even though Pony’s plot ends as a comedy, most of the story is tragic, almost from the first page of the novel. As Pony walks home alone from the movie theater, he is jumped by the Socs for no reason. From this point forward, one needless act of violence is followed by another. After the Socs see Johnny and Pony talking to some of their girlfriends, they vow revenge. They follow the two Greasers and jump them in the park. In the fight that follows, Johnny stabs and kills Bob in self-defense. Then Pony and Johnny feel compelled to go into hiding. When their hide-out catches on fire, Johnny is seriously wounded while trying to rescue some children trapped inside. Pony, Johnny, and Dally are all taken to the hospital, but Pony is quickly released, and Dally escapes. The two of them participate in the rumble that has been scheduled between the Socs and the Greasers. Because the Greasers get help from the Brumly and Shepard gangs, they easily defeat the Socs. But the tragedies are not yet over.

Johnny soon dies as a result of his severe burns and his broken back. Dally goes absolutely crazy in response to his death; he leaves the hospital, robs a store, and points his unloaded gun at the police. He is then shot to death in front of his friends. Pony faints at the sight and is delirious for three days. Even after he regains consciousness, he cannot concentrate, do his schoolwork, or accept that Johnny and Dally are really dead. It seems that he will never recover; fortunately, the story ends happily for Pony when he finds the letter from Johnny that encourages him to make something of his life. Pony follows the advice and decides his mission will be to help underprivileged children. Because of Johnny, Darry, Soda, and others who care for him, Pony is able to turn his life around and rise above the life of gangs and poverty that he has always known.


Major Theme

The novel deals with the needless pain and violence caused by gang rivalry. The entire book centers on the animosity that exists between the Socs, the rich kids from the west side of town, and the Greasers, the impoverished teenagers from the east side. Because the Socs think they are superior, they jump on the Greasers at every opportunity. Before the book actually begins, they have beaten up Johnny Cade, the meekest Greaser, for absolutely no reason. Then in the first chapter of the book, the Socs jump Pony, the main character, as he walks home from the movie theater alone. Such needless violence leads directly to the death of Bob and indirectly to the deaths of Johnny and Dally.

When Pony, Johnny and Two-Bit befriend two Socy girls, Cherry and Marcia, there is some hope that with increased interaction between the two gangs, their hostility will decrease. In fact, Pony and Cherry find that they can talk easily with each other and have a lot in common, including their love for sunsets. But this friendship is not allowed to develop because the Socs resent their girls fraternizing with the Greasers. As a result, Bob and a few other Socs attack Pony and Johnny to teach them a lesson. During the fighting, Johnny kills Bob in self-defense. Pony and Johnny then hide in an abandoned church in Windrixville. They rise above themselves and heroically rescue some children from the burning church. During the rescue, Johnny is seriously wounded when a burning beam falls on his back; he is put in the hospital and is not expected to live.

In spite of the fact that Johnny is close to death and Dally is injured, the tension between the Socs and the Greasers increase. The Socs want to have a rumble to settle the score about Bob. In the fight that ensues, the Greasers are joined by the Shepard and Brumly gangs; they easily defeat the Socs. But the violence is still not ended. When Johnny dies, Dally goes crazy. He pounds the wall, rushes out of the hospital, robs a store, and points his unloaded gun at the police. As a result, he is shot and killed while his friend watch in horror. Pony is so upset by the violence and the loss of another friend that he is delirious for more than three days. Fortunately, Johnny’s letter, written before his death, makes an impact on Pony, and he vows to rise about his life of gangs and violence and promises to help other underprivileged children. Like Johnny, he has realized the pain and futility of gang rivalry.

Minor Themes

A minor theme is that dysfunctional families place an unbelievable hardship on the children. Johnny has the look of a kicked puppy, for he has been repeatedly beaten by his father and totally ignored by his mother. Dally has no family that cares about him, and he has spent his life in and out of jail since the young age of ten. Darry has had to leave school and work two jobs in order to support Soda and Pony after the death of his parents. Two-Bit’s mother must work as a barmaid to support him and his sister, because his father has deserted them. Steve hates his father, who neglects him. All of these teenagers suffer from neglect and a lack of love; as a result, they join a gang in order to have a sense of belonging.

Another minor theme is the injustice of judging people on appearances. The Socs get by with all of their meanness because they appear normal; they live on the right side of town, have plenty of money, dress nicely, have short hair, and drive expensive cars. As a result, they are never blamed for anything bad. In contrast, the Greasers are considered to be hoods, because they are poor, they live on the wrong side of town, their hair is long and greased, and they wear strange clothing. As a result, they are blamed for everything. In truth, it is the Socs who always start the trouble throughout the book.

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