Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was just sixteen years old. The plot and the language are, therefore, not very complicated, reflecting the author’s immaturity. But because she understood gang rivalry on a firsthand basis, she realistically captured the problems in the novel. She carefully pointed out that underprivileged children, like Dally, Two-Bit, and Johnny, have a great chance of becoming juvenile delinquents if people do not pay attention to their problems.
There are several interrupters in the plot that are not realistic. After killing Bob, the meek and mild Johnny seems much too calm and able to function. Even more unbelievable is the sudden fire in the abandoned church with no explanation as to how it started. The sudden appearance of the children for a picnic at an abandoned building is also hard to accept as plausible, as are the teachers who stand by and watch the fire as helpless spectators, while Pony and Johnny plunge headlong into the burning church to rescue the children. The names of the Greasers, like Ponyboy, Sodapop, and Two-Bit, are also a bit much. Also there are moments of excessive and irritating sentimentality, as when Darry calls Pony “little buddy.” In spite of these weaknesses, however, Hinton has painted a picture of troubled teenagers with a deep sensitivity and a keen insight. Her characters come alive as real, human teenagers, and she successfully gains sympathy for all of the Greasers.
The dialog in the book, though not sophisticated, properly and successfully captures typical teenage talk. For example, Pony says of his middle brother, “Soda is handsomer than anyone else I know. Not like Darry - Soda’s movie star kind of handsome, the kind that people stop on the street to watch go by.” Another example is found in Soda’s letter to Pony, which is filled with spelling and grammatical errors: “Darry hasn’t got the slightest notion where you’re at and it is nearly killing him. I wish you’d come back and turn your selfves in but I guess you can’t since Johnny might get hurt.”
In addition, Hinton uses lots of vivid descriptions that bring the characters and action to life for the reader. A perfect example is the description of Dally: “If I had to pick the real character of the gang, it would be Dallas Winston-Dally. I used to like to draw his picture when he was in a dangerous mood, for then I could get his personality down in a few lines. He had an elfish face, with high cheekbones and a pointed chin, small sharp animal teeth, and ears like a lynx. His hair was almost white it was so blond, and he didn’t like haircuts or hair oil either, so it fell over his forehead in wisps and kicked out in the back in tufts and curled behind his ears and along the nape of his neck. His eyes were blue, blazing ice, cold with a hatred of the whole world.”
In conclusion, Hinton successfully depicts how teenagers living on the wrong
side of town behave and feel by blending realistic dialogue, vivid description,
believable characters, and dynamic action. Despite its flaws, the novel
is a powerful portrayal of youth and is as relevant and gripping today,
as it was when it was first published in 1967. It is truly a remarkable
effort for a sixteen-year-old author.
1. Compare and contrast the Socs and the Greasers.
2. Which gang is portrayed more favorably and how?
3. Describe Pony as a character during most of the book. What change does he undergo during the novel and why? What is he like at the conclusion of the story?
4. Compare and contrast Soda and Darry. Why are they both important
to Pony’s development?
5. Johnny is portrayed as the meekest, mildest, and most sensitive of the Greasers. Give details from the book to support this description. Why is he this way? How do the other Greasers treat him and why?
6. Explain some of the things that Dally does that makes him
the meanest member of the Greasers. What has made him this way? Explain
if he has any redeeming features?
7. Do you feel the book has too much violence in it? Explain
your answers, using details form the book as support.
8. Though flawed, The Outsiders is an honest and sensitive portrayal of children living on the wrong side of town. Explain why you agree or disagree with this assessment of the novel.
9. What are the themes of the novel and how are they developed?
10. Is The Outsiders still relevant today? Explain your answer.
11. Do you think it is obvious that the novel is the first effort of a sixteen year-old author? Support your answer with details from the book.
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