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Literature: The Outsiders

"Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold."
Johnny Cade

The Outsiders is a coming of age story from the 1960s. It is told by the youngest member of a troubled but cute greaser group of true companions. It was written by S. E. Hinton, who was sixteen years old at the time.

Ponyboy Curtis (yes, that's his real name) lives with his brothers Darrel and Sodapop (yes, it "even says so on his birth certificate"). Darrel (but everyone calls him Darry) is the leader of a gang of boys, all in various degrees of poverty and parental abandonment: Steve Randall, Sodapop's best friend; the nonstop joker Two-Bit (for once, not his real name); Dallas Winston, who served his first jail sentence when he was ten years old; and Johnny Cade, a quiet, sweet kid from an abusive home whom everybody protects like a puppy.

The greasers' rival gang is the Socs (short for "Socials"; pronounced "Soashes"), rich "white trash with Mustangs and madras." Getting jumped and defending himself is a fact of life for Ponyboy, one made evident in the first pages of the book. The trouble really starts, however, when Johnny and Ponyboy pick up two girls from the Socs' side of the tracks (Cherry Valance and Marcia) at the movies. Cherry's boyfriend, Bob, and his friends come after them later in a nearby park, and Bob nearly drowns Ponyboy. Johnny comes to his rescue with a blade, and Ponyboy survives. Bob doesn't. Realizing there's no way greasers like themselves are going to get away with killing a Soc, even in self-defense, the boys run to their friend with the most experience in crime, Dallas. Dallas gives them some money and directions on where to run and hide (an abandoned church in Windrixville) until things die down.

We won't give away the rest, but it involves more deaths, a fire, the ultimate gang rumble to end all rumbles, the pain and sorrow of love and friendship, a complete emotional and mental breakdown for Ponyboy, and a poem by Robert Frost.

Unexpectedly, given the genre, it is very light on the angst. The greasers have it rough, but nobody's emo about it.

Was followed by several sequels, of which Rumble Fish is the best known, and, of course, a rather faithful film adaptation by Francis Ford Coppola (with some awesome music) in which Hinton herself was directly involved.

The film got its own sequel in 1990, which also served as the pilot episode to a short-lived, little known TV series.

Not to be confused with The Outsiders, a superhero team in The DCU, or the tag team of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. Also not to be confused with The Stranger, whose title is often translated as The Outsider. Very different from H.P. Lovecraft's short story The Outsider.


Tropes include:

  • Abusive Parents: Both of Johnny's.
    • As well as Steve's father.
    • Also the Soc who beat up Johnny before the story began. Bob's parents were very indulgent and never disciplined their son.
  • Aerith and Bob: Inverted with brothers Ponyboy, Sodapop, and Darrel. It helps to set Darrel apart from his brothers. His promotion to parent made him much more serious than they are.
  • Adult Fear: Older readers can better appreciate Darry's fear that Ponyboy and Sodapop will be taken away from him.
    • And once he runs away with Johnny, it's not hard to think about what's going through his head the entire time.
  • A Friend in Need
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Cherry has stated that she better not see Dallas again or else she might fall in love with him.
    • Not to mention the fact that her boyfriend Bob isn't exactly a law-abiding first-rate citizen.
  • All-Star Cast: Zigzagged. The film stars Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Emilio Estevez, Leif Garrett and Diane Lane. Almost none of them were stars at the time it was made, however. Of course, for many of them, this film is where that began to change.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Ponyboy feels that his oldest brother Darry is this, being the unofficial leader of their group and always criticizing Ponyboy. But Ponyboy eventually realizes that Darry actually cares very much for him and only wants the best for him.
  • Arc Words: "Stay gold." More specifcally "nothing gold can stay", the word for word quote from the poem that Ponyboy reads.
  • Asshole Victim: Bob.
  • Battle in the Rain: The rumble scene.
  • Beware the Nice Ones / Beware the Quiet Ones: Johnny may be the quietest, most law-abiding of the greasers, but push him too far and, as Bob found out, you could get killed.
  • Big Bad: The Socs, probably the closest to being the main antagonists of the story.
  • Big Brother Instinct: The whole gang towards Johnny, since his family couldn't care less. Also Darry and Soda toward Ponyboy, though Darry shows his concern for his brother mostly by yelling at him when he does something stupid.
  • Bishōnen: Sodapop.
  • Book Ends: "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home..."
  • Brick Joke: After Johnny stands up to Dally for harassing Cherry and Marcia, Dally decides to go out and blow off some steam. A few minutes later, Tim Shepperd comes into the movies looking for Dally, claiming Dally slashed his tires. After Johnny kills Bob, and Johnny and Pony are on the run, when they meet Dally again who was sleeping it off after his fight with Shepperd.
  • Bridal Carry: Darry carries Ponyboy into their house this way in the movie after getting home from the hospital from a fire rescue, all the while commenting on how he's getting too big to be carried.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Averted with Johnny's parents.
    • Though it was played straight in the movie where Two-Bit angrily calls out Johnny's mother for being a lousy mother.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A literal version in Dallas' unloaded gun.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Ponyboy, to a degree.
  • Cool Car: Dally's car in the movie.
  • Creator Cameo: Hinton appears in the film as a nurse.
  • Delinquents: The Socs. The greasers have this reputation, although it's mostly only Dallas who lives up to it.
  • Despair Event Horizon: After Johnny dies in the hospital, Dallas loses it and robs a nearby store. After the cops catch up to him, he points his unloaded gun at them.
  • Don't Split Us Up: This was the primary concern for Darry, who feared that if he was deemed an unfit guardian for his brothers, they would be taken away and put in foster care.
  • Dye or Die: Ponyboy had to cut and bleach his hair since descriptions of him were printed. He doesn't like it.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Almost all the greasers fit here. Ponyboy and his brothers lost their parents to a car accident. Steve has an abusive father. Both of Johnny's parents are abusive and don't care about him. Dally had a growing criminal record which started when he was ten and used to run with gangs in New York. So far, Two-Bit seems to be immune.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Pretty much everyone in the film adaptation.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: Most notably Two-Bit.
  • Famous Last Words: Johnny Cade: "Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold."
  • Fiery Redhead: Cherry.
  • The Film of the Book: Almost entirely faithful to the original novel, with some great music. Hinton herself was actually the location scout; she even took out all of the non-dialogue parts of the novel to create the movie's script.
  • Final Battle: The rumble.
  • Foil: Dallas for Johnny.
  • Gang of Hats: Socs and greasers.
    • The greasers aren't so much a gang as a social class. Ponyboy says himself that they're mostly groups of friends who stick together. The same could be argued for the Socs, though some of them are said to belong to social clubs.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: When Johnny and Ponyboy go to Dally, he's at a party and says he was in the bedrooms. Ponyboy then starts blushing as he "remembers what usually happens in the bedrooms at Buck's parties." But Dally was just sleeping.
    • In the movie, when Dally is hitting on Cherry, he asks her in so many words if the carpet matches the drapes.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The lack of cursing generally isn't that conspicuous, but in the beginning of the book, when one of the Socs mugging Ponyboy, he says, "For Pete's sake!" This is justified in that Ponyboy is writing the book as a paper for school, and probably wouldn't be too keen on dropping f-bombs in something his teacher would be grading him on.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Dallas does this when he dies, falling to the ground.
  • Grease Monkey: Steve.
  • Greaser Delinquents: The main protagonists of the book and movie.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The word "Ponyboy" nowadays can be used as a slang term for a man who is well endowed.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Cherry.
  • Heroic Fire Rescue: It earns the main characters the respect of the town and a front page article. Sadly, Johnny eventually dies from the injuries sustained in the flames.
  • Heroic RROD / Heroic BSOD: Ponyboy, who collapses after Johnny's death and Dallas's suicide by cop. He spends the next few weeks either asleep or delirious.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Soda and Steve have been best friends since childhood and remain very close.
  • I Heard That / Right Behind Me: Darry to Steve.
    Steve: So where is Soda and Super-Dope (Darry) anyhow?
    Darry: -just walking in— Superwhat?!
  • Ironic Echo: When Ponyboy comes back from the drive-in late, Darrel yells at him for saying that he didn't mean to. On the exact same page, after he hits Ponyboy, who runs away, he says, "I didn't mean to!"
  • I Should Write a Book About This: The entire novel was written in-universe by Ponyboy as a project for school.
  • Improperly Placed Firearms: In the movie, Dallas has a civilian S&W Model 10, which he gives to Ponyboy and Johnny, and a Model 39. In 1966, it would be harder to get the latter than, say, 1911.
  • In-Series Nickname: Johnnycake. Which only serves to make Johnny sound even sweeter.
  • Jerk Ass: Most of the Socs, minus Cherry and Randy.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Dallas and Darry.
  • Jump Scare: Played for Laughs when someone grabs Johnny and Ponyboy in the drive-in theater, saying "Greasers, you've had it." It's just Two-Bit, imitating a menacing Soc.
  • Karmic Death: Bob.
  • Kill the Cutie: Johnny, always the gang's pet and the only thing Dally ever loved.
  • Large Ham: Dallas is this at times in the movie, mainly with "Let's do it for Johnny!", which is also kinda Narm-y.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis
  • Lonely Rich Kid: All of the Socs.
  • Lovable Rogue: Dallas, again.
  • Meaningful Name: The author literally spells it out when innocent martyr Johnny signs a message with his initials.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Averted with Sodapop. But another problem springs forth with him being the middleman between Darry and Ponyboy's arguments.
  • Morality Pet: Johnny for Dallas, which Dallas can't stand and is why he kills himself when Johnny dies.
  • Moustache de Plume: S. E. Hinton, thinking no one would read a gang novel by a woman named Susan.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Darry, when he hit Ponyboy, causing him to run away.
    • Johnny when he's forced to kill Bob. And later on when he is in the hospital for his burns. The latter of which because, early in the movie Johnny was suicidal.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: The author will often say that "he cussed him out" or "cursed under his breath", or something else to that effect.
  • Not So Stoic: Dally doesn't seem to care about anything or anyone, and doesn't express much emotion besides anger until Johnny dies.
  • Panty Shot: In the film, Two-Bit pulls up a female Soc's skirt, revealing her white panties.
  • Papa Wolf: Darry, Sodapop, Dally, and even Johnny have shades of this, mostly towards Ponyboy.
  • Promotion to Parent: Darry.
  • Rare Guns: In the movie version, every gun the protagonists use is made by Smith & Wesson.
  • Reality Ensues: The church rescue, where Ponyboy and Johnny go in to save a group of kids before the church burns completely to the ground. It ends with Johnny sustaining a injury that would ultimately cost him his life. Even worse, before he died, Johnny said that he wouldn't have been able to walk again if he had survived.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The Socs.
  • Shirtless Scene: Dallas in the film; a nurse (played by Hinton herself) even comments he should be wearing a hospital gown, but he casually responds, "I threw it away."
    • Not to mention a gratuitous fanservice moment of Sodapop getting out of the shower and just barely getting a Modesty Towel on.
  • The Sixties: The book was written in 1965, published in 1967, and the film was done as a period piece set in 1966.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs
  • Spoiled Sweet: Cherry. She is a cheerleader at her high school, as well as being a Soc. But she is friendly to Ponyboy and Johnny and generally likes them as individuals.
  • Suicide by Cop: Dallas.
  • There Are No Therapists: Probably all the boys would have needed one. Especially Johnny.
  • Tragic Dropout: Darry gets a menial job in order to take care of his younger siblings after their parents die, instead of going on to college.
  • Troubled, but Cute: The entire main cast.
  • True Companions
  • The Un Favourite: Ponyboy feels that older brother Darry cares only for Sodapop and that he is only another mouth to feed. However, he is proven wrong and Darry was strict on Ponyboy because he wants the best for Ponyboy and for him to succeed in life.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Socs maintain a good reputation and get away with almost anything due to being wealthy.
  • Watching the Sunset: Both Cherry and Ponyboy do. He also watches a sunrise with Johnny, which was a stepping stone for him to appreciate life before the fire ruined that for him.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: Dally's revolver. It's not actually loaded, and he states that he uses it to scare people and that's all. This comes back to him when he raises the unloaded gun at the police after Johnny dies to get a suicide by cop.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Cherry possibly falling in love with Dally is mentioned a total of once and never again.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Again, Ponyboy and Sodapop are their actual names. Cherry remarks how "original" they are.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks
  • Your Cheating Heart: Sodapop's girlfriend was pregnant with another man's child.
  • Your Door Was Open: Justified, as at least two members of the gang frequently need a place to stay. When one character worries about the house being robbed, Darrel states that he would rather risk robbery than have one of the gang members go crazy and do something that earned them serious jail time. Besides, they have nothing to steal.

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alternative title(s): The Outsiders
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