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Literature / The Outsiders

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The original teenage rebel story.

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

The Outsiders is a Coming of Age novel from 1967. It was written by S. E. Hinton, who was sixteen years old at the time. The story is narrated by the youngest member of a Troubled, but Cute greaser group of True Companions in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Fourteen-year-old Ponyboy Curtis lives with his brothers Darrel and Sodapop. Darrel, who everyone calls "Darry", is the leader of a gang of boys, all in various degrees of poverty and Parental Abandonment: Steve Randle, Sodapop's best friend; the nonstop joker Two-Bit; Dallas Winston, who served his first jail sentence when he was ten; and Johnny Cade, a quiet, sweet kid from an abusive home whom everybody protects like a puppy.

The Greasers' rivals are 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. 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, which leads to an incident that has a profound impact on the Greasers.


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

The Outsiders was followed by several sequels, of which Rumble Fish is the best known, and, of course, a rather faithful 1983 film adaptation in which Hinton herself was directly involved, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and featuring a cast including C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, and Leif Garrett. (Not to mention some awesome music.)

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, or the '60s band that did "Time Won't Let Me". 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:

  • The '60s: The book was first written in 1964, published in 1967, and the book and film was done as a period piece set in 1965. Despite being set in the 1960s, it captures none of the Flower child movement, civil unrest, and general upheaval of the later '60s. The setting and characters seemed much more from the The '50s or earlier '60s, with the exception that there are a couple mentions of The Beatles. But this is very accurate since many more rural areas of the country like Oklahoma didn't experience the changes of the 1960s as quickly.
  • Abusive Parents:
    • Both of Johnny's.
    • Steve's father.
    • The Soc who beat up Johnny before the story began. Bob's parents were very indulgent and never disciplined their son.
  • Actor Allusion: Matt Dillon is shot and killed by police after pointing an unloaded gun at them, much like what also happened in Over the Edge.
  • 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. Once Ponyboy runs away with Johnny, it's not hard to think about what's going through Darry's head the entire time.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Aside from her boyfriend, Cherry has also stated that she better not see Dallas again or else she might fall in love with him. This trait is downplayed in the film adaptation, however.
  • 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 specifically "nothing gold can stay", the word for word quote from the poem that Ponyboy reads.
  • Asshole Victim: Bob. After trying to drown Ponyboy, he gets fatally stabbed by Johnny.
  • Battle in the Rain: The rumble scene.
  • Beware the Nice 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ponyboy lives and presumably ends up going back to school but Johnny and Dally are dead.
  • Book-Ends: The novel opens with the line "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." At the close, Ponyboy asks his English teacher if it's OK that his theme runs for more than five pages. The book then ends with the same line that it started with, indicating that The Outsiders is actually Ponyboy's theme for English class.
  • 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: In the novel, Dally angrily calls out Johnny's mother for being a lousy parent. In the movie, it's Two-Bit who calls out Johnny's mom in the hospital.
  • Cast Full of Pretty Boys: The movie went crazy with this and probably explains why the novel remains a favorite of female readers to this day. Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, and Ralph Macchio were all heartthrobs at various points and they are all here in their glistening prime.
  • Caught Coming Home Late: Ponyboy's eldest brother Darrell scolds him after he arrives three hours past curfew. When Sodapop tries to stick up for Ponyboy, it leads to an argument between all three brothers, ending with Darrell slapping Ponyboy hard. That leads to Ponyboy trying to run away with Johnny.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A literal version in Dallas' unloaded gun.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Ponyboy, to a degree.
  • Cool Car: Dally's car in the movie.
  • Creator Cameo: In the movie, S.E. Hinton portrays the nurse that Dallas threatens with a knife in the hospital.
  • Death by Irony: Bob was killed by Johnny, the same kid he and other Socs badly beat to a pulp.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Ponyboy's parents, according to him, were pretty great, especially when compared to those of the other Greasers. This is part of the reason Darry's having so much trouble filling their shoes.
  • Delinquents: The Socs. The Greasers also 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.
  • Disappeared Dad: Two-Bit's father left the family when he was little.
  • 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.
  • Drunk Rolling: Dally wears a ring that he obtained by rolling a drunk senior.
  • 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. Two-Bit's father left him, but he's mostly immune thanks to his loving mother.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Pretty much everyone in the film adaptation.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: Most notably Two-Bit.
  • Famous Last Words: Johnny: "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. Dallas is an obnoxious delinquent, while Johnny is the quietest and kindest of the Greasers.
  • A Friend in Need: The Greasers ultimately feel about each other.
  • Friendly Tickle Torture: Darry and Soda's method of waking Ponyboy in the mornings.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Grease Monkey: Steve. He is said to be able to fix any car.
  • 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: Ponyboy falls in love with the redheaded 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 during the rescue.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Improvised Weapon: Bob wears a set of rings on his hand for punching, similar to brass knuckles.
  • In-Series Nickname: Johnnycake. Which only serves to make Johnny sound even sweeter.
  • Jerkass: Most of the Socs are rich white trash, minus Cherry and Randy.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Dallas may be a delinquent, but he's always there for the gang.
    • And Darry (in the book), who acts harsh towards Ponyboy, but he just wants him to succeed in life and not make the same mistakes he made.
  • 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 is stabbed by Johnny, the boy he beat up long ago.
  • Knife Nut: Switchblades are exceedingly common weapons among Socs and greasers alike. Two-bit takes a great deal of pride in his jet-black model, and Johnny uses a six-inch blade to kill 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.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: All of the Socs, especially Cherry.
  • 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 the latter 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.
    • Darry, who Ponyboy says never shows his emotions, breaks down crying when he and Ponyboy reunite in the hospital.
  • 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.
  • Post-Climax Confrontation: Dally's Suicide by Cop, which occurs after the big rumble between the Greasers and the Socs.
  • Power Walk: The Socs do one prior to the final showdown.
  • Pretty Boy: Sodapop in the novel. Everyone in the movie.
  • Prison Changes People: It's implied that this happened to Dallas long before the story began. He later tries to convince his still innocent Morality Pet Johnny not to confess to the murder he committed in self defense because of it.
    "You don't know what a few months in jail can do to you. Oh, blast it, Johnny, you get hardened in jail. I don't want that to happen to you. Like it happened to me..."
  • Promotion to Parent: Big brother Darry becomes Ponyboy's and Sodapop's parent after their parents die.
  • 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 goes 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.
  • Rebellious Spirit: All of them, really, but special mention goes to Dally, who is explicitly said to go around actively trying to break laws.
  • Right Behind Me: Darry to Steve.
    Steve: So where is Soda and Super-Dope (Darry) anyhow?
    Darry: -just walking in— Superwhat?!
  • 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.
  • Shout-Out: The Robert Frost poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay", read out loud by Ponyboy, inspires the Arc Words.
  • Sinister Suffocation: Ponyboy and Johnny get attacked by a group of Socs, who proceed to start shoving Ponyboy's head into the water of a fountain, slowly drowning him while laughing about it. Johnny kills them to save his life, as he would've died otherwise.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: The Greasers rivalry with the Socs.
  • Suicide by Cop: Dallas invokes this after Johnny's death.
  • There Are No Therapists: Probably all the boys would have needed one. Especially Johnny.
  • "Too Young to Die" Lamentation: Before Johnny dies, he says that, although he used to talk about killing himself, he now realizes that sixteen isn't old enough to do all the things he wanted to do.
  • 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. Subverted with Sodapop since he didn't do that well in school and prefers his job at the gas station.
  • Troubled, but Cute: The entire main cast, but especially Johnny.
  • Troubled Teen: The book and its sequels focus on teenage "greasers," each with a number of issues such as parental abandonment/abuse and all are looked down by their community for being in the lower socioeconomic bracket. Dallas is the most troubled, it was said in the book he started being jailed for criminal behavior at ten years old.
  • True Companions: The Greasers have each other since that's all they really have.
  • 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.
    • Cherry's friend Marcia. She seems like she's going to be an important character, but in reality she's only in one scene. It seems her only role in the story was to give some diversity to the Soc's characterization.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Again, Ponyboy and Sodapop are their actual names. Cherry remarks how "original" they are.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Where the Greasers live.
  • 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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