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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.

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.

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, or Stephen King's novel also called 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. They couldn't care less if he runs away from home, which he does a lot.
    • 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's Dally is shot and killed by police after pointing an unloaded gun at them, much like what also happened to his character 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.
  • 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 does love him as much as he does Sodapop, who he calls his "little buddy."
  • Arc Words:
    • "Stay gold." More specifically "nothing gold can stay", the word-for-word quote from the poem that Ponyboy reads.
    • But, also the thing about Greasers being so poor they only got two things.
What kind of world is it where all I have to be proud of is a reputation for being a hood, and a greasy hair? I don't want to be a hood, but even if I don't steal things and mug people and get boozed up, I'm marked lousy. Why should I be proud of it? Why should I even pretend to be proud of it?
  • Asshole Victim: Bob. After he tries to drown Ponyboy, he has a fatal meeting with the business end of Johnny's switchblade.
  • 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, the rival gang to the Greasers.
  • Big Brother Instinct: The whole gang towards Johnny, since his family couldn't care less. Also Darry and Sodapop toward Ponyboy, though Darry shows his concern for Ponyboy mostly by reacting harshly when Ponyboy does something stupid.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ponyboy lives, reconciles with Darry, and presumably ends up going back to school and the Greasers defeat the Socs, but Johnny and Dally are dead. Furthermore, the feud between the Greasers and Socs is still shown to continue regardless.
    • On a brighter note, it's likely that the public will have a more positive view of the Greasers following the media coverage of the church rescue and Ponyboy's school project on his traumatic experiences.
  • 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 okay 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 Sheppard 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 when she comes to the hospital and demands to see Johnny. In the movie, it's Two-Bit who reads her the riot act.
  • 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: Darry scolds Ponyboy for coming home three hours past curfew. When Sodapop tries to stick up for Ponyboy, it leads to an argument between all three brothers, ending with Darry slapping Ponyboy hard. That leads to Ponyboy running away with Johnny.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A literal version in Dally's unloaded gun.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Ponyboy, to a degree. Two-Bit is also described as "scatterbrained."
  • Cool Car: Dally's car in the movie.
  • Creator Cameo: In the movie, S.E. Hinton portrays the nurse that Dally threatens with a knife in the hospital.
  • Death by Irony: Johnny killed Bob, the same kid who, with other Socs, badly beat him to a pulp.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: According to Ponyboy, his parents were pretty great people, especially when compared to those of the other Greasers. This is part of the reason why Darry is having difficulty having to be the parental figure to his brothers.
  • Delinquents: The Socs and the Hoods. Filthy rich and poor as rats, respectively. The Greasers also have this reputation, although it's mostly only Dallas who lives up to it.
    • And isn't that curious? It's stated in the novel that while Dally may not like haircuts, he doesn't like the Greaser-signature hair oil either.
He was tougher than the rest of us - tougher, colder, meaner. The shade of difference that separates a greaser from a hood wasn't present in Dally. He was as wild as the boys in the downtown outfits, like Tim Shepard's gang.
  • 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.
  • Dramatic Spine Injury: Johnny's back is broken by a falling piece of timber as he rescues the kids from the burning church. It's specifically stated that he'll be paralyzed for life if he survives the injury...and he doesn't.
  • Drunk Rolling: Dallas wears a ring that he obtained by rolling a drunk senior.
  • Dye or Die: Johnny makes Ponyboy cut and bleach his hair to change his appearance in the event that descriptions of both boys had been printed in the newspapers. Understandably, Ponyboy isn't hip to the idea.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Almost all the Greasers fit here. Ponyboy and his brothers lost their parents in a car accident. Steve has an abusive father. Both of Johnny's parents are abusive and don't care about him. Dallas has a growing criminal record which started when he was ten and used to run with gangs in New York. Two-Bit's father walked out on the family, but his mother loves him and takes care of him.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Pretty much everyone in the film adaptation.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: Most notably Two-Bit.
  • Fiery Redhead: Cherry.
  • The Film of the Book: Almost entirely faithful to the original novel. 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. We don't see much of it since Ponyboy passes out mid-fight.
  • Foil:
    • Dallas for Johnny. Dallas is an obnoxious delinquent, while Johnny is the quietest and kindest of the Greasers.
    • Pretty much everyone's parents are this for Darry. He got a Promotion to Parent and, yet, even Bob's parents (the leader of the Socs) didn't have an A-plus parenting. The only exceptions are the Curtis brothers' parents (who are dead and, thus, probably don't count anyway) and Two-Bit's mother.
    • Steve is this for Sodapop in some regards. Though this doesn't negatively impact their friendship.
I thought of Soda and Steve. What if one of them saw the other killed? Would that make them stop fighting? No, I thought, maybe it would make Soda stop, but not Steve. He'd go on hating and fighting. Maybe that was what Bob would have done if it had been Randy instead of him.
  • A Friend in Need: The Greasers ultimately feel this way about each other.
  • Friendly Tickle Torture: Darry and Sodapop'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.
    • A particularly funny one is when Two-Bits calls Ponyboy a son of a gun.
  • 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: Sodapop 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.
  • Jacob and Esau: Among the Curtis brothers, dark-haired Darry is said to take after their father and blond Sodapop after their mother, while Ponyboy doesn't particularly take after either parent.
  • Jerkass: Most of the Socs are rich white trash, with the exception of Cherry and Randy, and possibly Marcia.
  • 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 some time before the start of the story.
  • Kill the Cutie: Johnny, always the gang's pet and the only thing Dallas 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. However, another problem springs forth when he is constantly the mediator between Darry and Ponyboy's arguments.
  • Morality Pet: Johnny for Dallas, which Dallas can't stand and is why he goes and gets himself killed 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:
    • Dallas 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, is full-on crying when he and Sodapop reunite with Ponyboy at the hospital.
  • Papa Wolf: Darry, Sodapop, Dallas, and even Johnny have shades of this, mostly towards Ponyboy.
  • Post-Climax Confrontation: Dallas' Suicide by Cop, which occurs after the big rumble between the Greasers and the Socs.
  • 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.
    Dallas: 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 takes on a parental role to Ponyboy and Sodapop after their parents die.
  • Rebellious Spirit: All of them, really, but special mention goes to Dallas, 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.]
  • Shown Their Work: S. E. Hinton interviewed some Greasers in her school in order to depict their lifestyle as accurately as possible in the novel.
  • Sinister Switchblade: Switchblades are exceedingly common weapons among Socs and greasers alike. Two-bit takes a great deal of pride in his jet-black model. After he got jumped by a gang of Socs, Johnny carries a six-inch blade, which he uses to kill Bob, who was part of the same gang of Socs who had attacked him before.
  • Sinister Suffocation: Ponyboy and Johnny get attacked by a group of Socs, who try to drown Ponyboy in a fountain. Johnny rescues Ponyboy when he pulls out his switchblade and kills Bob, causing the rest of the Socs to scatter.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: The Greasers rivalry with the Socs.
  • Stress Vomit: Ponyboy throws up after Johnny kills Bob.
  • Suicide by Cop: Dallas invokes this after Johnny's death.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: 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.
  • Team Power Walk: The Socs do one prior to the final showdown.
  • 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 - Darry's strict because is his way to push Ponyboy to a better tomorrow.
    Darry: You're not going to drop out. Listen, with your brains and grades you could get a scholarship, and we could put you through college.
Darry has never really gotten over not going to college.
Darry didn't deserve to work like an old man when he was only twenty [...] But we just didn't have the money for him to go to college, even with the athletic scholarship he won. And now he didn't have time between jobs to even think about college.
Sodapop: He could have stuck you in a home somewhere and worked his way through college. Ponyboy, I'm telling you the truth. I dropped out because I'm dumb. I really did try in school, but you saw my grades. Look, I'm happy working in a gas station with cars. You'd never be happy doing something like that.
  • Even Ponyboy himself admits it once before he and Darry reach an understanding.
Ponyboy: That's why he's better than the rest of us. He's going somewhere. And I was going to be like him. I wasn't going to live in a lousy neighborhood all my 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, at the end of the day, she appears 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.
    • It may even apply to Cherry herself since 'Cherry' is a nickname derived from Sherri - her real name.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Dallas tells Ponyboy and Johnny that some of the Greasers wanted to jump Cherry for having dated Bob.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Where the Greasers live.
Sixteen years on the streets and you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn. Sixteen years on the streets and you see a lot. But all the wrong sights, not the sights you want to see.
  • 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.