In The Outsiders, what message about violence does the author wants to convey?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It is important to realise that the portrayal of this violence in this important coming-of-age novel is inextricably intertwined with issues of class difference that dominate the novel. Both groups, Socs and Greasers, are involved in violence, and often this violence occurs against each other. Ponyboy, in his introduction to the world in which he lives, makes this similarity clear. Note how he describes the two different groups:

I reckon we're wilder, too. Not like the Socs, who jump greasers and wreck houses and throw beer blasts for kicks, and get editorials in the paper for being a public disgrace one day and an asset to society the next. Greasers are almost like hoods; we steal things and drive old souped-up cars and hold up gas stations and have a gang fight once in a while.

Violence is an endemic part of both the existence of the Socs and Greasers. However, and this is important to note, at no stage does the author actually approve of the violence or present it as something to be followed. The violence is just presented as an inevitable outcome of the class differences.

Thinking along these lines, it is important to realise that this novel is not a manual or a manifesto of how to stop such violence. The best that can be hoped for, the text suggests, is mutual understanding that can help the two groups understand that they are all human, like Ponyboy achieves with Randy and Cherry. Note how the motif of watching and enjoying sunsets is used to suggest this shared humanity. As Ponyboy decides what to write for his English report, he has a desire to share the experience of the youth of his day:

I could picture hundreds and hundreds of boys living on the wrong sides of cities, boys with black eyes who jumped at their own shadows. Hundreds of boys who maybe watched sunsets and looked at stars and ached for something better.

It is important to note that whilst the novel does not come up with a solution to the violence, we can see in Ponyboy's attempt to write about the life of a youth in his time that there is hope for a better future based on mutual understanding of a shared humanity.

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