The Outsiders Essay - Essays and Criticism

Essays and Criticism

Ponyboy's Coming-Of-Age

David Ansen has called The Outsiders "the prototypical young adult novel." Written when S. E. Hinton was sixteen, it is widely credited with ushering in a new era of "realism" in the writing of young adult novels. Yet Hinton's book also contains haunting lyricism; indeed, the tension between dreamy romanticism and hard-knock realism is part of what the book is about. In the early pages of the novel, Ponyboy Curtis tells us of his two brothers: "Darry's gone through a lot in his twenty years, grown up too fast. Sodapop'll never grow up at all. I don't know which way's the best. I'll find out one of these days." In Ponyboy's relationship with his two brothers and with Johnny Cade and Dallas Winston, he experiences the differences between growing up too soon and never growing up. By the end of The Outsiders, he has found some tentative answers to the question of which way of being is best.

Ponyboy portrays himself as dreamy and sensitive, not very realistically-minded, and the other characters respond to him this way as well. His idealism enables him to connect with Cherry Valance and with Johnny Cade; makes him fear Dallas Winston; causes him to admire his friend Two-Bit; and creates clashes with his hard-headed, realistic brother Darry. When Ponyboy meets Cherry, he realizes that they are both outsiders in their respective groups, the greasers and the Socs. Both of them are dreamy romantics who watch sunsets, and Ponyboy realizes that, like him, Cherry has green eyes. Of Two-Bit, who is older than Ponyboy, he says more than once that he admires Two-Bit's ability to "understand things." Like Two-Bit and the others in the gang, Pony is also protective of his friend Johnny's innocence, and they connect emotionally because they are both innocent. Pony is the youngest member of the gang, called "kid" by the others, and Johnny has not allowed his abysmal home life or his brutal beating by the Socs to kill his basic goodness. Pony writes of Johnny:

I don't know what it was about Johnny—maybe that lost-puppy look and those big scared eyes were what made everyone his big brother. But they couldn't, no matter how hard they tried, take the place of his parents. I thought about it for a minute—Darry and Sodapop were my brothers and I loved both of them, even if Darry did scare me, but not even Soda could take Mom and Dad's place. And they were my real brothers, not just sort of adopted ones. No wonder Johnny was hurt because his parents didn't want him. Dally could take it—Dally was of the breed that could take anything, because he was hard and tough, and when he wasn't, he could turn hard and tough. Johnny was a good fighter and could play it cool, but he was sensitive and that wasn't a good way to be when you're a greaser.

Ponyboy thinks of Dally and Johnny as opposites, but in the course of the story, each shows himself willing to sacrifice for others. Johnny calls Dallas "gallant," like a foredoomed Southern soldier in Gone With the Wind, because when he was arrested for something he knew Two-Bit had done, he didn't betray his friend and took the punishment himself. On hearing this story, Pony comments:

That was the first time I realized the extent of Johnny's hero-worship for Dallas Winston. Of all of us, Dally was the one liked the least. He didn't have Soda's understanding or dash, or Two-Bit's humor, or even Darry's superman qualities. But I realized that these three appealed to me because they were like the heroes in the novels I read. Dally was real. I liked my clouds and books and sunsets. Dally was so real he scared me.

In spite of his original fear and dislike for Dally, a fear which he understands is motivated by his own idealism, Ponyboy comes to realize all that Dally has done for him. It is Dally who makes sure that Johnny and Pony are able to run...

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A Look Inside A Landmark: The Outsiders

Before we can begin to write a book rationale for our classroom or school library, two conditions should apply: (1) we know the book extremely well, and (2) we believe that this book makes a significant contribution to our curriculum and to students. Writing a rationale for why a book ought to be in the curriculum requires a knowledge of the goals and objectives of the curriculum; the skills, abilities and interests of students; a knowledge of students' literary and popular culture backgrounds; and a knowledge of the broader area of study in which the book is to be used. It is also helpful to know how frequently the title is used in similar situations, what reviewers have had to say about it in professional journals and in the popular press, and what awards the title has won, if any. Much of this material should be available locally; for example, in the school's curriculum guides. Much of the information, however, must be culled from a variety of sources such as textbooks, monographs and journals related to teaching or educational materials. The Book Review Index, published by Gale Research Company since 1965, provides an index of reviews appearing in more than 200 periodicals. Readers who are particularly concerned about children's and young adult literature should consult the annotated list of reference and bibliographical resources described in "Familiarity with Reference" (Kenney, 48-54). All of these sources add to the rationale writer's own justifications for using a specific title. And since rationales frequently don't get written until a work has been challenged, the rationale writer should also be familiar with the concerns that have been expressed about the work in the local community. This information should be available in a written complaint filed by a local community member but may also need to be acquired through an interview. The local newspapers are another obvious source for community viewpoints on the controversial material. At the state and national level, the rationale writer should consult the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom which keeps track of what titles have been challenged and why they have been challenged.

A rationale explains why a title is valued in the curriculum. It provides reasons for having a book in the public school library or for using it in the classroom. It does not provide all of the support that is needed. A book may be attacked for reasons that are not included in an essay. For support, teachers and librarians should consult with their educational association or union, their local, state, and national subject matter organization and one or more of the anti-censorship coalitions or committees mentioned earlier. Most state professional organizations have such committees. A number of states also have intellectual freedom coalitions made up of union representatives, subject matter organizations, librarians, and school administrators.

The titles that are discussed in this book were chosen on the basis of frequency of challenge. Lee Burress listed over 800 titles that were challenged between 1950 and 1985, in The Battle of the Books. That list came from 17 surveys of censorship pressures carried out by various scholars. In addition, several titles were added to the list of frequently challenged books from more recent reports, especially from the ALA Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom. One person who was asked to write an essay complained because his favorite censored book was not on the list. The reason is fairly clear; that book is very rarely assigned in the schools, so it is almost never challenged. We could not practically provide essays on 800 or 900 titles, so we chose the books that are most often reported by teachers or librarians as objects of attack. Indirectly, therefore, this list of titles is an index of books that are used in the schools.

If we examine the list of challenged titles, it is clear that most are twentieth-century books, that most are by American authors, and that a disproportionate number are by non-Caucasian writers and deal with non-Anglo Saxon characters (disproportionate, that is, in comparison with the total number of books published in the U.S.). There is a strong suggestion here that racism lies behind the challenges. It is frequently disguised under charges that the books contain obscene or pornographic language. So far as the present writers know, no book used in the public schools has been found by a court to be obscene.

Another reasonable conclusion that may be drawn from the list is that good books are more likely to be challenged than are books of little value. Every library, bookstore and supermarket contains many books with the same kind of language as may be found in the challenged list of books. The great majority of those books are ephemeral or superficial. There is little in them, therefore, to question the values of this society, to challenge readers to question their own values or way of life. The essays in this collection provide specific support for a rather select list of titles which are frequently challenged. They also serve as models for the development of rationales for use in the public schools. The present volume is different from our earlier collection, Celebrating Censored Books, in two significant ways. It is expanded. The earlier volume focused on the so-called "dirty thirty." This volume doubles the number of works discussed and includes a selection from the earlier volume. In addition to essays written by teachers and professors of literature, Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints includes essays by poets, novelists and dramatists-authors of adult and adolescent literature.

The central charge to these reviewers was direct and simple: Why should anyone read this book? Why should it be recommended? They were asked to express their impressions of the text, of the concepts and emotions that readers might experience, of the personal and social understandings that might be achieved. A second concern addressed the question, "Why is this book under attack?" The reviewers were asked to consider the censorial challenges to the text in relation to its perceived merits. Another consideration suggested to reviewers was pedagogic, that is, classroom application.

The essays included in Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints provide, in effect, a defense of these frequently challenged books, a rationale for ensuring access to them for readers and support for teaching them. This collection does not, however, propose a curriculum for the English language arts classroom nor is it a cultural literacy list. The editors are not arguing that everyone must read all of these books. Rather, we strongly advocate the right of readers to select literary materials in an open marketplace of ideas and of teachers to select classroom materials in keeping with appropriate teaching objectives.

The collection is organized in two sections. The first, "Perspectives: Censorship by Omission and Commission," offers six author's views. Arthur Miller considers historical attempts to "revise" Shakespeare's King Lear in conjunction with current omissions of segments of his plays from school texts. He reflects on current censorship practices against an international backdrop. John Williams focuses on acts of omission—publishers censoring, that is, not publishing—works by African-American authors. The nature and force of censorship attacks and their impact on authors is revealed by Norma Fox Mazer. She introduces censorship by commission, that is, the act of self-censorship, encouraged by publishers so as not to offend the public. Similarly, Rudolfo Anaya reflects on cultural discrimination that proscribes Hispanic-American writers and the effect of self-censorship on the expression of their life experiences. The last two essays in this section, by Mary Stolz and Lee Bennett Hopkins, encourage broad understanding of censorship challenges. They illustrate their insights with a wide selection of diverse fiction and poetry that has been challenged, from picture-story books to mature adolescent novels.

The second section, "Challenging Books," provides responses and defenses of individual books. Arranged alphabetically by the title of the text, they provide a varied perspective. Some are oriented to social issues, others to personal transactions with the text, and others to teaching concerns. They provide diverse, thoughtful approaches, suggesting that there is no one best way to prepare a rationale for a book or a particular situation. The array is...

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Presenting S. E. Hinton

In April 1967 the Viking Press brought out a book called The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton and the world of young adult writing and publishing would never be the same. This is not an exaggeration. In more ways than one, The Outsiders has become the most successful, and the most emulated, young adult book of all time. The situation was ripe, in the mid-sixties, for the arrival of something like The Outsiders, although no one knew it at the time. There had been a "young adult" genre for many years, dominated by books like Maureen Daly's Seventeenth Summer, dreamy-eyed stories of carefree youth where the major problem was whether so-and-so would ask our heroine to the prom in...

(The entire section is 2357 words.)