S.E. Hinton was still in high school when she wrote The Outsiders, first published in 1967. An immediate sensation, the novel is now considered the best-selling young adult novel of all time. Its realistic portrayal of teenage life—drawn from Hinton’s experience at a high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma—stood in marked contrast to the light, shallow young adult fiction of the day. Audiences responded, and The Outsiders changed the genre. The novel inspired a 1983 movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola that has become a classic; as the film continued to attract new audiences, it was re-cut in 2005 to be even more faithful to the novel. Although The Outsiders, set in 1965, addresses the difficult and unusual circumstances of a particular group of teenage friends, it speaks to anyone who has experienced the pain of rejection and loneliness born of condemnation and social ostracism. The novel speaks to those who are outcast, encouraging them to persevere, even in a dark world.
The Outsiders centers on the violent rivalry between two high school social groups: popular, well-to-do students and poor, unpopular students who are considered “lower class.” The confrontations between the snobbish “Socs” (short for “socials” and pronounced SOSH-es) and the rebellious “greasers” drive the action. The madras shirts and slicked-back hair that identify each group respectively have long gone out of fashion, but after more than forty years, the novel’s themes endure. “In-crowds” and “outcasts” still figure prominently in high school society, whether they are defined by socioeconomic class or other factors. Teens without strong family relationships still find the acceptance they need in groups of friends or in gangs—sometimes with violent results—and dreamers like Ponyboy, the novel’s narrator and a member of the greasers, still struggle to hold on to their innocence, even as they grow up and experience the raw injustices of the world around them.
Hinton weaves a narrative fraught with tension and drama; the action is nonstop from the moment early in the book when the Socs jump Ponyboy on his way home from the movies. Anything can happen in the dangerous, unpredictable world Ponyboy and his friends inhabit, and the rumbles, getaways, and daring rescues move the plot along swiftly. The pacing makes the book wholly readable, but it is the character development that elevates it beyond an exciting story. The characters in Ponyboy’s gang— Dally, Two-Bit, Johnny, Darry, Sodapop, and Steve—are fully rendered, believable, and memorable. They are flawed without becoming unlikeable, and they are tough while remaining vulnerable. Their attempts to make sense of the world—and to survive it—endear them to the reader, as does their fierce loyalty to one another. Judged as worthless by society at large, they find respect, acceptance, and comfort only in each other. In their need to belong and to matter, they are humanized; the disparaging social labels attached to them are meaningless.
Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” is developed as a central motif in the novel. It emphasizes the difficulty of the young to remain young and pure of heart in an adult world often characterized by cruelty and corruption. The idea can be found in numerous minor exchanges between the boys throughout the narrative, but it is expressed most clearly and most poignantly in the conclusion through Johnny’s dying words to Ponyboy: “stay gold.” The message—and the novel itself—continues to resonate with young readers navigating the difficulties and uncertainties of their own lives, making The Outsiders a perennial favorite.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Explain what it means to be a hero in the context of Ponyboy’s world.
2. Describe how the boys act as one another’s family.
3. Chart Ponyboy’s growth from childhood to adulthood.
4. Compare and contrast greasers and Socs.
5. Discuss how the boys in Ponyboy’s gang cope with the world around them.
6. Explain the meaning of the expression “stay gold.”
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Chapter Guide
• The Chapter Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the novel. Chapter Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Chapter Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
• Before Chapter Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
• Chapter Guide vocabulary lists include words from the novel that vary in difficulty.
1. The vocabulary lists for each chapter are sufficiently comprehensive so that shorter lists of vocabulary words can be constructed from them.
2. Working from the lesson plan’s chapter vocabulary lists, the teacher also may construct vocabulary studies for individual students, choosing specific words from each chapter that are most appropriate for them.
The discussion questions vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some questions require higher levels of critical thinking; others engage students with less challenging inquiry.
2. Individual discussion questions may be assigned to students working in pairs or in small study groups; their contributions may then be added to a whole-class discussion.
Test questions also vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some multiple-choice questions address the factual content of the novel; others require students to employ critical thinking skills, such as analyzing; comparing and contrasting; and drawing inferences.
2. The teacher may select specific multiple-choice questions and one or more essay questions to assess an individual student’s understanding of the novel.
3. The essay portion of the test appears on a separate page so that it may be omitted altogether in testing.
Before students read through the book, explain that themes are universal ideas developed in literature. Point out that these themes will be developed in the novel; discuss them with students as they read and/or after they finish reading.
- Friends as family
- Class conflict
- Fate vs. free will
- Coming of age
Talk with your students about how a motif is a recurring pattern or a repeated action, element, or idea in a book. As they read, have them look for the following motifs:
- The sunset
- The country
- Southern gentlemen
- Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”
A symbol is a concrete object or place that has significance in a literary work because it communicates an idea. Have students discuss how the author develops the following symbols and what ideas the symbols could suggest. Have them look for other symbols on their own.
- Gone with the Wind
- Soda’s horse, Mickey Mouse
- Chocolate cake
- The blue Mustang
1. The author was fifteen when she started the book. How might that affect the way the book is written?
2. S.E. Hinton used her initials to disguise the fact that a female wrote the book. How does knowing the author is female affect your reading of the book?
3. Hinton makes attempts to humanize the Socs throughout the novel, particularly with the repeated line, “Things are rough all over.” Is she successful in making them sympathetic? Do you feel sorry for them? Why or why not?
4. The boys in The Outsiders all have different ways of coping with the world around them. How do their methods of coping contrast? In what ways are they similar?
5. Tough or grown-up behavior is often contrasted with images of childhood innocence. Describe three incidences of their juxtaposition in the book.
6. It has been said that one bad break leads to another, which leads to another, creating a downward spiral. How is this proven true in The Outsiders? Do you think it is generally true in life? How might someone take control and reverse the direction of his or her life?
7. The notion of the Southern gentleman appears throughout the book. What is striking about the differences between Ponyboy’s group and the Southern gentlemen of Gone with the Wind?
8. Describe how Cherry, Ponyboy, and Dally differ in their attitudes toward violence. Considering them individually, explain why they might feel as they do.
9. “Stay gold” is a prominent theme throughout the novel. What does it mean in the context of the Robert Frost poem, and what does it mean to Johnny? Why does he want Ponyboy to “stay gold”?
10. What does Randy mean when he says about Bob, “If his old man had just belted him—just once, he might still be alive”? Do you think he’s right? Would this argument be effective with parents today?
11. Grown-ups are largely absent in the book; except for a brief scene with Johnny’s mother, parents do not appear. How would the story be different if parents played a greater role? How would it be different if the Curtis brothers’ parents hadn’t been killed?
12. What definition of hero can the reader glean from The Outsiders? How does it compare or contrast with whom we consider to be heroes today?
13. An unreliable narrator is one whose credibility is compromised. Describe moments in the novel when Ponyboy serves as an unreliable narrator. What effect does this have on the reader? Why might Hinton have employed this technique?
14. The Outsiders was written in 1967. If it were written today, what would be different? What would be the same?
15. Discuss how Darry, Two-Bit, Soda, and Ponyboy each feel about school. With which view of school can you most identify?
asset: a benefit
cooler: slang a prison
greaser: slang a swaggering young tough
hacked off: slang angry
lone: verb, slang to go alone
loping: moving with a long, easy stride
lynx: a wildcat
madras: a light cotton fabric, often in multi-colored plaid or stripes
savvy: verb to comprehend
souped-up: slang modified to increase power or attractiveness
tagalong: slang someone who “tags along” with others, although not necessarily welcomed
tuff: slang cool, sharp
unfathomable: impossible to comprehend
1. According to the narrator, who are Socs, and how does he feel about them?
Socs is an abbreviation for “Socials,” the kids who are rich and live on the west side of town. Since the narrator is a greaser, he’s afraid of being jumped or otherwise targeted by the rival Socs. He also feels the community has a hypocritical relationship with the Socs, as one day they are shamed in the newspaper for their behavior and then held up as shining examples the next.
2. What reasons does the narrator give for steering clear of trouble with the police?
The narrator knows that his oldest brother, Darry, will be furious with him if he gets into trouble. Getting into trouble also means that the narrator could be separated from his brothers.
3. What happened to the narrator’s parents? How does the narrator reveal this information? What might his tone indicate about him?
His parents were killed in a car crash. The narrator includes this information almost as an aside. He goes into no detail about the...
(The entire section is 814 words.)
barrel race: a rodeo event in which a horse and rider race in a zigzag pattern around barrels
Chessy cat: slang Cheshire cat; most likely a reference to the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland
digested: absorbed, understood
fuzz: slang police
jockeys: people who ride horses professionally in races
saddle bronc: a rodeo event in which a rider must stay on a bucking horse
timber: wooded land
weed: slang a cigarette
1. How does Ponyboy feel about Sodapop’s dropping out of school? Why does he...
(The entire section is 523 words.)
buckskin: a type of horse with a coat resembling tanned deerskin
mouthy: full of hot air
soused: slang drunk
1. What new picture of the Socs emerges in Chapter 3? How are Socs different from greasers on an emotional level? How are they the same?
Through Ponyboy’s conversation with Cherry, the reader learns that Socs like Cherry feel oppressed by having to say certain things or behave in certain ways. They repress their emotions, whereas greasers are very openly...
(The entire section is 520 words.)
a’woofin’: slang an expression to acknowledge the obvious
buckteeth: prominent, projecting upper front teeth
corn-poney: slang unsophisticated
hilt: the base of a knife blade where it meets the knife’s handle
pickled: slang drunk
premonition: a sense of something about to happen, especially something bad
reformatory: a reform school for juveniles who break the law; a juvenile detention center
1. Why do the Socs target Ponyboy and Johnny?...
(The entire section is 337 words.)
cancer stick: slang a cigarette
dig: slang to understand
eluded: escaped; avoided
gorged: ate voraciously
imploringly: with anxious, emotional entreaty
1. While he is alone, waiting for Johnny to return with supplies, Ponyboy has a panic attack. What is he afraid has happened? What does this incident show about Ponyboy’s mental state?
Ponyboy fears that Johnny has been picked up by the police and given the electric chair, that Dally has been killed in a car crash, and that no one knows where Ponyboy is. Ponyboy seems to be most afraid...
(The entire section is 388 words.)
beefed: slang angered
billfold: a thin wallet
blazing: burning brightly
cinders: hot ashes
clobbered: battered severely
Yankee dime: slang a unit of insignificance
1. Why does Dally’s comment, “next time I want a broad I’ll pick up my own kind,” bother Ponyboy?
It reminds him of what Bob said the night Johnny killed him.
2. Contrast the way Johnny feels about his family with the way Dally feels about his.
It still matters to Johnny whether or not his parents care about him; Dally doesn’t care at...
(The entire section is 427 words.)
drawled: spoken in a slow, drawn out manner
jazz: slang excitement
mop: a thick mass of hair
mug: slang a thug
squaw: a Native American woman, especially a wife
1. According to Jerry, why do the media take so many pictures of the Curtis brothers?
Jerry tells Ponyboy that the media photograph the boys so much because Darry and Soda are good-looking. The story has great public appeal.
(The entire section is 704 words.)
booze-hound: slang a drunk
divert: to turn aside from a path or course
jet-handled: with a black handle
juiced up: slang emotional
1. Ponyboy realizes that the gang “needed Johnny as much as he needed the gang. And for the same reason.” What is that reason?
The reason they need Johnny and Johnny needs them is that they are one another’s family.
2. How does Johnny feel about his condition?
Johnny doesn’t want to die. He is only sixteen. He hasn’t seen much of the world, and it feels unfair to him that he might not get to....
(The entire section is 309 words.)
blow: slang to run away
conformity: action in accordance with prevailing social standards
figgerin’: slang figuring
grimacing: making a pained expression
husky: big and strong
outfit: a group associated in an undertaking requiring close cooperation
racked-up: slang battered
raving: talking wildly
roughneck: a course, tough person
spruced up: slang dressed up
static: slang trouble
1. In Chapter 9,...
(The entire section is 391 words.)
delirious: in a disturbed, incoherent mental state
stupor: a daze
1. Why is Ponyboy able to handle Johnny’s death in a way that Dally cannot?
Dally doesn’t love anything except Johnny, whereas Ponyboy loves other people, too.
2. How does Dally die? Is it his plan?
Dally robs a grocery store, and the police chase after him. When they catch up to him, Dally pulls out a gun; the police then shoot him. Ponyboy realizes this is exactly what Dally wanted to happen....
(The entire section is 228 words.)
1. What makes Ponyboy wonder about what Bob Sheldon was like?
Ponyboy sees Bob’s yearbook picture. He notices his smile was a little like Soda’s. He wonders what Bob was like as a friend and if he had been someone’s brother.
2. Why does Ponyboy hope that Bob’s parents hate Ponyboy and the gang?
He hopes they hate them because he doesn’t want their pity.
3. What bothers Ponyboy about his school friends seeing his house?
Most of Ponyboy’s friends are middle class. Ponyboy feels his neighborhood and his house...
(The entire section is 291 words.)
acquitted: absolved from blame
get split: slang get hurt
lousing up: slang making mistakes
veered: changed direction
welled up: rose up
1. How do Darry and Soda respond to the judge’s questioning about Dally, and why does it represent a risk for the Curtis brothers?
When the judge asks about the nature of the boys’ relationship with Dally, Darry and Soda both testify that he was a good friend. They are loyal to Dally. Dally’s criminal record suggests the boys’ association with him does not show the best judgment and could threaten their staying...
(The entire section is 411 words.)
1. All of the following are members of Ponyboy’s gang EXCEPT:
A. Steve Randle
B. Two-Bit Matthews
C. Dallas Winston
D. Johnny Cade
E. Tim Shepard
2. Sodapop can best be described as
A. handsome and happy-go-lucky.
B. handsome and serious.
C. playful and sensitive.
D. rough and angry.
E. intelligent and sensitive.
3. Cherry Valance is drawn to Dally because
A. he’s handsome.
B. he’s a leader.
C. he’s a greaser....
(The entire section is 1239 words.)
1. The novel frequently references the Southern gentlemen of Gone with the Wind—heroic, well-mannered, charming men who rode “into sure death because they were gallant.” Describe the ways in which Dally, Darry, and Johnny are like these men. How does each character compare to the conventional idea of the hero? What heroic trait do they share?
Dally’s, Darry’s, and Johnny’s gallant acts appear different from one another, and they don’t seem like heroes at all in the conventional sense. However, just like the Southern gentlemen of Gone with the Wind, each character acts in the interest of others at great sacrifice to himself.
Darry is the most conventional hero, in that he is strong,...
(The entire section is 1853 words.)