The Outsiders Themes


Class Conflict

Issues of American economic class are confronted head on by the portrayal of the rival gangs as rich and poor. The rich Socs "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." The poor greasers, conversely, "steal things and drive old souped-up cars and hold up gas stations and have a gang fight once in a while." Each group views the other as the enemy and "that's just the way things are." But circumstances will at least reveal to a few that everyone is human—although there will still be a rivalry.

Cherry offers her opinion that it is not just a difference in money: "You greasers have a different set of values. You're more emotional. We're sophisticated—cool to the point of not feeling anything ... Rat race is a perfect name for [our life]." This leads Pony to wonder if perhaps it is just natural for the two classes to be separate and unequal—a fact that haunts Johnny's decision to turn himself in. He knows that the courts stereotype all greasers as juvenile delinquents. Still, Ponyboy comes to understand that Socs and greasers have similarities: "It seemed funny to me that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren't so different. We saw the same sunset."

That is as far as the bridge is going to extend between the two worlds. Cherry warns that in public she will have to appear to ignore him as usual, "it's not personal or anything." Pony then says Two-Bit is smart for throwing away a false phone number Marcia gave him: "he knew the score." To give her credit, Cherry does act as a go-between in terms of the rumble, but there is no hint of change. Indeed, Cherry's help may simply be an attempt to appease her own conscience. Finally, all contact is lost after Bob's death. Cherry cannot bear to resume the effort of bridging the gap with the group who killed her boyfriend—despite the fact that Bob brought it on himself.

In sum, the portrayal of class that Hinton makes simply outlines the facts. There is no attempt to suggest a way of bringing the classes together. Nor is there a criticism of either side, because both sides are at fault. The only optimism this novel offers is that members of the two sides can learn to understand one another, even if they still fight. In the end, greasers will be greasers and Socs will be Socs.

Search for Self

Ponyboy has all the worries of a boy his age; is he strong, brave, or handsome enough to match up to the masculine ideal? In Pony's case, the ideal is a cross between Soda and Darry. He wants to be handsome and appealing to everyone, but he also wants to be tough, full of sense, and a good fighter. He is none of these things. Everyone in the gang is cautious around Pony because they already recognize that he is something special in his own right. As Two-Bit says, in response to a headline, "Y'all were heroes from the beginning." Pony doesn't seem to understand this, however.

When others tell him they are impressed by his rescue of the children, Pony shrugs and says that anyone would have done the same. But not everyone would have rushed into a flaming building to rescue someone he didn't know; few also have the courage to hold off a gang of Socs. The brilliance of this last episode is how it reveals Pony is learning something which he sensed at the rumble, but only confronts in the writing of the tale.

In this last confrontation, Pony makes the Socs back down with a broken bottle, giving every appearance of having become a young tough hood. Two-Bit witnesses this and is concerned: "Ponyboy, listen, don't get tough. You're not like the rest of us and don't try to be...." But tough hoods don't get hurt, Pony thinks in response. They also do not pick up glass shards off the street, which Pony proceeds to do. This relieves Two-Bit, who suddenly realizes Pony is still himself,...

(The entire section is 1643 words.)