Critical Context

The publication of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders in 1967 introduced a new form of realism to adolescent literature. Her frank depiction of poverty, family conflicts, addiction, and violence shocked some readers and caused some critics to accuse her of romanticizing the street-tough teenagers and their lives. Young adult readers, however, responded overwhelmingly to The Outsiders, as well as to Hinton’s subsequent works. Rumble Fish has been praised for its memorable dialogue and fast-paced narrative, although some critics believe that it lacks the innovation of her earlier novels.

Most readers agree that Hinton’s power lies in her development of sympathetic characters whose stories reveal an unnerving slice of teenage America. Hinton examines the divisive nature of adolescent experience, the complicated relationships between individuals and groups, and, in the case of Rumble Fish, the tragic consequences of the ways in which some teenagers approach life. The timeless truth of this revelation appeals to young readers, and film versions of Rumble Fish, The Outsiders, That Was Then, This Is Now (1971), and Tex (1979) have been popular. Hinton’s message about the cruelty of the streets goes beyond the familiar stereotypes to illuminate the real problems and, unfortunately, the lack of many real solutions to these common social crises.