In S. E. Hinton's classic novel The Outsiders, the Greasers and Socs are rival gangs, which are engaged in a tragic, ever-going conflict that leads to death and trauma for both social groups. The members of the Soc gang hail from affluent families and reside on the rich West Side of town, while the Greasers grow up in dysfunctional homes and live on the poorer East Side. The Socs are clean-cut teenagers, who wear madras shirts, have tight haircuts, and drive expensive, flashy cars like Mustangs and Corvairs. In contrast, the Greasers are rough-looking teenagers, who wear leather jackets and have long, slick hair.
Since the Socs hail from wealthy families and dress nice, they have a better reputation than the Greasers and enjoy their privileged status. Socs typically get away with the crimes they commit and are portrayed as entitled, superficial adolescents. Unlike the Greasers, the Socs are callous, aloof individuals, who are more concerned with keeping up appearances than being authentic, genuine people. The Greasers do not enjoy the same privileges as Socs, and the authorities blame them for most of the issues in town. The Greasers are also more emotional than the Socs and value friendship over appearances and status.
Despite their many differences, the Greasers and Socs share some similarities. Both social groups engage in deleterious actions, commit crimes, and experience teenage angst. They also suffer from stereotyping and are outsiders in their communities. The Socs do not live up to their society's expectations, and the Greasers feel abandoned by their community. The members of both gangs deal with significant problems in life and must overcome certain obstacles. The teenagers in both gangs also experience identity issues, endure trauma, and deal with peer pressure.
While they are from differing socio-economic classes, both the Socs and the Greasers suffer from teen angst, among which are the desire for acceptance as individuals as well as having a common identity, a disappointment in adults and society in general, and an attempt to reconcile their individual perspectives with that of others. In addition, they both resent stereotyping. Sadly, both groups have members who, as Jay Daly writes, carry their "innocence/youth/idealism" to the extreme that all of these are transformed into dangerous and detrimental traits.
Each group has its pessimists and its optimists. Cherry Valance sees goodness in Pony and attempts to reconcile the conflicts between the groups, but, unfortunately, she is killed. Others who retain positive attitudes are Soda and Darry, who differ from Johnny and Dally because they survive without losing their goodness, their "goldness." This "goldness" is achieved through their sacrifices and solicitude toward Ponyboy. But, Ponyboy recognizes that, as Frost writes, "Nothing gold can stay" and he achieves at the end a maturity.
In the beginning of the novel Ponyboy focuses on how different the Greasers and Socs are. for example, the biggest difference is the socioeconomic status and all the implications that it comes with. The Greasers tend to be poor. They live in the poorer part of town, they don't wear expensive clothing, they're rough around the edges, they're associated with engaging in more criminal activities and drive cars they are able to work on and fix up. On the other hand, the Socs have everything money can buy. They live in the nicer part of town, they have fancy clothes and cars, they do commit crimes, but get away with it because of the influence that comes with their money. They drink a lot, but mostly because they are bored and have everything they could possibly want. However, as stated previously, they do share some similarities. Both groups engage in criminal activities, both groups also deal with problems. In the beginning of the novel, Cherry points this out when she says, "Things are rough all over."
The outcome of the novel, after Dallas, Ponyboy and Johnny rescue the children from the burning house on the poor side of town, demonstrates that the judgments made about the different groups can be overcome by individual actions. The Greasers, being poor and known for mischief and disruptive behavior, prove that their ringleaders are compassionate, brave and of good moral character when they risk their lives to help strangers. Cherry, one of the Socs, is a character who manages to make overtures to help bridge the gaps between the two groups, but this happens mainly because both Dallas and Ponyboy are attracted to her. She and Ponyboy discuss the fact that the stars in the sky are visible from both sides of the town they live in, calling attention to their similarities. The title of the novel itself implies one of the groups is made up of outsiders, when in reality, both sides are removed from society because of the various socioeconomic and cultural factors that set them apart.
Besides the monetary differences between the socs and the greasers, there is also the issue of appearance as a result of background -- the "greasers" are called such because of the greasy state of their hair. And while it is true that a fashion of the time was to add oil to one's hair, the greasers' "dos" seem to be a result primarily of poor grooming and lack of hygiene.
In contrast, the socs, having come from a more affluent background, have all the benefits of wealth: clean, neat personal appearance, the latest fashions, slick cars, etc. They are the social elite of this novel, whereas the greasers are considered the poorer, second-class citizens.
Depending upon which of the socs or greasers we are talking about, there are also individual differences in the characters comprising each class or group. For instance, even within the greasers we have sensitive boys and tough boys, just as the socs have a variety of personalities, as well.
The Socials and the Greasers were different in many ways. There are a few that are obvious and others that are not. First, there is the issue of money. Socials were rich kids from the West Side. Greasers were generally poor and lived on the East Side of town. Then, there is the way they are perceived by the public. Greasers were seen as unruly and unlawful. They were looked at as if they were dirty because of their long, greased hair. Socials were seen as good kids who did not get into any trouble. They dressed well and drove nice cars. Next, greasers liked to go the movies or hang out with their friends. To them their "gang" was family. They were known for petty theft and causing other small disturbances. They also liked to smoke cigarettes, drink, and some liked to fight. Socials like to throw parties. They played football or were cheerleaders. They also drank, but were not looked down on by society. Finally, greasers were very emotional. They felt almost violently. Socials were "cool to the point of not feeling anything".
The Greasers are a group of boys who live in the poor part of town, whereas the Socs are a gang that are from the wealthy area of town.
After the movie at the drive in, Ponyboy has a discussion with Cherry Valence about the difference between Greasers and Socs. Based on meeting the two Soc girls, Pony thinks that they are very similar in that they are all teenagers with similar interests, except "They liked the Beatles and thought Elvis Preseley was out, and we thought he Beatles were rank, and that Elvis was tuff. But that seemed the only difference to me" (Chap 3).
Cherry points out that Socs and Greasers have a different set of values, though. The Soc's are aloof, cold and don't show feelings, whereas with the Greasers emotions run high.
Tim Shepherd's group is an organized gang, while Ponyboy's is more like a group of guys who just hang out together. Ponyboy explains the difference between the two, saying:
"the difference between (Tim Shepherd's) gang and ours - they (have) a leader and (are) organized; we (are) just buddies who (stick) together - each man (is) his own leader".
Tim Shepherd "enjoy(s) being a hood...the rest of his bunch (are) the same way...young hoods - who would grow up to be old hoods". They consciously flout their identity as part of a gang, relishing fights and engaging in petty crime. There is an edge to their personas, and they exist on the outside of accepted social norms.
Ponyboy's gang is more like a family; they keep an open door policy and exist primarily as a means of support for each other when family life or other forces get rough. It is true that the guys in the group like to fight as well, but for them it has as much to do with youthful energy as it does with rivalry with the other gangs. The members of Ponyboy's gang follow strict codes of honor and fairness, but Darry, who is their unheralded leader, aspires to achieve better things for his life and the lives of his brothers. As Ponyboy says, "He's better than the rest of us...he's going somewhere...and I was going to be like him...I wasn't going to live in a lousy neighborhood all my life" (Chapter 9).
Chapter 2 presents a few ways that Socs and Greasers differ, to add to the general variations outlined in Chapter 1. Greasers are poor and have "gangs", and Socs are rich and have "social clubs". They hang out in different places - Ponyboy says that "the Socs go to The Way Out and to Rusty's, and the Greasers go to "The Dingo and to Jay's".
Aside from these details, the main idea of the Chapter is that, despite their differences, there is a lot that is the same about the two groups. Both Socs and Greasers get in trouble, and they fight, and although it is easy to resort to sterotyping, both groups are made up of unique individuals. Cherry describes the situation succinctly when she says, "All Socs aren't like that...that's like saying all you Greasers are like Dally Winston". Cherry also notes that individuals in both groups face hardships in their lives. She sums it up with the observation, "I'll bet you think the Socs have it made, the rich kids...I'll tell you something...and it may come as a surprise. We have troubles you've never even heard of...things are tough all over" (Chapter 2).
In the S. E. Hinton novel, The Outsiders, there are two groups of characters--the greasers and the socs. The greasers are a gang of poor teenagers with dysfunctional family situations, and the socs are a group of wealthier teenagers with better family circumstances.
Oddly enough, the socs are more like a gang than the greasers. They are the teenagers who show up at the drive in movie theater drunk. They are the teenagers that follow the greasers as the walk Cherry and her friend home. The socs are the teenagers who attack Johnny and Ponyboy in the park--almost drowning Ponyboy before Johnny is forced into killing one of them to save Ponyboy. The teenagers who have been given every advantage in life are actually the ones functioning with a gang mentality.
The greasers who have had every disadvantage life could throw at them, however, are the ones who seem more civil. Circumstances have melded them into a strong knit family. Johnny and Ponyboy are polite to the soc girls who find themselves in need of escorts after the movie. Johnny risks his own life to save Johnny when the socs are trying to drown him. They run to Dally for advice and he helps them to the best of his present ability. When Ponyboy and Johnny find themselves at the scene of the burning church which had children inside, they didn't hesitate to rush in and save the children. One of the socs later said, he would never have considered putting himself in danger to do that.
Clearly the greasers would be expected to be the more aggressive and less socially approriate, but the socs are actually more aggresive and socially unacceptable in this novel.