Gangs are everywhere. Look at schools. School have groups of "athletes", "goths" "geeks", and etc. Society divides groups based on religion, culture, race, sexual orientation, age, economics, and etc. The people in these "groups" whether in school or society in general are judged according to their group affiliation.
The Outsiders was actually published when the author was only 17 years old. Consider that it was written directly from the perspective of a teenager - experiencing life and writing about it.
That said, she does an effective job on a couple things:
- Presenting social circles (or stereotypical social circles) that largely still exist in American high schools.
- Teenage anger and angst - especially from the perspective of a group of kids who aren't growing up in suburban, middle class, comfortable homes.
- The social force driving gangs and gang activity: the need for inclusion, the sticking up for one another like family (especially for kids who do not have a traditional family), the hatred of rival gangs on the basis of a rivalry - not necessarily anything directly personal.
If we take two fundamental elements from Hinton's work in terms of youth and alienation of voice, we can see many connections between the work and American Culture. The fact that the story takes place primarily through the eyes, voices, and experiences of young people helps to bring to light the youth element of American culture in Post World War II America. The youth movement gained traction in the 1950s, as the "rebel" became something to be admired and, to an extent, feared in a socially conventional manner. This idea is heavily present in the novel, as the youth narrative is its driving force. Along these lines, the alienation of voice and the negation of experience from the normative social point of view is another element of American culture present in the novel. The Greasers are socially maligned and struggle to have their voice validated by a setting that does not acknowledge their own narrative. It is in this light that much can be seen as parallel to American culture. The Civil Rights Movement that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s was animated by the spirit of validating voice and experience, even though the prevailing social order failed to do so. These themes can be evident in both the work and American culture of the time period.