How is there a sense of futility in The Outsiders?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The very real sense of futility that exists in this novel emerges from the way that the author presents the class conflict between the Socs and the greasers. It is clear that the two rival worlds will never be bridged. Although understanding is reached by Cheryl and Ponyboy, for example, their differences remain just as insurmountable as ever. Although Cheryl helps them, she still does not want to go and see Johnny, even though it was her boyfriend who initiated the fight that ended in his death. The novel presents us with the grim reality of class differences that results in violence.

Even at the end of the novel, which ends more optimistically, the importance of the fraternal unity of Ponyboy and his brothers is important precisely because of the kind of world that they are in that gives them so few opportunities and the Socs so many. After reading Johnny's final letter, Ponyboy is inspired to try to do something to change the situation, yet the way that he describes it suggests that change will be very hard to bring about:

I could picture hundreds and hundreds of boys living on the wrong sides of cities, boys with black eyes who jumped at their own shadows. Hundreds of boys who maybe watched sunsets and looked at stars and ached for something better. I could see boys going down under street lights because they were mean and tough and hated the world, and it was too late to tell them that there was still good in it, and they wouldn't believe you if you did. It was too vast a problem to be just a personal thing.

Thus, although Ponyboy tries to change the situation, the overwhelming message of the novel is the futility of trying to change such a deep endemic system of class that gives so much to one group and takes so much from another.

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