In The Outsiders, the lament that life isn't fair is a major theme. Discuss.

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Hinton explores the themes of inequality and discrimination through her portrayal of how the Greasers are treated by their peers and society in general. Hinton also examines how the Socs struggle with similar issues despite their privileged social status. Pony continually laments that he is "marked lousy" simply because he is a Greaser, and he compares himself to Pip from Dickens's classic novel Great Expectations. Pony's allusion emphasizes how people view him with contempt because of his lower-class background, appearance, and social group. Even though Pony is portrayed as a sensitive, intelligent, athletic adolescent with a bright future, he is viewed with contempt and discriminated against by his peers and authority figures, which is unfair and inaccurate. In chapter 3, Pony says,

It ain't fair! . . . It ain't fair that we have all the rough breaks! (38)

Pony believes that the circumstances surrounding himself, his brothers, and close friends are undeserved and unfair. Pony finds it unfair that Two-Bit, Dally, and Steve come from broken homes and believes that it is unfair that Darry was forced to give up a college scholarship to support his family after the death of their parents. Darry also resents the fact that he had to give up his dreams of playing football in college in order to work two jobs to make ends meet.

In addition to the Greasers' view that life isn't fair, Cherry Valance and Randy Adderson also experience similar feelings regarding their social group. Cherry feels that it isn't fair that people believe her life is easy. She explains to Pony that her friends are callous and compares her life to a constant rat race. Randy also laments the fact that he will be ostracized for not participating in the rumble. Overall, Hinton explores how both privileged and lower-class adolescents experience inequality and discrimination to various degrees by illustrating how both social groups are perceived and treated by others.

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You could link this theme in with the idea of class consciousness and how the world of this novel presents us with two very stratified groups that seem to shape so much of your life whether you want them to or not. Being born into the working class means that you are a "greaser" and because of that you are looked down on by society. As Ponyboy says in his introduction, Socs are attacked by the press one minute and then praised for their contribution to society the next. Greasers receive no such ambivalence from society. They are the outcasts, the "outsiders" whether they like it or not.

Apart from this general treatment of the unfairness of life, for a specific example, you might want to look at Darry. In Chapter Eight, Two-Bit makes a fascinating remark, saying that the only thing that keeps Darry from being a Soc is the gang. Ponyboy comments:

I had known it for a long time. In spite of not having much money, the only reason Darry couldn't be a Soc was us. The gang. Me and Soda. Darry was too smart to be a greaser. I don't know how I knew, I just did. And I was kind of sorry.

Darry had the necessary talent to go to college and receive a scholarship, however the unfortunate demise of his parents meant he had to become a breadwinner and get a job instead. Life was certainly not fair for Darry, forcing him into a menial job when he was capable of making so much more of himself. This is, of course, why he is so hard on Ponyboy--because he wants him to have the opportunities that life did not give him.

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Hinton underlines this fact at one turn after another in the novel. It isn't fair that some people seem to be born with easier lives than others and that Pony and his brothers are constantly struggling to thrive. It isn't fair that they have lost their parents, causing Darry to have to give up on his own dreams so that he can give Pony a better life. It isn't fair that good-natured, easygoing Soda has a girlfriend who isn't faithful and ends up pregnant by another guy. It isn't fair that Johnny, who is beaten and not loved by anyone except the guys in the group, valiantly risks his life to save a group of kids and then dies because of his efforts.

"Life isn't fair" is a pretty trite cliche, but there is still truth in it. Life seems to have its own directions, and bad things often happen to really good people. In the end, it's what you do with those experiences that makes the difference in life. Darry shoulders the responsibility. Soda offers to raise a baby who isn't his. Pony writes to remember those he's loved and lost. These are the true tests of character and prove what people are really made of.

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