What are some man vs. ____ conflicts in the novel The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton?

Man vs Man is shown through the feud between the Greasers and the Socs. Meanwhile, Man vs Society can be seen in the social/economic class struggles of the characters, namely that of the Greasers, who are poor and struggle to fit in with the rest of society. Man vs Nature happens as Johnny and Pony save the children from the church fire, Johnny getting seriously hurt in the process. Man vs Self conflict is in Pony dealing with his guilt over the deaths of Dally and Johnny.

 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Outsiders there are both internal and external conflicts. The two overriding conflicts are man versus himself and man versus society. Throughout the novel, Ponyboy endures an internal struggle to find out who he is as a person outside of his role in his gang, the greasers. After he loses his parents, the greasers became his family, and his identity is wrapped up in his image as a gang member. But as Ponyboy gets older, his deep interests in education and literature cause him to question what he wants to be and do in life. This is intertwined with the external conflict of man versus society, which is played out through the events of the novel. The greasers are treated as less than others, especially by their rival gang, the Socs, who look down on them and sometimes physically attack them. Another important struggle in the story is the external conflict between the greasers and society. Ponyboy and his friends suffer from negative perceptions about them and low expectations of their possibilities. The Socs taunt them with words such as:

Greaser ... greaser ... greaser ... [...] Oh victim of environment, underprivileged, rotten no-count hood.

Because Ponyboy is interested in Cherry, a Soc girl from the wealthy West Side, he wants to prove that these perceptions are only stereotypes. Cherry can tell that Pony likes to read and that, like her, he likes to watch sunsets. Pony reflects,

It seemed funny to me that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.

In addition to these overriding conflicts, there are instances of man versus man in the conflict between the greasers and the Socs, and man versus nature when the church catches on fire.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 17, 2020
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Some conflicts in The Outsiders are man vs. man, man vs. society and man vs. self.

An example of a man vs. man conflict in the story is the greasers vs. the Socs.  This is the larger conflict, which can be broken down into specific conflicts between characters.  One such conflict occurs in the fight between Johnny and Bob in the park during the rumble that resulted in Bob’s death.  Ponyboy explains that the fighting between the greasers and the Socs often occurs just because it has been perpetuated from one jumping or rumble to the next, or because of the general class differences between the two, and not for any specific reason.  This is evident in the way that Bob attacks Ponyboy and Johnny in the park.

Bob shook his head, smiling slowly. "You could use a bath, greaser. And a good working over. And we've got all night to do it. Give the kid a bath, David." (Ch. 4)

The conflict between the greasers and the Socs led directly to the conflict between Bob and Johnny, which led to Bob’s death.  Johnny was just defending himself.  He did not mean to kill Bob, and his killing Bob is what caused him to flee.  All because greasers simply cannot get along with Socs.

This brings us to the second conflict, man vs. society.  This occurs on a more global level.  It involves a conflict with the world around a character.  It is the problem that created the greasers and the Socs: class differences.  There is a huge socioeconomic difference between the two classes.  Pony explains the difference between the two groups in terms of social class. 

We're poorer than the Socs and the middle class. I reckon we're wilder, too. Not like the Socs, who jump greasers and wreck houses and throw beer blasts for kicks… (Ch. 1)

It is this difference in social class that leads to the man vs. society conflict that the greasers have.  Some of the greasers have a chip on their shoulder that causes them to attack the world, but many of them are just fighting to survive.  While the Socs can leave once they are done getting their kicks, the greasers are trapped.  They are in an endless cycle of poverty and violence, targeted by Socs and having fewer opportunities.

Finally, there is the man vs. self conflict.  This kind of conflict involves a fear, a choice, or a decision.  This is faced by Ponyboy, who is more thoughtful and insightful than most of the young people in the book.  He wants to end the cycle of poverty by getting an education.  However, he gets caught up in the incident at the park and has to go on the run.  He wants to support Johnny, and his brothers, and the other greasers.  He is proud of who he is, but he also does not want this life.  He does not really want to be a greaser.  It is a decision and a conflict that weighs on him.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Man vs. Man Conflict--  Much of the conflict in the novel revolves around the two gangs, the Greasers vs. the Socs, the rich kids on the other side of town.

Man vs. Self Conflict-- Ponyboy copes with grief and guilt after the deaths of Dally and Johnny. 

Man vs. Nature-- Johnny and Pony rush into the fiery church to save the children who are trapped inside, and Johnny is seriously injured from a falling beam.

Man vs. Society--With their long, oily hair, the Greasers, a gang of teenagers living on the poor eastside, struggle to fit into society.  For example, Ponyboy genuinely likes Cherry, but their blossoming relationship is strained by the difference in their social circles.

 

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial