S. E. Hinton uses numerous literary devices in The Outsiders. The novel has a frame, but this is not apparent until the end, when the reader learns that Ponyboy has written the story as part of a class assignment. The primary device that Hinton employs for this narrative is first-person perspective. By making this consistent throughout the book, the author establishes a clear voice for this character, which contributes to the nuanced characterization.
In addition, the diction that she employs for Ponyboy is consistent with his being an adolescent boy. He uses a number of literary devices of the type that a teenager might use. He uses a simile, a comparison of unlike things using “like” or “as,” to describe his brother Darry, saying that he has “eyes that are like two pieces of pale blue-green ice.”
Ponyboy sometimes combines a simile with an allusion, a reference to a literary work, person, or event. An example is his description of Two-Bit as “grinning like a Chessy cat.” The allusion is to the Cheshire Cat character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland; this error makes the phrase fit what a teenager might say if he had heard the phrase but not read it.
In the dialogue, the other teenagers as well as Pony use diction consistent with their characters’ ages. They often employ hyperbole, or extreme exaggeration for effect. Early in the novel when the girls call the boys “greasers,” Ponyboy reflects, “I had heard the same tone a million times.” When Dally offers Cherry a Coke, she refuses, saying, “I wouldn’t drink it if I was starving in the desert.”
One of the central metaphors that evolves in The Outsiders is the color gold. It originates from the poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost, which Ponyboy recites to Johnny while they are hiding at the church. In it, the speaker says this:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
And the poem concludes,
Nothing gold can stay.
Later as Johnny dies, he tells Pony to "Stay gold." The color gold becomes a metaphor in the novel for the fleeting beauty of life. It represents a tender innocence that ends too quickly. Johnny's own life is an example of one touched by gold, and he hopes that Pony won't lose that quality and become hardened to life like most of the gang as he gets older.
Another literary device is the symbolic use of a church as the place to which Johnny and Pony escape and hide. Historically, churches have always provided a sanctuary to those fleeing persecution, and that is exactly what happens for Johnny and Pony. In the church, they are safe and even enjoy a sense of freedom that they never experience at home in the world of constant conflict with the Socs. It is in the church that the boys save a group of innocent children from fire, and Johnny ultimately sacrifices his life for this salvation. This ultimate act of sacrifice is also closely associated with religious views of a church, so Johnny's act in this particular setting further develops his characterization.
There are probably well over 100 different literary devices used in The Outsiders. Something as "normal" as dialogue is technically a literary device. Dialogue is used throughout this great story, and dialogue can be a powerful characterization tool. Hinton uses dialogue to characterize the Greasers because the dialogue makes use of dialect. Dialect refers to the language used by the people of a specific area, class, and/or any other group of people. It will often involve using and manipulating the spelling and grammar of the dialogue to distinguish that person or group from other people around them. Hinton uses dialect in the dialogue of the Greasers to show that they are a more informal and a less educated group. For example, notice the use of "ain't" in the following quote:
"Leave my kid brother alone, you hear? It ain't his fault he likes to go to the movies, and it ain't his fault the Socs like to jump us, and if he had
been carrying a blade it would have been a good excuse to cut him to ribbons."
Another great literary device that Hinton uses is flashback. A flashback is an interruption that inserts past events to provide readers with background information that more clearly explains present situations or characters. A great flashback occurs in chapter 2. Readers get told about Johnny being nearly beaten to death by the Socs, and the flashback helps explain the previous characterization of how Johnny is a lot like a scared puppy.
The use of description/detail is one device used very effectively in the novel. The detail is spare in volume, but makes a vivid impact when used. An example would be when the church was burning, and the description of the cinders blowing in the air is truly visual. The description, involving the use of slang, is also effective. Referring to groups of people , as "soc" or "greaser" , gives the reader a lot of information on lifestyles, socio-economic status, and beliefs just by their label.
Allusion is what Ponyboy uses to relate a situation without an extensive amount of description. He will refer to specific literature to compare the situation, and this gives the reader an idea of it without two pages of dialogue or narration to describe it.