The Outsiders Questions and Answers
by S. E. Hinton

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What Is The Theme Of The Outsiders

What is the major theme in the Outsiders?

The main theme in The Outsiders is social and class conflict. This theme is demonstrated through the two gangs, the Socs and the Greasers. The differences in values and socioeconomic status between the poor Greasers and the wealthy Socs have made them rivals. Over the course of the novel, Ponyboy, a Greaser, realizes that neither gang is inherently better than the other and that everyone, regardless of class, experiences hardships and struggles. Ultimately, Ponyboy learns that the violent class conflict between the gangs is harmful and unproductive for all involved.

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mwestwood, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One of the main themes is reflected in the title, The Outsiders Ponyboy and his brothers are lack the "normal" comforts of having parents and a real family. They are also outside the socio-economic level that is considered respectable. Because they are outside the borders of what is considered socially acceptable, Ponyboy, his brothers, and his friends are labeled "greasers," a pejorative term. 

Ponyboy cannot help feeling that life has been unfair to his brothers and him.  After all, they have lost their parents. As a consequence, Soda has dropped out of school to work at a gas station. Ponyboy's older brother Darry has assumed the responsibility of acting as a surrogate father to Ponyboy; Darry also works two jobs to try to support his brothers. Unfortunately, their lack of financial security and their social class are the causes of several conflicts. 

One of the greatest of these conflicts is the social conflict between the Greasers and the Socs, the upper-class boys. The Socs had previously beaten Ponyboy's friend Johnny Cade so severely that Johnny now carries a switchblade. But Johnny seems destined for misfortune. In Chapter 3, Johnny tells Pony that he will not commit suicide, but he is very frustrated.

But I gotta do something. It seems like there's gotta be someplace without greasers or Socs, with just people. Plain, ordinary people.

Sadly, the only place he finds a short respite from the gang conflict is in the church where he and Pony hide and where, ironically, he is later severely injured.

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One of the most dominant themes in The Outsiders is that of class conflict.  The beginning of the novel strongly introduces this theme as a group of Socs, the West Side rich kids, jump and terrorize Ponyboy, a young boy from the East Side:

"Hey, grease," one said in an over-friendly voice.  "We're gonna do you a favor, greaser.  We're gonna cut all that long greasy hair off" (5).

The Socs target Ponyboy because of his social status as a greaser; the differences between the values and socio-economic status of the greasers and Socs in The Outsiders have turned the two groups against each other in animosity.  Each group targets the other as an enemy, and because of their different lifestyles and the resulting stereotypes, each side despises the other.  The greasers are seen as hoods and juvenile delinquents by the Socs while the greasers perceive the Socs as the group that "has all the breaks" with their "tuff" mustangs and madras shirts.  The class conflict between Socs and greasers drives the plotline of the novel, becoming one of the most important themes in The Outsiders.

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brittanytitus | Student

There are several major themes in The Outsiders. One example is that of friendship. Ponyboy and his brothers lost their parents, so their friends in their gang, the Greasers, become their family.They are each other's support system. Many of the boys do not have parents that care for them, so the boys protect, encourage, and take provide for each other instead. Ponyboy states, “Or I could have gotten one of the gang to come along, one of the four boys Darry and Soda and I have grown up with and consider family. We're almost as close as brothers; when you grow up in a tight-knit neighborhood like ours you get to know each other real well” (Hinton 4). Each character relies on their gang member when in tough times; for example, when Johnny kills Bob, he relies on Ponyboy to help him escape to the church to get away from the fuzz (police).

lightlightjay | Student

I think that one of the themes that the author is teaching us is that people shouldn't separate just because of how much money they have or their background. I think this because if the Socs and the Greasers weren't separated the Socs wouldn't have been jumping Ponyboy so that Johnny wouldn't have killed the Soc that was trying to kill Ponyboy.

ik9744 | Student

The fight between good and.evil.

lisaroderick | Student

Bridging the gap between rich and poor, honor among the lawless, the treacherousness of male-female interactions are all themes in this piece of literature