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.

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Because of the various conflicts in the novel, there are several themes which you could aptly discuss in The Outsiders. In addition to the ones mentioned by the other educators, one prevalent theme in this work is the importance of family.

Ponyboy struggles to connect with his oldest brother, Darry, early in the novel. It is Darry's slap in the face that prompts Pony to flee home on the fateful night when Johnny kills Bob. Pony is convinced that Darry doesn't love him, and since his parents have died, he feels particularly rejected by Darry's actions. It isn't until after the fire that Pony begins to understand that Darry is simply struggling with the new task of being Pony's guardian; Darry is young himself and has never had to act as a parent before. After this, Pony is desperate to remain with his brothers and worries that the courts will decide that he must be placed elsewhere. He comes to deeply value the connections to both brothers, becoming more understanding of Darry's position and learning that he shouldn't take Sodapop's easygoing nature for granted, either.

Johnny is Pony's closest friend in the gang, and he has perhaps the worst home life of all of the boys. In fact, he often avoids going home because of the abuse he suffers when he is there. The gang adopts Johnny as their extended family, and when he is in the hospital, the support Johnny receives from his friends compared to the isolation and abuse he receives from his parents becomes sadly evident. Johnny's conflict demonstrates that family can sometimes be found within the supportive relationship of close friends.

The conflicts of these two characters provide evidence that the bonds of family offer the support needed to endure life's trials. For more assistance with themes in The Outsiders, see the link below.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 17, 2020
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One of the themes of The Outsiders is the way in which gangs can give young men a sense of identity. As they are presented in the story, gangs can act as a kind of surrogate family, providing the solidarity, security, and mutual support normally associated with the family unit.

This is not to say that Hinton in any way condones gang life or the violence and hatred that it generates. However, she does invite us to try and understand just why it is that young men join gangs in the first place and what they hope to gain from the experience.

The character of Darry gives us a good example of someone for whom a street gang acts as a surrogate family. With both his parents dead, he has to look to his fellow Greasers for love and support. At the same time, Darry still has to hold his family together, but to a large extent, his personal identity is bound up with his membership of the Greasers.

Even so, he still recognizes that gang life isn't for everybody, which is why he wants his kid brother Ponyboy to succeed in life and to avail himself of the educational opportunities he missed out on due to their parents' untimely deaths. Darry recognizes that Ponyboy's identity isn't as closely bound up with the Greasers as his.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 7, 2020
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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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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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