In what way is there a sense of futility in the text The Outsiders?

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The very real sense of futility that exists in this novel emerges from the way that the author presents the class conflict between the Socs and the greasers. It is clear that the two rival worlds will never be bridged. Although understanding is reached by Cheryl and Ponyboy , for...

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The very real sense of futility that exists in this novel emerges from the way that the author presents the class conflict between the Socs and the greasers. It is clear that the two rival worlds will never be bridged. Although understanding is reached by Cheryl and Ponyboy, for example, their differences remain just as insurmountable as ever. Although Cheryl helps them, she still does not want to go and see Johnny, even though it was her boyfriend who initiated the fight that ended in his death. The novel presents us with the grim reality of class differences that results in violence.

Even at the end of the novel, which ends more optimistically, the importance of the fraternal unity of Ponyboy and his brothers is important precisely because of the kind of world that they are in that gives them so few opportunities and the Socs so many. After reading Johnny's final letter, Ponyboy is inspired to try to do something to change the situation, yet the way that he describes it suggests that change will be very hard to bring about:

I could picture hundreds and hundreds of boys living on the wrong sides of cities, boys with black eyes who jumped at their own shadows. Hundreds of boys who maybe watched sunsets and looked at stars and ached for something better. I could see boys going down under street lights because they were mean and tough and hated the world, and it was too late to tell them that there was still good in it, and they wouldn't believe you if you did. It was too vast a problem to be just a personal thing.

Thus, although Ponyboy tries to change the situation, the overwhelming message of the novel is the futility of trying to change such a deep endemic system of class that gives so much to one group and takes so much from another.

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In chapter seven, a major sense of futility develops as the characters, particularly Randy and Ponyboy, realize that no amount of fighting or rumbles can ever change the difficult situation between the greasers and Socs.  After Bob's death, Randy visits with Ponyboy and confesses that he "is sick of all this. Sick and tired" (116).  The grim reality of Bob's death has shaken him, giving Randy the realization that the vicious circumstances separating greasers and Socs cannot be easily mended.  He shares this belief with Ponyboy, hoping to convince him of the futility of fighting in another rumble:

"You can't win, you know that, don't you? [...] You can't win, even if you whip us.  You'll still be where you were before--at the bottom.  And we'll still be the lucky ones with all the breaks" (117).

Through the sum of their difficult experiences, Randy and Ponyboy have both come to realize the pointlessness and futility of the greaser and Soc feud.

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Futility is when nothing that you do matters -- things go wrong and you can't fix them, you are powerless.

You can see this to some extent in the lives of most of the people in the book.  For example, nothing that any of the greasers can do can save Johnny.  And nothing they can do can save Dally.  Those guys are just doomed.

A lot of the characters seem like that.  It seems like nothing that they can do will affect their fate in any meaningful way.

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In a larger sense, the futility that is present in the novel is that there will always be a level of social stratification which creates people on the "inside" as well as those on "outsiders."  The Socs will always enjoy the benefits of life because of social, economic, and cultural riches in capital.  The reality is that the Greasers will have it tougher because the distribution of power and allocation of resources favors the Socs.  Hinton articulates a condition of futility because the members of the Greasers see illusory expressions of power (the rumble, minor intimidation) as representing valid articulations of control.  The reality, as they find out, is that these illusions are temporary and have no change in the structural foundation of power allocation and exercise.  The reality is that futility will always exist if individuals are seen as "outsiders" and "insiders."  When groups end up converging and sharing power or developing an understanding where greater control can be exerted, this is where futility will be limited.

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One of the major themes of Susan E. Hinton's novel, The Outsiders, is that no matter what happens, things will always remain the same between the Socs and the greasers. As Randy Adderson tells Ponyboy,

"You can't win, even if you whip us. You'll still be where you were before--at the bottom. And we'll still be the lucky ones with all the breaks."

The rumble proves nothing, since lives go on as usual afterward. The rumble does not save Johnny from dying nor does it change Dallas Winston's way of thinking. Darry will continue to work as a roofer, and Soda and Steve will still wind up working in a gas station. The defeated Socs will clean their muddy clothes and go on with life as usual. Perhaps the only character who will change is Ponyboy, who at least shows promise in his classes at school. (Of course, we discover in Hinton's later novel, That Was Then, This Is Now, that Ponyboy continues with his gang-related lifestyle.)

And the author rarely gives the reader any hope that things will change for the two groups. Hinton never wavers from her characterizations of the hard-luck greasers, and the reader gets the impression that although the Curtis brothers may live together once again, it will probably not be forever after. Johnny and Ponyboy's heroic rescue of the kids at the church may have turned things around had Johnny not been severely injured, but Hinton has no such happy ending reserved for The Outsiders.

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There is futility in this novel because nothing changes. One of the major themes to the book is class conflicts.  These conflicts don't and won't change.   The Soc's will still be well off and the Greasers will still be poor.  There will still be "rumbles" and conflicts between the two groups.  Even though Bob died because he was being a bully, and Johnny died trying to save some kids in a fire, it won't change the way the two groups treat each other.  Even in today's world many of the people that have "money" look down on the people who don't have money.  The groups will still be defensive around each other.  Cherry tells Ponyboy that she likes him but she hopes he will understand if she doesn't speak to him in school.  He tells her that he understands but reminds her that they have sunsets and sunrises on their side of town also. 

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In The Outsiders, the sense of futility is most clearly expressed when Ponyboy speaks to the Soc Randy, one of Bob's friends. Randy explains that Bob is merely a product of his immediate society, primarily his parents, and Ponyboy essentially agrees that they are born and raised into their respective groups. Though Hinton spends a great deal of time developing the concept that the Socs and Greasers are the same in many ways ("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."), she also uses the characters--their lines in specific--to display the static nature of their stations (Cherry explains that though she likes Pony, she will have to ignore him in public, though it is "nothing personal"). Ponyboy will always be a Greaser; Cherry will always be a Soc, because their social status is as much a part of who they are as their ethnicity or heritage.

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The most effective way to convey a sense of "futility" in literature is to depict individuals attempting to break through institutional barriers that are entrenched, protected by interests and overall inertia.  I think that Hinton does this in her work in a couple of ways.  In depicting the world between the Socs and the Greasers as one of economic reality, the fact of the matter becomes that the Greasers will never be able to defeat the class system that has relegated them to the periphery.  It is a futile reality that is constructed, but the Socs have all of the resources.  To quote Warren Zevon, they have "the lawyers, guns, and money."  The Greasers can try to defeat this configuration, but in the end, they will only be reaffirming the exclusionary practices that benefit the Socs and disempower them.  Dally's quest is a forgotten one, and for each one of him, greater marginalization occurs.  This becomes the futile existence that is conveyed through Hinton's work.  Adolescent frustration is evident, in part, because of a socio- economic reality that silences voices.  The real interesting element is that the Greasers are right.  They are the victims of class warfare and economic modes of silencing voices.  Yet, it is the adolescent group that points this out to the reader.  The recognition achieves even greater futility when one recognizes that American society, a reality that espouses fairness and equality in opportunity, is constructed in a contrary manner and not adults, but adolescents have discovered this and live it.  In this light, Hinton is able to convey the sense of futility that is lived out by these adolescents and one that forces us, the reader, to reexamine our own settings and practices.

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There is an innate sense of futility for both groups in the novel, and the title leads us, the reader, to feel that the disconnectedness of the young people involved in the text is not going to change.

Dallas Winston, we are told, is almost impervious to emotion at the beginning of the text:

 "the fight for self-preservation had hardened him beyond caring,"

His only solace from this social isolation is his friendship with gentle, vulnerable Johnny. We know that Johnny is too vulnerable for the society in which he lives. Johnny would be more at home in the days of Gone With the Wind, the text him and Ponyboy share in Windrixville.

Dallas' love and care for Johnny is futile. He cannot protect him from the cruel world that they live in, just as he cannot change his own destiny to die as violently as he lived.

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There is also the futility in the lives of the Soc's. They have everything: money, fast cars and smart clothes. However, as both Cherry and Randy explain, their lives are empty and have little purpose.

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There is some futility in the inevitability that Johnny and Dally will be destroyed in the story, and that neither has the capacity to save the other. Johnny is too wounded by the violence around him, and Dally is too hardened by it. Given different life circumstances the boys could have a chance of a different destiny, but in their strait jacket of gang culture they are smothered to death.

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I would say it's fatalistic. The gang can't save their own. They know it, and the audience knows it. We know Dally wants to die, and we know he will. The situation with Darry, Soda, and Pony Boy is a little less certain, but what the audience will know about kids who grow up in situations like they do, is that they rarely make it out.

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