Why did the author write The Outsiders?

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Author S. E. Hinton has given many interviews about her first published book, The Outsiders . In the book, the story is told by a young narrator, Pony Boy, who lives with his two older brothers and is a member of the Greasers. The Greasers do not get along with...

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Author S. E. Hinton has given many interviews about her first published book, The Outsiders. In the book, the story is told by a young narrator, Pony Boy, who lives with his two older brothers and is a member of the Greasers. The Greasers do not get along with the rival group, the Socials (or Socs). The author has said that she was prompted to write the book because such a disparity and rivalry existed in her school when she was growing up and it made her angry.

Hinton was a member of the group comparable to the Greasers. The Greasers lived primarily in lower-income neighborhoods compared to the more affluent Socs. Similar to Pony Boy, Hinton was a good student and interested in her studies and in literature. She actually began writing at a very early age, and she completed The Outsiders by the time she was still a teenager.

After a Greaser friend of hers was beaten up as he walked home from school, Hinton wrote a short story about the incident. Eventually, given her strong feelings about the inequality she witnessed and experienced in her own neighborhood and school, she turned the story into a novel. She has also indicated that another factor that drove her to complete the novel was that there were few “realistic” books aimed at the young adult audience at the time.

The scene in the book between Pony Boy, the Greaser, and Cherry, the Soc, sounds like something the author herself might have experienced as a student who frequently interacted in the advanced classes with the Socs. It is interesting that Pony Boy, perhaps like Hinton herself, realizes that despite their differences, Greasers and Socs share the same earth and experience many similar things.

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In an interview with The Outsiders Fan Club, S.E. Hinton related a story about walking home from school when she was fifteen years old. She saw a friend of hers, a "greaser," get beaten up by some "nice kids" who pulled up in a car. She says it inspired her to go home and begin writing The Outsiders.

Hinton has also said in interviews that she knew gang members while she was in school. The characters in the novel were both specific to them and universal archetypes of teenagers, in her mind. Hinton's method for developing Ponyboy, she said, was to make his thoughts a reflection of her own. In her youth, Hinton had friends who were "greasers" and friends across town who were "socs." Being able to walk in both worlds and observe each side's behaviors and attitudes informed her work in this novel and in her other work.

Hinton has said that a goal she had in writing The Outsiders was to fill a void she noticed in young adult fiction: realism. As a teenager herself, she had perspective on the lives of teenagers that adults lacked. She also found existing young adult fiction lacking in topical substance, such as silly romances aimed toward female readers. She believes that the novel has withstood the test of time because of the timelessness and universality of the notion of social division.

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S. E. Hinton began writing her début novel, The Outsiders, when she was still in high-school. In an interview with The New Yorker magazine, Hinton mentions that part of the reason she wrote the novel was because she was frustrated with the lack of real-world portrayals of teens in literature. When The Outsiders was first published in 1967, Hinton says:

"there really was no such thing as a young-adult market."

Hinton wanted to read and share stories reflective of her reality, which was complicated. Hinton's mother was physically and verbally abusive, and her father died from a brain tumor when she was a teenager. She also based many of the characters in The Outsiders on real people she had known in high school, and penned the book in part to bear witness to how terribly and unfairly she thought the Socs had treated her Greaser friends.

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S.E. Hinton ("S.E." stands for Susan Eloise) wrote The Outsiders while she was still in high school. She began writing when she was 15, and the novel was published when she was 17. She wrote the novel because she felt that books for young adults at the time were not realistic and did not speak to their innermost concerns.

The situation at her high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also informed her writing. At her school, members of the two gangs--the Socs and the Greasers--had to enter the school through different doors (see the source below from Mental Floss) because they were engaged in a bitter battle. S.E. Hinton sought to portray the conflicts and tensions that plagued the young people in her town and to convey them in a way that was absent of judgment but full of empathy.

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The author of The Outsiders, Susan E. Hinton, began writing the novel while she was still in her teens. An avid reader, she had become bored with standard adolescent literature and she apparently felt a bit overwhelmed with the serious nature of most adult literature. So, she decided to write a book that would appeal to teens because of its realistic nature. Growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she was always interested in Westerns and horses, so she incorporated some of these interests into her story. She also incorporated many events from her own past and used examples from her high school days to create the story. She spent more than 18 months writing and revising before allowing a friend's mother to read it. The mother contacted a literary agent, and Susan Hinton received the word that a publisher would like to buy her work during her high school graduation ceremony. She changed her pen name to S. E. Hinton, presumably to hide or neutralize her female identity. The Outsiders became a best-seller and is now considered a classic of realistic adolescent literature. Director Francis Ford Coppola filmed the novel with a group of future superstar actors (Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Diane Lane and Patrick Swayze), and he gave Hinton a bit part in the movie as a hospital nurse. Several of her later novels (Tex, Rumble Fish) were also brought to film. She followed up The Outsiders with That Was Then, This is Now, another novel set in Tulsa that included The Outsiders characters Ponyboy and Randy (the Soc) in small parts. 

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