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The Outsiders is a powerful and emotional book because it uses first person narration to describe the musings and trepidations of a teenage boy who struggles with class, family, and love.
One of the most significant factors that makes The Outsiders powerful is the raw and honest voice of Ponyboy Curtis, the novel’s narrator. Pony is young and thoughtful. He describes his life as a greaser with full emotion.
Pony is insightful even when he talks about normal, everyday things like his looks.
I have light brown, almost red hair and greenish-gray eyes. I wish they were more gray, because I hate most guys that have green eyes, but I have to be content with what I have. (Ch. 1, p. 1)
The book is timeless because it deals not only with teen angst but with issues of class. Although his neighborhood has given him the stereotype of “greaser,” Pony is aware that there is more to him than that. When he meets and talks with a Soc (Socialite) girl named Cherry, Pony sees that things are more complicated than he thought.
Although he is accepting of his social class, he is also frustrated by the damage it has done to his friends. He laments that they have all had bad breaks. Johnny’s father beats him and doesn’t want him, Two-bit’s father left him, and Pony’s own parents died in a car accident. It seems as though the problems of the poor strongly outweigh the problems of the rich.
"… I'll tell you something, Ponyboy, and it may come as a surprise. We have troubles you've never even heard of. You want to know something?" She looked me straight in the eye. "Things are rough all over." (Ch. 2, p. 34-35)
Pony realizes that they both see the same sunsets. This profound understanding originates from his thoughtful nature. While most greasers and Socs limit themselves to stereotypes and hate each other, Pony is willing to accept that although they have differences, they also have things in common. Everyone feels pain.
The power of the book comes from the author capitalizing on Pony’s sensitivity to catapult him into a dramatic situation where he has to go on the run when his friend Johnny kills a Soc in a fight in the park.
Johnny has been jumped by the Socs before, and he is prepared when they are attacked. Before they know it, the boy is dead and they are on the run. During this experience, Pony leans another dimension of human nature as he realizes that Johnny is more gentle and nuanced than he previously realized.
When the boys have to hide out in an abandoned church, Johnny brings Pony a copy of Gone with the Wind. Pony is impressed that Johnny remembered he wanted to read it. Although Johnny has gotten bad grades in school, it turns out that with enough time he is unexpectedly insightful.
Johnny sure did like that book …. It amazed me how Johnny could get more meaning out of some of the stuff in there than I could-I was supposed to be the deep one. (Ch. 5, p. 76)
The two boys are able to reach a deep connection when there is no one else around, because there is no posturing or arguing. The innocent and sweet connection they make before disaster strikes and Johnny dies trying to save the kids from the fire follows Pony for the rest of his life. He comes to terms with it by remembering who he is.
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