In S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, why are the Socs and Greasers going to have to rumble?
In S. E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders, the Greasers and the Socs represent opposite ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. The story’s narrator, Ponyboy Curtis, is clearly a product of the former. He and his two older brothers, Darry and Sodapop, were orphaned when their parents were killed in a car accident, and they absolutely represent the lower end of that socioeconomic spectrum. While they are firmly part of the Greaser culture, however, they are not naturally inclined to seek out trouble with their rivals, the Socs, who are from ‘the other side of the tracks,’ the upper class communities that dominate the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum and, for whom, the world is full of opportunities. Early in The Outsiders, Ponyboy provides a brief synopsis of the distinctions between the two worlds that barely coexist alongside each other:
“We're poorer than the Socs and the middle class. I reckon we're wilder, too. Not like the Socs, who jump greasers and wreck houses and throw beer blasts for kicks, and get editorials in the paper for being a public disgrace one day and an asset to society the next. Greasers are almost like hoods; we steal things and drive old souped-up cars and hold up gas stations and have a gang fight once in a while.”
It is very clear in Hinton’s novel that the relationship between the Greasers and the Socs is one of absolute enmity. There are glimmers of moderation, such as with the Soc girlfriend’s high regard for Ponyboy. That high regard, however, cannot eliminate the cultural prejudices that dominate these children’s lives. When Ponyboy meets Cherry for the first time, she is genuinely interested in this young boy who is mature beyond his years. The underlying bias, however, reveals itself in their conversation when Cherry inadvertently condemns the Greasers and all those with whom they associate: "What's a nice, smart kid like you running around with trash like that for?" When Cherry poses this question, it isn’t intended as an indictment of Ponyboy, but it is received that way, and she quickly apologizes. The point, however, is that the two worlds are separated by invisible walls of prejudice and immaturity and the animosity that exists, and that regularly manifests itself in acts of violence, has become solidified as the predominant culture in which all exist.
To the extent the Greasers and the Socs are destined to rumble, it’s because that is precisely what both sides believe to be the inevitable course of history. With some exceptions, the hatred they feel towards each other is ingrained in them. They fight each other because that is all they know. The Socs feel superior to the Greasers by virtue of their parents’ socioeconomic status; the Greasers engage in petty criminal acts because their environment encourages deviant behavior and because fighting the Socs provides the only identity they can call their own.