At a Glance
- The central theme of the novel is class conflict. The Greasers are considered "outsiders" in their community because they live on the wrong side and don't fit in with the Socs, a gang of rich kids who think of the Greasers as "bums." The conflict between the rival gangs is fueled by their socioeconomic differences, which prevent the two groups from understanding each other.
- When it was first published, The Outsiders was considered revolutionary in the genre of young adult fiction. Instead of presenting an idealized or sugarcoated view of the world, it depicted real people in difficult situations, exploring themes of violence, class conflict, and alienation, which rarely appeared in young adult fiction before. Today, a debate still rages over what kinds of material young adult fiction should depict.
- Innocence is an important theme in the novel. Ponyboy is the youngest Curtis brother, the baby, and his older brother Darry does his best to protect the stubborn, honorable Ponyboy. Unlike his friend Dally, Ponyboy hasn't lost his faith in people yet, and Johnny wants it to stay that way. Despite suffering many tragedies, Ponyboy never becomes disillusioned with the world.
S. E. Hinton broke new ground in young adult fiction with the publication of The Outsiders. The novel’s gritty, realist portrayal of teenage life was striking, as was the fact that it was written by a teenaged woman. Hinton has stated that she wrote The Outsiders because it was the kind of story that she wanted to read. Tired of books filled with clichés and obligatory happy endings, she longed to write stories about real people with real problems, hoping to earn the respect of her audience by giving them stories to which they could relate.
Hinton started a trend in young adult writing, which became a battleground for readers, parents, teachers, and librarians. Debate raged over whether The Outsiders and the books that followed in its footsteps were too realistic for their own good. Such books portrayed issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, death, and divorce. Parents, educators, and critics of realism worried that they could encourage bad behavior in their readers. These criticisms tended to be based on simplistic analyses of books’ content, so that The Outsiders was seen as a story about teenage violence, rather than a story about the characters and how they dealt with such violence. Instead of focusing on what Ponyboy learned as a result of being both a victim and an aggressor, some critics deemed the book to be without merit for glorifying violence, missing Hinton’s message entirely.
Hinton explores many themes over the course of the novel, such as bridging the gap between rich and poor, honor among the lawless, and the retention of innocence. In Ponyboy’s first meeting with Cherry Valance, she tells him “Things are rough all over.” Later in the story, Ponyboy asks her if she can see the sunset on the West Side of town. When she says yes, he tells her that he can see it on the East Side, too. When Ponyboy first meets Cherry, he thinks of her as just another Soc, wondering how a cheerleader who drives a Corvette could possibly have problems. By the end of...
(The entire section is 640 words.)