The Outsiders Critical Overview - Essay

S. E. Hinton

Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

A scene from The Outsiders Published by Gale Cengage

Although The Outsiders has been a favorite with teens ever since its publication in 1967, adult critics have been more cautious in their assessments. Initial reviews debated the supposed "realism" of this startling new work, as well as the skill of its young author. Thomas Fleming, for instance, questioned Hinton's portrayal of the Soc-Greaser conflict. He noted that in his hometown it was the poor kids who beat up the rich ones, not the other way around. Nevertheless, he added in his New York Times Book Review assessment that "Hinton's fire-engine pace does not give the reader much time to manufacture doubts." Nat Hentoff similarly observed in Atlantic Monthly that the plot of the book was "factitious," or forced and artificial. He praised the author, however, for addressing issues of class that were absent in previous books for teens: "Any teenager, no matter what some of his textbooks say, knows that this is decidedly not a classless society." School Library Journal contributor Lillian Gerhardt similarly hailed Hinton's portrayal of class rivalry: "It is rare-to-unique among juvenile books ... to find a novel confronting class hostilities which have intensified since the Depression." In another early review, William Jay Jacobs favorably compared The Outsiders with a popular classic from the 1950s, J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. Other critics have observed similarities between Hinton's Ponyboy and Salinger's Holden Caufield. "But as much as the sensitive, thoughtful Ponyboy resembles Holden, his [environment] is irrevocably different," Jacobs noted in Teachers College Record. "All around him are hostility and fear, along with distrust for the 'system.'" The critic did fault some of the dialogue as "false" and the themes as a bit too "profound" for "hoods." Nevertheless, he noted that the novel had a more mature tone than most first novels, and had "relevance for today's [society]."

By 1970, The Outsiders had already been identified as a powerful influence on young-adult literature. Many critics questioned whether it and other examples of the "New Realism" were a positive influence on teens. Attempts to ban the book were made in various places. As a result, many reviews of the time were particularly negative. For instance, a Times Literary Supplement critic worried that young readers "will waive literary discriminations about a book of this kind and adopt Ponyboy as a kind of folk hero for both his exploits and his dialogue." Other critics faulted the slang dialogue and sometimes moralizing tone. In his Children's Book News review,...

(The entire section is 1078 words.)