The Outsiders Questions and Answers

S. E. Hinton

Read real teacher answers to our most interesting The Outsiders questions.

What does it mean to "stay gold"?

The allusion to Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a significant moment in the story. Originally, Ponyboy is confused by the meaning of the poem. After Johnny’s death, though, he begins to realize that “staying gold” is indicative of a complex moral struggle. Things in life start out “gold”—beautiful, innocent, and pure—but change is certain. For instance, the poem refers to sunrise/dawn, early leaves in autumn, and the Garden of Eden. The analogy works for Ponyboy, who grows up significantly throughout the events of the novel. He begins as an innocent boy who goes through difficult and heartbreaking times. Johnny, who dies a hero, can “stay gold.” However, Ponyboy must realize that despite everything, he must stay believing in goodness and beauty (such as the symbolic sunset). Although gold is the “hardest hue to hold,” it is not impossible. Johnny’s final note to Ponyboy causes this important realization, one that he had been struggling with throughout the novel.

Is The Outsiders still relevant today?

The appeal of The Outsiders lies in how Hinton validates the voice of young people. Prior to Hinton's work, young people, as a group and as individuals, really did not have a genre that truly spoke to them. Hinton is able to enter into the world of adolescence and social identity, realms that were as relevant then as they are now. She validates and authenticates young people's experiences.

In many respects, the genre of young adult literature owes much to The Outsiders. The struggle for identity and the need to understand potentially tragic conditions in adolescence are the basis of the modern genre. Hinton was ahead of her time in recognizing that within the domain of adolescence lies some of the best drama.  She is able to draw from this reservoir in The Outsiders. The book holds a specific appeal today, as it has become a staple of the middle school/high school curriculum. It is not surprising to find teachers who say that they struggled to find literature that would connect to their students, but that this challenge temporarily subsided when they introduced The Outsiders to their students. In this regard, one sees how Hinton's work possesses a timeless quality to it, reflecting how adolescent struggles have not subsided and how the drama within it still makes for quality literature.