Discussion Topic

Analysis of the quote: "Sixteen years on the streets you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn" in relation to the gang members' lives and identifying its speaker and location in "The Outsiders"

Summary:

This quote, spoken by Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders, reflects the harsh reality of gang life. It highlights how street life teaches survival but often imparts harmful lessons, depriving individuals of positive growth. This insight underscores the struggles of the gang members who, despite their experiences, find themselves trapped by the negative influences of their environment.

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How does the quote "Sixteen years on the streets you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn" relate to the gang members' lives and their learnings in "The Outsiders"?

"Sixteen years on the streets you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn."

For Johnny and the Greasers, the quote reveals the condition of emptiness that hovers over them.  The quote brings out how the Greasers live a life that is filled with knowledge and understanding.  Yet, it is an understanding that enables them to see the more "smarmy" aspects of being in the world.  There is not redemption in this vision.  Rather, it is one of condemnation, complete with the idea that the learning and knowledge gained are reflective of that which one does not want to know.  

In different ways, the members of the gang represent narratives that embody this idea of large amounts of learning lessons that are not comforting.  For Johnny and Ponyboy, they have learned the reality of the streets is one that will follow them.  The Socs will always have the benefit of social class and economic advantage.  They can always be the aggressors and not evoke social condemnation, while the Greasers' retaliation makes them social outcasts.  Johnny and Ponyboy both have learned how there is a struggle to be "pure" in such a world.  This is one of the lessons they have learned, and it is not something that they would "want to learn." Rather, it is a reflection of what they would rather not know.  For Dallas, the knowledge he has gained from the streets is that there is nothing he can do to remove the built in social advantage that the Socs have.  Yet, he is also compelled to look out for Johnny and Ponyboy.  This is what he has learned from the streets:  What he must do and what he feels the need to do often collide with one another, making his being a tormented one.  The ending in which he dies with an empty gun in his hand reflects the sum total of his knowledge:  Pain, sacrifice, and complete negation of redemption. 

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In The Outsiders, who says the following quote and on which page does it appear?

"Sixteen years on the streets and you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn. Sixteen years on the streets and you see a lot. But all the wrong sights, not the things you want to see."

In Chapter 8, Two-Bit and Ponyboy visit Johnny in the hospital. When Pony and Two-Bit initially see Johnny, he tells them that he is scared to die and laments about his unfortunate situation. On page 122 of the Speak edition of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, Pony says to himself,

Sixteen years on the street and you can learn alot. But all the wrongs things, not the things you want to learn. Sixteen years on the street and you see alot. But all the wrong sights, not the sights you want to see (Hinton, 122).

Ponyboy sympathizes with Johnny's difficult situation and realizes the extent of his tragedy. Pony understands Johnny's angst and knows that he has not had a chance to see the world. In Johnny's short life, he has only experienced the difficult nature of their rough city and has suffered more than he has enjoyed life. Johnny fears dying without having a chance to fully experience the world and thrive outside of the city, which is what makes his death particularly tragic. Shortly after Johnny admits to Pony that he is scared to die, his mother attempts to visit him. Johnny denies his mother's request to see him and Pony and Two-Bit end up going to see Dally. Following the rumble, Johnny dies and Dally ends up losing his mind.

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An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Outsiders, who says the following quote and on which page does it appear?

"Sixteen years on the streets and you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn. Sixteen years on the streets and you see a lot. But all the wrong sights, not the things you want to see."

Although no one says these lines out loud, Ponyboy says them to himself, in his mind. It's something he's thinking while talking with Johnny, right after Johnny had said that sixteen years isn't long enough to live, and that Johnny wishes he could see and do more things, especially travel beyond their neighborhood more, before dying. Ponyboy silently agrees, and even though he's also thinking that sixteen years as a gang member means that you see things you shouldn't see, he doesn't voice these thoughts out loud: he doesn't share them with Johnny. It's important for Ponyboy not to upset Johnny, and not to get too emotional. 

You can find this discussion a little less than halfway through Chapter 8, as Johnny is lying in critical condition in the hospital after saving the kids from the fire. The exact page number will be different depending on which version of the text you have, but if you open to Chapter 8 and scoot past the conversation that includes Two-Bit, then you've found the conversation that Johnny and Ponyboy have alone. And if you scan for the beginning of a paragraph that starts with the words "Sixteen years," then you've found it. If you've reached some longer paragraphs that mention Two-Bit again, plus Johnny's mother, then you've gone too far--scoot back to where the paragraphs are short and contain a lot of quotation marks to indicate the conversation.

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