What is identity and what social factors impact it in The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton?

Quick answer:

The Outsiders suggests that one’s identity is defined by what society labels a person and how a person internalizes expectations of those labels. For instance, the Socs view themselves as superior to the Greasers because they are rich. Both groups of boys also internalize hegemonic masculinity.

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In The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton explores the difficult process of figuring out one’s identity in adolescence. She also shows how social factors like socioeconomic class and gender shape people’s identities. Ultimately, this book suggests that a person’s identity is a combination of many factors, including what society labels a person and how a person internalizes society’s assumptions about them.

For example, consider the many differences between the Greasers and the Socs. The Greasers are poor teenage boys from the East Side. Because of their low socioeconomic status and complex family backgrounds, society tends to assume they are delinquents. While they do sometimes disregard the law, it is usually to protect one another. In contrast, the Socs are affluent teenage boys from the West Side. They also commit crimes (even though they do not need to for survival) but they are not seen as delinquents. The Socs look down on the Greasers and view themselves as superior because of their socioeconomic status. This dynamic shows how social factors can influence how people view themselves and others.

Similarly, both the Greasers and the Socs internalize gender expectations. They feel like they need to appear like tough men and not express emotions. For example, recall the scene in which Ponyboy talks about Johnny's injuries. He says:

A pain was growing in my throat and I wanted to cry, but greasers don't cry in front of strangers. Some of us never cry at all.

Quotes like this show how the boys in the text try hard to be the idealized form of a strong man. This behavior is another example of how a social factor can define how a person sees themselves.

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