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Characterization of the Greasers in The Outsiders


The Greasers in The Outsiders are characterized as a close-knit group of working-class teenagers who often face economic hardship and societal prejudice. They are loyal to each other, value their friendships deeply, and are often in conflict with the more affluent Socs. The Greasers' tough exterior hides their vulnerability and desire for acceptance and understanding.

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Who are the greasers in The Outsiders?

In S. E. Hinton’s young adult novel The Outsiders, the narrator is fourteen-year-old Ponyboy. He, his brothers, and their friends are members of a gang called the greasers. The greasers are generally at odds with the more privileged “west-side rich kids,” who are called the Socs. (Socs is short for Socials.) Ponyboy and the other greasers are “outsiders” in their hometown because of their relatively low socioeconomic status.

The greasers also look different from the Socs. greasers can often be untidy and do not have the same kind of clothes, as their budgets are lower. Some of the difference in appearance is also probably attributable to the greasers’ desire to rebel against what the Socs and other more privileged people deem to be the norm. In chapter 1, Ponyboy describes himself:

My hair is longer than a lot of boys wear theirs, squared off in back and long at the front and sides, but I am a greaser and most of my neighborhood rarely bothers to get a haircut.

Another sign of their rebellious streak is that greasers often violate the law. Ponyboy seems to understand that when greasers break the rules, they are viewed as hoodlums, whereas there is more leeway given to the wealthier Socs. Ponyboy understands the difference between his group and the Socs. He writes:

We're poorer than the Socs and the middle class. I reckon we're wilder, too…Greasers are almost like hoods; we steal things and drive old souped-up cars and hold up gas stations and have a gang fight once in a while…I only mean that most greasers do things like that, just like we wear our hair long and dress in blue jeans and T-shirts, or leave our shirttails out and wear leather jackets and tennis shoes or boots. I'm not saying that either Socs or greasers are better; that's just the way things are.

Ponyboy wishes that things could be different. When he spends time with Cherry, a girl from the more elite Socs background, he notes that there are similarities between the two groups—including that they watch the same sun and they share the same earth.

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Are the Greasers in The Outsiders kids or criminals?

It really depends on how one looks at the events in their lives. The Greasers share a common background, and the element of hardship is what brings them together. They are young, and life is tough on them.

Darry, Sodapop, and Ponyboy are orphaned at an early age and left to fend for themselves. Darry and Sodapop are forced to drop out of school.

Johhny is abused by his parents and finds solace in the gang. He stabs Bob to defend Ponyboy. He also helps rescue the children in the burning church.

Dally is a delinquent with a long rap sheet. He keeps a gun and is not afraid of causing grievous bodily harm to others as is seen when he takes the switchblade with him to the fight.

The Greasers are just a bunch of kids from difficult backgrounds, and their participation in criminal activities is circumstantial. It is my opinion that in different circumstances the boys would have turned out differently. They lack guidance and a sense of direction.

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Are the Greasers in The Outsiders kids or criminals?

The answer to your question, of course, will depend upon your interpretation of the Greasers' words and actions. Many consider a group such as the Greasers a gang of juvenile delinquents.

However, the Greasers are an important social barometer of their time; the majority of the members come from impoverished, dysfunctional families. Ponyboy Curtis (the narrator of the story) is a Greaser, and his only biological family members are his two brothers, Sodapop and Darry. While the brothers love each other, they often experience conflict in their domestic lives. The boys are orphaned, and Darry is the presumed father figure and family provider.

However, Darry is only 20, while Ponyboy is 14. The latter often resents what he considers his older brother's efforts to meddle in his life. However, Darry (at his wit's end himself) is merely trying to keep his family together. The other members of the Greasers gang (Johnny, Dallas, Steve, and Two-Bit) also come from dysfunctional family backgrounds. For example, Johnny suffers emotional and/or physical abuse from both his parents.

The Greasers are at odds with the Socs in the novel. The Socs are another gang, one made up of upper-middle class youths. Invariably, the Greasers fight the Socs for two reasons: they enjoy fighting, and they see it as their duty to defend themselves against attacks from the Socs. 

The one Greaser most associated with being a criminal is Dally. In the novel, Dally openly revels in his gang background from his New York City days, and he is the one who robs a convenience store after Johnny's death. No one quite knows why Dallas chooses to commit a crime, but there is every indication that he was deeply affected by Johnny's death.

So, on the surface, Dally appears to be a criminal. However, he is also an adolescent. In his short life, he has never learned constructive ways to process his grief and anger, and he has never envisioned a different life for himself (one beyond the criminal world). So, is Dally a criminal or just a kid? It really does depend upon your perspective and how you think we should treat kids who commit criminal acts.

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