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So you’re going to teach S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, The Outsiders has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its challenges—gang violence, murder, sexual harassment—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying The Outsiders will give them unique insight into socioeconomic strife, gang violence, and important themes surrounding loyalty, innocence, and the simple bliss of natural beauty. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1967
  • Recommended Grade Levels: 7-9
  • Approximate Word Count: 48,000
  • Author: S.E. Hinton
  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Bildungsroman
  • Literary Period: Mid 20th-Century American Literature
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society, Person vs. Self
  • Narration: First-Person
  • Setting: United States, 1965
  • Structure or Dominant Literary Devices: Prose, Frame Story
  • Tone: Confessional, Conversational, Philosophical

Texts That Go Well With The Outsiders

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger is a bildungsroman that follows the adolescent Holden Caulfield as he runs away from boarding school and explores New York City on his own. Like The Outsiders, Salinger’s novel is framed as the first-person written recollection of a teenage boy coming to grips with his transition into adulthood. The Catcher in the Rye depicts a similar journey as that seen in The Outsiders but within the context of a more privileged social milieu. 

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance is a memoir published in 2016 that considers Vance’s experience growing up in rural Virginia and Ohio. Raised in an environment of poverty and drug addiction, Vance went on to serve as a marine and graduate from Yale Law School. Vance’s memoir captures a contemporary portrait of some of the same socioeconomic issues Hinton handles in The Outsiders

Romeo and Juliet (1595) by William Shakespeare is the quintessential narrative of star-crossed teenagers caught in a cultural rivalry much larger than themselves. Studying this play in conjunction with The Outsiders provides students the opportunity to compare and contrast Hinton’s authorial choices to those of Shakespeare in her handling of adolescent tragedy. The comparison also illustrates universalities that exist within human nature, specifically how humans engage with community rivalries. 

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is a 2011 novel that portrays a working-class African American family in Mississippi as they survive the days before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. Drawing on mythological allusions, the story covers similar thematic terrain as The Outsiders and also employs a teenaged narrator. Salvage the Bones considers the importance of parenting and adolescent social hierarchies, from the perspective of Esch, a fifteen-year-old girl. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is a suspenseful 1962 novel that centers around a mysterious Vermont family. Merricat lives in her large family home with her sister and uncle, their other family members having died mysteriously years before. When her cousin Charles arrives, Merricat works to keep her family safe. Hinton cites this novel, as well as Jackson’s 1959 novel, The Haunting of Hill House, as primary inspirations in her writing.

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Key Plot Points