S. E. Hinton Hinton, S. E. - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

S. E. Hinton 1950–

(Full name Susan Eloise Hinton) American novelist, children's writer, and screenwriter.

The following entry provides an overview of Hinton's career through 1995.

S. E. Hinton helped to change the tone of young adult fiction with the publication of The Outsiders (1967). Dissatisfied with the pristine portrayals of teenagers in traditional adolescent novels, Hinton, still a teen herself, created this popular story of class conflict and gang rivalry. Critics responded favorably to Hinton's unpretentious narrative style and her skillful development of plot and character. Unlike formulaic teenage novels, The Outsiders and Hinton's subsequent novels, including That Was Then, This Is Now (1971), Rumble Fish (1975), Tex (1979), and Taming the Star Runner (1988), contain characters who cope with such challenges as violence, poverty, alcoholism, and drug addiction.

Biographical Information

Hinton was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1950 and enjoyed reading as a child. Her enthusiasm for reading continued into her adolescence, but she soon found that the selection of books she was able and allowed to read was limited. She commented: "A lot of adult literature was older than I was ready for. The kids' books were all Mary Jane-Goes-to-the-Prom junk. I wrote The Outsiders so I'd have something to read." The overwhelming success of The Outsiders, which sold more than four million copies in the United States alone, enabled Hinton to attend the University of Tulsa, where she met David Inhofe, who later became her husband, and where in 1970 she earned a bachelor's degree in education. Because she was intimidated by the expectations that others had of her following the 1967 publication of The Outsiders, Hinton did not produce another novel until 1971, when That Was Then, This Is Now was published. She wrote two more novels in the 1970s, Rumble Fish and Tex, and then began focusing on other interests. During the 1980s Hinton collaborated on and supervised the production of several film adaptations of her books, including the commercially successful 1983 Francis Ford Coppola film based on The Outsiders. She also devoted time to her personal life in the 1980s, giving birth to a son, Nicholas David. Hinton's last novel to date, Taming the Star Runner, was published in 1988, but since that time she has produced two works for young children, Big David, Little David (1994) and The Puppy Sister (1995).

Major Works

In each of her novels, Hinton depicts the survival and maturation of her adolescent male protagonists, tough yet tender lower-class boys who live in and around Tulsa and who grow by making difficult decisions. Using colloquial language and often a first-person narrative style, Hinton addresses such themes as appearance versus reality, the need to be loved and to belong, the meaning of honor, and the limits of friendship. Society is shown as a claustrophobic and often fatal environment that contributes to the fear and hostility felt by her characters. Based on events that occurred in her high school in Tulsa, The Outsiders describes the rivalry between two gangs, the lower-middle-class greasers and the upper-class Socs (for Socials), a conflict that leads to the deaths of members of both gangs. Narrated by fourteen-year-old Ponyboy Curtis, a sensitive, orphaned greaser who tells the story in retrospect, the novel explores the camaraderie, loyalty, and affection that lie behind the gang mystique while pointing out similarities between members of the opposing groups and the futility of gang violence. In That Was Then, This Is Now, foster brothers Bryon and Mark begin drifting apart as one becomes preoccupied with school and social concerns and the other becomes heavily involved with drugs and crime. Hinton's Rumble Fish also explores the themes of gang violence and coming of age. The story focuses on a disillusioned young man who tries to establish a reputation for himself as a local tough but gradually loses everything that has held meaning for him. Tex follows two brothers who are left in each other's care by their unstable father. The book investigates how delinquent youths try to survive in an environment rife with drugs, violence, social upheaval, and familial discord. In Hinton's last novel to date, Taming the Star Runner, she relates the story of a fifteen-year-old's self-discovery during a summer spent on his uncle's horse ranch. Hinton's first work for young readers, Big David, Little David, is a comic tale that concerns the young narrator's confusion when his father and a boy in his class have the same name; little Nick's puzzlement is compounded when his father leads him to believe that he and the boy in Nick's class are the same person. The Puppy Sister, Hinton's most recent published work, tells the fanciful story of a young boy who wishes so strongly for a sibling that his puppy becomes a human sister; the narrative details the difficulties and confusion that arise from the puppy's transformation.

Critical Reception

Although she has been taken to task by many critics for over-emphasizing the machismo of her male characters and for creating underdeveloped, superficial female characters, Hinton has also been praised for her protagonists' depth of emotion and perceptiveness. Her straightforward, unadorned prose style has been compared favorably with that of Ernest Hemingway, but has also been faulted as awkward and not representative of true adolescent speech. Many critics have detected a more mature, controlled quality to Hinton's later narratives, and her works for children have been lauded for their complex characters and compelling, well-developed plots, as well as for their unique, imaginative concepts. Although many critics have noted a tendency toward melodrama in her novels, Hinton's popularity with young readers has endured, and in 1988 she received the American Library Association's Young Adult Services Division/School Library Journal Author Award in recognition of her contribution to literature for young adults.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Outsiders (novel) 1967
That Was Then, This Is Now (novel) 1971
Rumble Fish (novel) 1975
Tex (novel) 1979
Rumble Fish [adaptor, with Francis Ford Coppola; from her novel of the same title] (screenplay) 1983
Taming the Star Runner (novel) 1988
Big David, Little David (for children) 1994
The Puppy Sister (for children) 1995

Zena Sutherland (essay date 27 January 1968)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Teen-Ager Speaks," in The Saturday Review (New York), January 27, 1968, p. 34.

[In the following essay, Sutherland examines the controversy surrounding The Outsiders, providing comments excerpted from a newspaper article by Hinton, from letters written by teenage fans of the novel, and from letters written by adults who objected to the violence depicted in the novel.]

"Have you looked at the books on the Young Adult Shelf?" S. E. Hinton asked in Read magazine November 1. "They are written by aging writers who either try to remember their own youth—which was at least fifteen years ago—or they try to write about today's teens without...

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Times Literary Supplement (review date 30 October 1970)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "On the Hook," in The Times Literary Supplement, October 30, 1970, p. 1258.

[In the following excerpt, the reviewer asserts that while adult readers may find the plot of The Outsiders heavy-handed and tedious, younger readers will be so enthralled by the character Ponyboy, who the reviewer identified as believable, that they will disregard what the reviewer assesses as the narrative's weaknesses.]

The author and chief character are … identified with each other in The Outsiders, a novel already acclaimed in America as the expression of how teenagers feel. Its author is seventeen and capable of interesting a wider audience than the group she writes about. She reports on the class, social and physical warfare of two city gangs, the Greasers and the Socs, from the slums and the upper-middle class areas. Both lots suffer from parental absence or neglect and seek to realize themselves in feats of strength which lead to disaster and death. The violence is unrepressed, but less significant than Ponyboy's struggle to express the nature of gang loyalty and family affection in a world which is hostile to Greasers, who have even less chance than Socs to sort out desirable goals and less hope of ever attaining them. Ponyboy is a credible character, but the plot creaks and the ending is wholly factitious. The author's determination to "tell it like it is" means that the language, wholly group-coded, is both arresting and tiring to read in its repetitiousness.

The trusted adult (who, it seems, is envisaged as the ideal reader) may find the unrelieved seriousness, a kind of literary egocentrism, too monotonous. Young readers will waive literary discriminations about a book of this kind and adopt Ponyboy as a kind of folk hero for both his exploits and his dialogue.

Jane Powell (review date 2 April 1976)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Urban Guerrillas," in The Times Literary Supplement, April 2, 1976, p. 388.

[In the following excerpt, Powell faults Rumble Fish for lacking a protagonist who, like those of The Outsiders and That Was Then, This Is Now, possesses superior wit and insight that enable him to rise above the violence and turmoil of his surroundings. Rumble Fish's Rusty-James, Powell argues, is victimized by his environment, and his victimization creates a pervasive air of failure and despair which diminishes the novel.]

S. E. Hinton's Rumble Fish was disappointing. Hooked on Ms. Hinton since I discovered how popular The Outsiders and That Was Then, This Is Now are with adolescents, this came as a let-down. The earlier two books also deal with the American delinquent scene, but in both the central character has an intelligence and sensitivity which set him apart from his peers.

He involves himself in desperate situations largely out of loyalty to others and at the end, having seen close friends destroyed by violence or drugs, is left wiser and sadder. The detachment of the central figure is lost in Rumble Fish. This time the narrator, Rusty-James, is a product (and victim) of his environment, and the world is a grey, sordid and destructive place. The bright values of literature and loyalty have faded, the best friend is a minor figure who lapses into gross insensitivity, and the book is filled with failures, drunks and junkies. In the foreground is the doomed Motorcycle Boy, the narrator's brother and hero, a near-zombie as a result of many crashes on stolen bikes. Rumble fish are Siamese fighting fish—"If you leaned a mirror against the bowl they'd kill themselves fighting their own reflection". The Motorcycle Boy is shot dead as he carries the bowl towards the river. Like the fish, he's in a bowl, cut off from the real world by deafness. Rusty-James has always wanted to be like his brother and that's how he turns out. The narrative is retrospective—the boy is reminded of things he'd like to forget when he meets an old friend—and this perspective emphasizes Rusty-James's hopelessness: there can't even be a glimmer of hope for the future.

S. E. Hinton with Lisa Ehrichs (interview date November 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Advice from a Penwoman," in Seventeen, Vol. 40, November, 1981, p. 32.

[In the following interview, Hinton discusses her approach to writing, the impact her career had upon her personal life as a teenager, and her recommendations for other young writers.]

The Outsiders, a tough yet sensitive novel about a gang of teen-agers from the wrong side of the tracks, was a major success for author S. E. Hinton when it came out in 1967. Its publication marked the beginning of a new category of young-adult literature: novels that looked beyond the narrow world of the high school prom. But the most remarkable thing about The Outsiders is that its author,...

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Gene Lyons (essay date 11 October 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "On Tulsa's Mean Streets," in Newsweek, Vol. 100, No. 15, October 11, 1982, pp. 105-06.

[In the following essay, Lyons examines Hinton's works and career as well as the films based on The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and Tex. Lyons briefly recounts the plots of the three novels, maintaining that Tex is superior, and includes commentary by Hinton.]

Quick, name the only American novelist whose books have inspired both the Walt Disney studios and Francis Coppola to adapt them to film? Clue: the author's first effort was written while she was a 16-year-old junior at Will Rogers High in Tulsa. Give up? If there's a teen-ager on the premises, ask the...

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Jay Scott (essay date April 1983)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Susie Loves Matt," in American Film, Vol. VIII, No. 6, April, 1983, pp. 34-5.

[In the following excerpt, Scott describes Hinton's association with actor Matt Dillon, who portrayed Dallas in the film version of The Outsiders, the title character in the film based on Tex, and Rusty-James in the movie based on Rumble Fish. Scott goes on to briefly describe Hinton's novels and incorporates Hinton's and Dillon's comments on them as well.]

The Arkansas River which cuts through the center of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is wide, shallow, and sluggish. It moves imperceptibly under the heavy humid August air; temperatures have been hitting over a hundred for...

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Michael Malone (essay date 8 March 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Tough Puppies," in The Nation, Vol. 242, No. 9, March 8, 1986, pp. 276-78, 290.

[In the following essay, Malone argues that Hinton's novels are not representative of average American teenagers or as realistic as they have been alleged to be, and he asserts that the appeal of Hinton's works among teenage readers is due mainly to their action-packed narratives, simplistic plot structures, intense emotional tone, and well-defined principles. Malone also examines the societal trends which make Hinton's works popular among American youngsters, ponders books for young adults as a literary category, and makes comparisons between Hinton's works and the James Dean films of the 1950s.]...

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Charlene Strickland (review date October 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Taming the Star Runner, in School Library Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2, October, 1988, p. 161.

[In the following review, Strickland maintains that Taming the Star Runner pales in comparison to Hinton's earlier works, faulting what she perceives as weak characterization, a flimsy storyline, and a theme of hopelessness.]

Devoted fans will leap on Hinton's new novel, [Taming the Star Runner,] yet her protagonist Travis is no Tex. On the surface, this 15 year old resembles the classic misfits from the author's previous books; however, Travis lacks Tex' zest for living. Released from juvenile hall to cool down at his uncle's...

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Elizabeth Ward (review date 12 February 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Young Bookshelf," in The Washington Post Book World, February 12, 1989, p. 9.

[In the following excerpt, Ward offers a negative assessment of Taming the Star Runner, describing the characters as superficial and self-absorbed and asserting that the prose falls flat.]

In [Taming the Star Runner,] her first novel since Tex, published 10 years ago, the phenomenally popular S. E. Hinton returns to the familiar territory of teen-age disaffection and the search for happiness.

Good-looking Travis, with his blackfringed, gray-green eyes, as cold as the Irish sea, is neither a doper nor a straight, but a sensitive, intelligent,...

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Patty Campbell (review date 2 April 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Taming the Star Runner, in The New York Times Book Review, April 2, 1989, p. 26.

[In the following review, Campbell offers praise for the compelling nature of Taming the Star Runner as well as for the authenticity of its characters, but finds fault with Hinton's use of the horse as a symbol.]

"His boot felt empty without his knife in it," begins S. E. Hinton's fifth novel, Taming the Star Runner. A young hood, desperately tough and desperately vulnerable, is on his way to exile on his uncle's horse ranch—and in one paragraph the reader is back in familiar Hinton country after a hiatus of 10 years. What bearing does this new...

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Charles Solomon (review date 12 August 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Outsiders, in The Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 12, 1990, p. 10.

[In the following brief review of the 1990 paperback issue of The Outsiders, Solomon outlines the plot of the novel, notes the media adaptations based upon it, and, lauding Hinton as an "excellent juvenile novelist," urges teens to read her works.]

Written when she was only 16, The Outsiders was S. E. Hinton's first novel. It set the pattern for her later works, which all focus on disaffected, underclass teen-agers in the Southwest. The hero of the story, Ponyboy Curtis, who conceals a poetic soul under a self-styled "greaser" exterior, finds himself...

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Steven L. VanderStaay (essay date November 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Doing Theory: Words about Words about The Outsiders," in English Journal, Vol. 81, No. 7, November, 1992, pp. 57-61.

[In the following excerpt, VanderStaay, a high-school English teacher, outlines his application of literary theory to The Outsiders as assigned reading in his classroom, explaining how he teaches his students how to formulate their own ideas and ways of thinking.]

I had little use for critical theory until I met up with S. E. Hinton—or, rather, until I read The Outsiders (1967) with students. Since most of them knew the story (either through their own reading or the movie), my challenge was to find a way of using the book...

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Susanna Rodell (review date 19 November 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Puppy Sister, in The New York Times Book Review, November 19, 1995, p. 37.

[In the following review, Rodell declares that while The Puppy Sister is at times overly sentimental, it is appropriate for very young readers who will enjoy the fantasy and who will not be bothered by the implausibilities presented by the plot and characterization.]

It's not easy to pull off the sort of real-life fantasy S. E. Hinton attempts in The Puppy Sister. She largely succeeds, and the book will no doubt delight young independent readers, but it has some big flaws.

Ms. Hinton is well known to many parents, who remember...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Lempke, Susan Dove. Review of Big David, Little David, by S. E. Hinton. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 48 (February 1995): 200.

Offers a mixed assessment of Big David, Little David, arguing that some of the book's humor may be lost on its intended audience.

Stevenson, Deborah. Review of The Puppy Sister, by S. E. Hinton. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 49 (November 1995): 92.

Provides a positive review of The Puppy Sister, asserting that although the story is not entirely believable, it will be entertaining to...

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