The overall urban setting of S. E. Hinton’s novel generally shapes the characters’s experiences. The boys come from poor families and live in a neighborhood that shows signs of urban blight. The teenagers spend considerable time out of the house but not within structured environments; they do not engage in formal extracurricular activities such as sports or music lessons. Instead, often they are literally on the streets or in Charlie’s Bar. The youths may be members of gangs or pressured to ally themselves to gangs, and there is considerable inter-racial tensions in the neighborhood. Violence is all too common. Although some boys have been convicted of crimes and made to serve time in juvenile detention facilities, there seems to be a low police presence in their neighborhood.
The normalization of violence, crime, and low state investment influence the plot elements through the characters’s interactions. Mark seems to have completely accepted criminality as a valid way of life, and rarely shows remorse for his illegal actions or harsh treatment of others. Byron, however, is alarmed by the increasing violence in their lives. He reacts against it through his personal relationships; he acknowledges that he is fortunate to land a job. Numerous characters identify others primarily through their race and their gang affiliation, so an ongoing feud seems to be in operation. When the Shepard gang targets Bryon and Mark, the attacks result in injuries that require hospitalization.