Figurative Language in The Outsiders

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will learn how S.E. Hinton uses figurative language to describe characters and events in the novel, 'The Outsiders'. The heavy use of metaphors and other descriptive comparisons bring this story to life.

Definition of Figurative Language

Using figurative language expresses emotion beyond the literal interpretation of words. Figurative language is when things are described in a way that does not follow the usual meaning of the words being used. Let's look at an example from The Outsiders, written by S.E. Hinton in 1967.

If you can picture a little dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers, you'll have Johnny.

In this sentence, S.E. Hinton, describes Johnny by comparing him to an abused animal. The reader learns more than merely his physical description: shaggy hair, dark eyes, small... The reader learns that Johnny is unwanted, hurt, and alone.

The figurative language in The Outsiders is mostly metaphors and personification. Let's take a look at how these types of figurative language were used in the book.

Examples of Metaphors in The Outsiders

A metaphor is a comparison of two things that are not related but that is designed to create a connection. Here are a couple examples of metaphors from the book.

Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.

These words are likely the most recognizable use of figurative language from The Outsiders and are said by Johnny as he was dying to Ponyboy. To understand the meaning behind this metaphor, it helps to know what this is referencing.

While watching a sunrise from the church in Windrixville, Ponyboy remembers a poem by Robert Frost. In 'Nothing Gold Can Stay,' Frost uses metaphors to show that beautiful things, such as flowers, sunlight, and the Garden of Eden, are only beautiful for a time. The poem hits a chord with Johnny and Ponyboy in that moment because they are figuring out how to deal with the life-altering events that have just happened.

So, why did Johnny choose the words 'stay gold' to say to Ponyboy as he was dying? Ponyboy was as confused by Johnny's words as he was by the poem, but later, a note that Johnny left for Ponyboy explained the metaphor. Johnny wanted Ponyboy to know that things change but that if he can keep from being jaded by the problems on the east side and still see the beauty around him, he will have a chance to make his mark.

Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren't so different. We saw the same sunset.

Throughout the story, sunrises and sunsets are a metaphor for unity, innocence, and beauty. Cherry Valance and Johnny Cade admire that Ponyboy still watches sunsets. Johnny had never noticed them until Ponyboy pointed one out. Cherry had gotten too busy to notice them.

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