Literary Analysis of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

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  • 0:04 Caught Between Two Worlds
  • 0:42 Setting and Class Conflict
  • 1:42 Friendship, Loyalty, & Guilt
  • 3:21 Coming of Age
  • 4:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

''The Outsiders,'' a young adult novel by S. E. Hinton, is a story of violence, class conflict, and death. It is also a story of loyalty, friendship, and finding your place in the world.

Caught Between Two Worlds

Have you ever felt like you just don't belong? This is the case for the protagonist of the young adult novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Ponyboy Curtis, born into a poor neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, doesn't really fit in anywhere. He's too smart and sensitive to be one of the Greasers, the gang of rough kids who live around him. He's not rich enough to be a Soc. Instead, he's stuck in the middle, trying to find his way amid the violence and upheaval of a social class war. This lesson focuses on the literary analysis of the novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

Setting and Class Conflict

Tulsa is never named as the setting of the novel, but we know it's a city in the midwestern part of the country that is experiencing clashes between its social classes. But 16-year-old S.E. Hinton lived in Tulsa, and has said many times that this was the inspiration for the home of Pony and his friends.

In Ponyboy's city, everything is split between the East Side Greasers and the West Side Socs, and tensions between the two groups drive the action of the story. The Greasers, named for the grease they use in their hair, are poor and troubled. They're known for fighting, shoplifting, and robbing gas stations. The Socs (short for Socials) are richer. They enjoy driving expensive cars, wearing expensive clothes, drinking too much, and beating up the poor kids from the East Side of town. Though Pony is a Greaser based on the neighborhood he lives in, he is in classes with the Socs, as he does very well in school and has even skipped a grade. This leaves him feeling like he doesn't belong anywhere.

Friendship, Loyalty, & Guilt

Ponyboy's best friend is Johnny Cade. Johnny, like Pony, is a bit of an outsider among the greasers. He is small for his age and permanently scared (and scarred) from an encounter with a Soc named Bob. The friendship between the boys is built out of necessity and a genuine love of each other. Their friendship is put to the test when Pony and Johnny are at a park late at night. Bob shows back up with several of his friends. One of the boys holds Pony's head under water, and to save his friend, Johnny stabs and kills Bob.

Johnny and Pony run away instead of facing the police. Johnny is afraid he will face murder charges, and Pony, who has been living with his brothers since his parents' deaths, is worried he will be forced to live in a boys' home. Loyalty to Johnny makes Pony run away with him, and loyalty to Pony makes Johnny decide to turn himself in.

While they are hiding out in an old church, they inadvertently start a fire, and children are trapped inside. The guilt they feel over starting the fire makes them run into the burning building to try to save the children. The children are saved, and Pony makes it out okay, but Johnny is fatally wounded.

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