Literary Devices in The Outsiders

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  • 0:00 Figurative Language
  • 0:46 Examples of Literary Devices
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Kerry Gray

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

Expert Contributor
Jenna Clayton

Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

Authors, like S.E. Hinton, carefully choose their words to help you, the reader, feel invested in the story. In this lesson, we will look the literary devices used in 'The Outsiders'.

Figurative Language

Have you ever gotten so caught up in a book that you felt like you were part of the story? Authors use literary devices to make their reading more engaging to readers. Ideally, text should incorporate the senses to make the reader feel like they are part of the action. In this lesson, we will talk about some different literary devices and show examples from The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.

When an author carefully chooses words to evoke an emotional or sensual response, rather than relying on a literal, direct approach to writing, the author is using figurative language. Figurative language relies on literary devices or special literary techniques. Here are some examples from our story.

Examples of Literary Devices

Alliteration is the repetition of similar sounds. When the Socs jump Ponyboy as he is walking home from the movies, Hinton writes, 'They walked around slowly, silently, smiling.' The three words that begin with the letter 's' are an example of alliteration. Ponyboy, the narrator, uses alliteration to draw attention to the way they unexpectedly sneaked up on him and surrounded him before he knew they were there.

Allusion is when an author alludes to, or vaguely mentions, something, and then leaves it up to the reader to interpret it. Johnny's last words, 'Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold. . .' are an example of allusion. Johnny and Ponyboy talked about Robert Frost's poem 'Nothing Gold Can Stay' while hiding out in the church in Windrixville. Johnny saw that the innocence of childhood provides hope. He sees a great deal of hope for the future in Ponyboy, but understands that the negativity that surrounds them has the ability to make him jaded. Johnny knows that it is too late for him, but he wants Ponyboy to fight against being consumed by violence and hate and find a way out.

Foreshadowing is dropping hints to the reader that something is about to happen. Ponyboy leaves a few hints that the church is going to burn when he narrates, 'If that old church ever caught fire there'd be no stopping it.' And, it does, indeed, burn to the ground. Did you feel the anticipation and suspense in this hint?

Hyperbole is an exaggeration used to make a point. When Ponyboy caught on fire and Dally hit him to put out the flames, Ponyboy lost consciousness. The next day, Dally used hyperbole to describe his concern. 'Kid, you scared the devil outa me the other day. I thought I'd killed you.' Dally didn't really think he was possessed by the devil or that he had killed Ponyboy, but his use of words show the level of concern that Dally had for Ponyboy in that moment.

Irony occurs when a big departure arises between what happens and what you would expect to happen. Ponyboy writes, 'In the country. . . I loved the country. I wanted to be out of towns and away from excitement.' But does he escape excitement in the country? No, while he's in the country, the church that Ponyboy is staying in catches on fire and Ponyboy ends up saving children from a burning building. The city ends up being the place he goes to recover.

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Additional Activities

The Outsiders and Literary Devices Activities

Summary of The Outsiders

For this activity, write a 3-4 paragraph summary of The Outsiders. Include the following information: the title and author, main characters, a comprehensive summary of the plot, examples of figurative language used in the book, and the major themes. Once you are done, make sure to proofread, edit, and revise your summary before publishing or turning-in.

Literary Devices Activity

For this activity, you are going to write the definitions of the following literary devices. You will then provide two examples of each literary device. You can choose examples from The Outsiders or other books. You can also use examples from movies and poems, or you can create original examples.

  • Alliteration
  • Allusion
  • Foreshadowing
  • Hyperbole
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Personification
  • Simile

Here is an example of how you would complete this activity.

Literary device: Alliteration

Definition: the repetition of similar sounds (at the beginning of words)

Example #1: "While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping" (from Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven")

Example #2: "The Sun came up upon the left,/ Out of the sea came he!/ And he shown bright, and on the right!/ Went down into the sea." (from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner")

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