The Outsiders: Summary & Characters

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  • 0:04 The Outsiders Setup
  • 0:30 The Outsiders Plot Summary
  • 3:03 The Outsiders Impact
  • 3:37 The Outsiders Characters
  • 6:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Francesca Marinaro

Francesca M. Marinaro has a PhD in English from the University of Florida and has been teaching English composition and Literature since 2007.

S. E. Hinton's young adult novel 'The Outsiders' has been celebrated as a classic work of fiction for nearly half a century. This lesson summarizes the novel's plot and major characters and discusses its significance and influence on the genre of YA fiction.

The Outsiders: Setup

The Outsiders (1967) is a well-known young adult novel by American writer S.E. Hinton. It tells the story of 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis and his two older brothers, Soda and Darry. The boys are orphans and struggle to stick together in their lower-class neighborhood, known as the East Side. They and their friends are part of a gang of working class tough street boys called the Greasers.

The Outsiders' Plot Summary

The story begins with Ponyboy walking home from the movies and gets jumped by a group of Socs (or Socials), the rich kids from the West Side who drink, drive fancy cars, and beat up Greasers just for fun. The Greasers fear and hate the Socs because the Socs once beat up Ponyboy's friend and fellow Greaser Johnny Cade.

The night after Ponyboy's run-in with the Socs, Johnny and Ponyboy go to the movies with their friend Dally Winston and chat up two Soc girls named Cherry and Marcia. After the movie, Johnny and Ponyboy are walking the girls home when a group of Socs show up, including the girls' boyfriends, Bob and Randy. The boys have been drinking, which is why Cherry and Marcia had left them and gone to the movies by themselves. Bob turns out to be the same boy who beat up Johnny. To avoid a fight between the boys, Cherry and Marcia agree to go home with Bob and Randy.

When Ponyboy arrives home late, Darry shouts and slaps him, startling both of them. Ponyboy runs off and finds Johnny, and the two boys walk to the nearby park so Ponyboy can calm down. The Soc boys show up again, drunk, and when Bob threatens Johnny while the other boys try to drown Ponyboy in a fountain, Johnny fatally stabs Bob in self-defense. He and Ponyboy tell Dally what happened, and Dally tells them about an old church in the country where they can hide out.

Ponyboy and Johnny hide out in the church for a few days until Dally shows up to tell them that Cherry, Bob's girlfriend, is going to testify in court on their behalf, which makes Johnny decide to turn himself in because he can make a case for self-defense. Dally takes the boys to get a bite to eat, and when they get back, the church is on fire. Ponyboy realizes that a cigarette that one of them hadn't put out probably caused it. Realizing that there's a school picnic going on there, the boys rush inside and manage to save the children trapped in the church, but Johnny is badly injured when a fallen beam breaks his back.

Johnny dies in the hospital as a result of his burns and a broken back, and a devastated Dally allows himself to be killed by the police in a shootout after he robs a store. Ponyboy has a difficult time accepting Johnny's death and all that has happened to him, and his grades begin to drop. When he's assigned to write an essay for English so that he can pass the class, he thinks of the experiences he's had and decides to write his story, because his brothers, his friends, and Johnny's heroism can remind kids that there is always some good to be found in the world.

The Outsiders' Impact

S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was only 16 years old, and it revolutionized young adult fiction with its hard-hitting look at the social politics of being a teenager in mid-twentieth century America. It began a trend in the genre of taking a more serious look at the struggles of growing up.

The book drew a wide audience, especially among teenage boys who were reluctant readers. It was criticized at first for its, at the time, graphic depictions of violence, but it remains a classic work of young adult fiction that explores the universal struggles of growing up.

The Outsiders' Characters

When looking at the characters in The Outsiders, let's first take a closer look at the Curtis family, the main characters of this story.

Ponyboy Curtis is the story's narrator and protagonist. He's smart and bookish, which sets him apart from the other Greasers and helps him to see things more deeply, questioning why everyone wastes so much time fighting rather than focusing on what they have in common.

Darrel (Darry) Curtis is 20 years old and the eldest Curtis brother. He has been struggling to keep the family together since their parents' death in a car crash eight months before the novel begins. He's allowed to be Ponyboy and Soda's legal guardian as long as they can stay out of trouble. Darry turns down a football scholarship to college and works to support his brothers.

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