The Outsiders Themes

Instructor: Kerry Gray

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

In 'The Outsiders' by S.E. Hinton, the major theme surrounds the conflict between the social classes, but there are other underlying themes as well. In this lesson, we'll learn more about the themes in this novel.

More Than Just East Versus West

The problems between the poor kids, or greasers, on the East Side of town and the rich kids, or Socs, on the West side of town provide the primary theme, or focus, of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. But as the characters grow through the story, we learn more about other themes, such as the dangers of stereotyping people and how to handle conflict.


At the beginning of the novel, things are so bad between the greasers and the Socs that Johnny is ready to kill himself to escape his fear. But he decides not to, saying,'Well I won't. But I gotta do something. It seems like there's gotta be someplace without greasers or Socs, with just people. Plain, ordinary people.'

The greasers in our story have dealt with poverty, violence, family dysfunction, and fear. The Socs have grown up with money, privilege, and too much time on their hands. To fill up that time, Socs travel to the east side of town to harass and jump (or pick a fight with uneven odds) greasers. While all of this story is told from the greaser, Ponyboy's, perspective, and may not be entirely accurate, it is apparent that the differences in social class create more than just a different look and lifestyle, but real fear and pain that the characters confront on a daily basis.


As the characters grow, change, and interact, it becomes apparent, perhaps more to the reader than the characters, that some of the greasers have more in common with the Socs than they originally thought. We realize the greasers' enemies are more than just stereotypes themselves.

Marcia (Soc) and Two-Bit (greaser) have an identical sense of humor that makes no sense to anyone else. Cherry (Soc) and Ponyboy (greaser) like literature and sunsets. Randy (Soc) and Johnny (greaser) both realize how pointless everything is and try running away to avoid the conflicts. Bob (Soc) and Dally (greaser) both have great leadership skills, but have been hardened by their circumstances to live a life of violence that ultimately is the downfall of them both.

The stereotypes really fall apart when Johnny and Ponyboy run into a burning church and save the lives of some school children who were there on a picnic. Even Dally, the hardened criminal who would have let the kids die, enters the church to save Johnny. This example shows that under the right circumstances, people don't always behave as you expect them to. Unfortunately, not all of the adults have figured this out as the newspaper the next day reads: 'JUVENILE DELINQUENTS TURN HEROES.'

Fighting is a way of life.


Anger and fear fuel the life of violence on the city streets where these boys live. Kids on both sides of town carry weapons and fight. To solve big problems, they schedule rumbles where all the Socs gather to fight all of the greasers in a vacant lot. Sometimes, it's a skin-on-skin fair fight, but other times there are vastly uneven numbers or weapons that give one side a disadvantage and results in serious injury or death.

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