The world of Ponyboy Curtis consists of two kinds of people: The greasers and the Socs. Who is this boy with a weird name? He is the narrator of the book ‘The Outsiders’, written by S.E.Hinton in the year 1967. The book is about two teenage rival gangs, as told from the point of view of Ponyboy Curtis. S.E.Hinton was only 15 when she started writing this novel, and maybe this was the reason that the book is so raw and manages to pull at your heartstrings. The highly famous book was also made into a highly successful movie of the same name in 1983 directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It starred Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze and Thomas Howell amongst others.
Socs is short for Socials; people who have money, status and an attitude to match. The greasers, constantly on war with the Socs are in stark contrast, with no money and no status. Ponyboy Curtis is a 14 year old greaser, and proud of it, because why shouldn’t he be? His gang of greaser friends were like family to him, having lost his parents and living with his two older brothers, Darry and Sodapop. The greasers loved to pick fights and have a rumble at the slightest provocation, all with a strong hatred to the Socs. Not Ponyboy though. He liked books, clouds, sunsets, and hated fights. He did fight though, because not fighting was not an option. Not when you were a greaser, hated by all society.
Ponyboy’s best friend is Johnny Cade, the gang’s ‘pet’, adopted by the gang because his parents did not want him. Ponyboy’s world is shook when he and Johnny are attacked by a gang of Socs and Johnny accidentally kills Bob, a Soc. They decide to run away and are helped by Dally Winston, the toughest greaser in their gang. They find refuge at an abandoned church, and their friendship grows. They discuss Robert Frost and Margaret Mitchell, talk about Greasers and Socs and ponder about why they’re fighting when they don’t want to. What happens next and how they escape is the explosive climax of the book.
I find it extremely difficult to write on this book, because of its complex characters and its heart wrenching storyline. The way that Hinton has described the characters, would make everyone fall in love with them. You feel sorry for Johnny, agree with Ponyboy, wish you were like Sodapop and hate Dally Winston. The characters evolve with the book as a bunch of ‘greasers’ emerge as unlikely heroes. The turning point of the book is when Ponyboy realizes that even though Greasers and Socs maybe dynamically different, they still felt the same pain and they watched the same sunset.
“It seemed funny that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.”
At the first glance, The Outsiders seems like any other book about rival gangs and violence. It is so much more though. Hinton has actually based this book on her real life school and neighbourhood. The book shows the pain of the boys, suffering just because they were unfortunate enough to be born on the wrong side of the city. They always have to watch their back, be tough and be ready to defend themselves anytime, anywhere. The book seamlessly explores themes of violence, family, heroism, death and love. Johnny and Ponyboy show us that it doesn’t matter if you are a greaser or a Soc, it only matters what you do and that heroes can be anyone. The characterization of Dally Winston is remarkable, and you are torn between hating him and loving him. The character that you think has the smallest capacity to love turns out to be the character who loves the most. That is the brilliance of The Outsiders.