The Outsiders is a two weeks narration of a 14-year-old boy’s life. The novel narrates the story of a boy named Ponyboy Curtis, and his struggle to differentiate between good and bad within a society that he believes views him as an outsider. Ponyboy has two brothers named Darrel, aged 20, and Sodapop, aged 16. The three are recently orphaned, having lost their parents their parents having met their demise in an automobile accident. The two minors, Sodapop and Ponyboy, are allowed to live under Darrel’s care, on condition that they maintain good behavior. The boys are members of a lower class grouping of Oklahoma youths known as greasers, a name that comes from their long greasy hair. The name is also a reference to their poor East side background (Hinton, 1967).
The Greasers have a rival group, known as the Socials, or the Socs in short. This group is comprised of affluent kids from the Westside, and the two groups are often in confrontation with each other. The novel opens with the description of an attack on Pony by the Socs as he is walking home alone from a movie. The gang of Socs pounces on Pony and beats him up badly, while threatening to kill him by slitting his throat. However, some of his fellow Greasers, including his two brothers come to his rescue, driving the Socs off. The other gang members to rescue him include Johnny, a 16-year-old kid, Dally, a hardcore criminal, Steve, who is Sodapop’s closest friend, as well as Two-Bit, the oldest and also funniest member of the group. This altercation between the two groups sets the stage for the occurrences in the rest of the novel (Hinton, 1967).
On the night after the incident, Pony, Dally, and Johnny attend a drive-in movie where they meet Cherry and Marcia, who are girlfriends to Socs members. The two girls are not with their boyfriends since they have been left behind drinking. After harassing the girls, Dally leaves the group but they are later joined by Two-Bit. After the movie, the boys offer to escort the girls to their homes but their boyfriends reappear and want to start a fight. Cherry stops this fight and the girls and their boyfriends leave.
Johnny and Pony then go to hang out at a vacant lot, but they fall asleep causing Pony to overstay his curfew. On arrival at home, an angry Darry, confronts and even slaps him. Pony runs back to the lot where he finds Johnny, who convinces him not to run away. Instead, the two leave for the park where they go to cool off. At the park, they meet with the Socs. The Socs grab Pony and attempt to drown him by placing his head in a fountain. On seeing this, Johnny panics and draws his switchblade killing Bob, one of the Socs (Hinton, 1967).
Fearing arrest, Johnny and Pony flee town with the assistance of Dally. They hide out at an old, abandoned church and here they feel like they are abandoned, with their long, greasy hair and their generally shaggy demeanor. The boys both cut their hair and as an extra disguise, Pony colors his. The police at this time have been lured into thinking that the boys have fled to Texas. Cherry, who at this point is spying for the greasers, testifies that the killing was probably in self-defense since Bob was drunk on the night.
Johnny sees this testimony as a lifeline and decides to surrender to the police. However, on their way back to the church, they find it on fire, with some little kids trapped inside. The two boys race inside to rescue the kids, but the roof caves in on them. Pony escapes narrowly but Johnny is not so lucky, and a piece of flaming timber strikes him, leaving him with severe burns and a broken back (Hinton, 1967).
Johnny later succumbs to his injuries, and a distraught Dally decides to go on a robbery. After committing the crime, he calls the gang members to pick him up at the lot and help him hide. However, the police chase him there and shoot him dead when he attempts to draw a black object. Traumatized by the tragic turn of events, Pony writes this book in dedication to all the “Dally’s” of the world (Hinton, 1967).
Several parallels can be drawn between this book and the work of Steinberg. Among Steinberg’s key discussions in his work is the development of anti-social behavior in gangs (Steinberg, 2013). One of the main causes of anti-social behavior is a response to victimization. This comes out clearly in this novel through various characters. For instance, Pony suffers from victimization since the Soc gang targets him for an attack. This means that he cannot even walk alone, because of the previous attack by the Socs. The need to protect themselves from attacks of such nature means that they have to carry weapons. Johnny illustrates another area where the two match. Johnny has suffered abuse in the hands of his parents and hence he views the gang as his family (Steinberg, 2013).
Pony also illustrates the relationship between the two books since one can argue that Johnny has developed post-traumatic stress as well as neurocism after the incident with Bob and the other Socs. In terms of authoritative parents, the relationship between Darry and Pony is a case in point. Darry represents Pony’s authoritative parent since he adopts this role after the death of their parents in a car crash. The authoritativeness is evident in his reaction when Pony arrives home way past his curfew.
The actions of Dally also represent an area of congruence between the two books. Prior to Johnny’s death, ne is very close to Dally. Thus, the death of Johnny leaves him traumatized and explains his antisocial behavior, where he pulls a knife on the doctor and points an unloaded gun at the police. These actions are because he blames himself for Johnny’s death (Steinberg, 2013).
Steinberg postulates that adolescent children’s experiences often affect their lives, and this is evident from Soda Pop’s academic performance. Soda Pop is the victim of bullying, and this eventually causes him to drop out of school.
Steinberg in chapter 13 of his book addresses the issue of conduct disorder, and this can be applied in addressing Dally’s character. When he was growing up, Dally was unwanted by his parents. This rejection by his own parents causes him to develop conduct disorder, as well as oppositional defiant disorder. These disorders may explain his frequent brushes with the law. Another character that has a disorder is Bob. Bob may be described as a sociopath since he wanted to kill Pony, who is only 14 years old. Since Bob is old enough to drive, it is evident he is picking on younger boys, which are sociopathic tendencies (Steinberg, 2013).
The Outsiders gives a perfect portrayal of adolescents and adolescent behavior. The book’s language is similar to that that is used by teenagers although the slight difference with the present day is that the modern day language would be likely to be full of expletives. For instance, the use of swear words, which is generally accepted as the norm today. Another way that the book reflects adolescent life is in the issues addressed. Teenage pregnancy and suicide, as well as underage drinking and smoking, are issues faced by adolescents then, and even now. The issue of school dropouts is also relevant to teens, both in that context, and the present day (Hinton, 1967).
The other issue with the book that makes it a good reflection of adolescent life is the gang culture portrayed. Issues of gang conflicts and illegal firearms use affect modern day teenagers even more than they did at the time of the book’s writing. The relationship between adults and adolescents also makes the case for the book being a reflection of teenage life. Teenagers turn to adults for help like Johnny does when he leaves the hospital dazed.
This book is a tragic description of an adolescent life through adolescent eyes. The author employs a firsthand point style to narrate the events, allowing the reader to truly enjoy a deep connection with the book. Through the author’s eyes, we can observe life through an adolescent’s eyes and understand their challenges. From the psychological perspective, the application of Steinerg’s work allows us to understand the reasons for the characters’ behavior and its relevance to the present day. Though the book was written in the 1960’s, it could just as easily have been set in the present day since the challenges are similar.
Hinton, S. E. (1967). The outsiders. New York: Viking Press.
Steinberg, L. (2013). Adolescence. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.