From the Outside In

Posted: January 22, 2013 in On Novels

They grew up on the outside of society. They weren’t looking for a fight. They were looking to belong.”

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I was no stranger to growing up an outcast. Yeah, yeah, I know you’ve heard this story a hundred times before, but hear me out, I’m serious! I don’t know if any of you are familiar with Alliance, Nebraska, but here’s the law of the land: football and drinking. It’s kind of like Chadron in that sense. So, being a middle school kid with long hair, no athletic ability , and no desire to be a party animal, I didn’t fit in much. High school dudes seemed to thoroughly enjoy being tough guys from the windows of their cars speeding by, and girls seemed to thoroughly enjoy tormenting me by teasing me about my hair and being facetiously flirtatious. Luckily, I found a circle of fellow long-haired heathen stoner skater goth satanist kids like myself, and we’ve pretty much been hitting it off ever since then (joking about the stoner goth satanist parts. Aren’t cliques fun, boys and girls?).

So what’s going on?

For the uninitiated, The Outsiders is a novel by S.E. Hinton that follows the story of Ponyboy Curtis (you read me right) who lives with his two older brothers Darry and Sodapop (right again). The Curtis boys and their gang of friends made up of degenerates, thieves, hoods, and outcasts are part of a gang called the Greasers; real slicked-back long hair, leather jacket with a switchblade in the pocket types of dudes just looking to belong somewhere.. you can see how I was able to identify with this. The Greasers are constantly at war with the Socials or Socs, the rich kids from the other side of town who have nice haircuts, drive cool cars, and have everything handed to them on a silver platter.

What I’ve just explained to you is the prime reason I’ve loved The Outsiders since I first had to read it in around sixth grade. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have the estranged family relationships at home, I had both parents and no issues with my family. Rather, the whole US vs. THEM theme pretty much painted the picture of my life up ’till my sophomore year in high school. The Greasers are just looking to get by and have a good time, but the Socs won’t let them be. Eventually it all culminates into a huge battle royal between sides: someone is killed, someone goes on the run, and the lines in the sand become very blurred.

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Why is this considered “young adult”?

Have I mentioned enough times the whole theme of “us v. them” and belonging? Anyone on the football team was my sworn arch-nemesis through all of middle school, so upon reading this book I could practically drop myself in as another one of the gang. A lot of the novel deals with Ponyboy’s interactions with different Socs, and his slow realization that despite all the fighting, they really aren’t that different. One of the most beautiful lines from the entire thing is one where Pony is talking to a girl named Cherry, the girlfriend of a Soc who beat one of the Greasers within an inch of his life:

“Can you see the sunset real good from the West Side? You can see it good from the East Side, too.” Ponyboy doesn’t necessarily enjoy the fact that everyone can’t just get along, but he also recognizes that things aren’t going to change just because he wishes they would.

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Besides the Greasers / Socs conflict, there are many other young adult themes at work here. The theme of a struggling family shows up and sort of sets the stage for the main conflict of the book. The Curtis boys’ parents are dead, and Darry, the oldest brother, is allowed to serve as a parent to his younger brothers as long as they don’t get in trouble with the law. Fearing for Ponyboy’s future, Darry often comes down on him hard for seemingly miniscule slip-ups, and Ponyboy resents him for it. Sodapop often winds up having to be the mediator between the two, but what he doesn’t show is that the constant in-fighting between Darry and Ponyboy is tearing him up inside. On top of this, the themes of coping with loss / the death of friends / family comes up much later in the novel.. but I won’t spoil it for all 3 of you who haven’t read this yet.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be young adult without the presence of violence and drug use. The Greasers often get their kicks out of general debauchery: slashing car tires, holding up stores, picking fights with other, smaller groups in the overall gang, and of course.. smoking and drinking! All of these issues (or at least ones like them) are ones that young adults have to face at one time or another. Let me tell you, a black hooded sweatshirt and hair below your jaw-line instantly makes you a criminal.. if you’re male, anyway. I think the police back home actually got a bonus in their paycheck if they stopped my friends and I more than 5 times in a week (didn’t know that being too loud in a public place at 4 in the afternoon was a thing, officer!)

Verdict?

If you have not read this already, read it. Honestly, it took me one two hour sitting.

Read it for your unrequired reading one week. And then, go see the movie with the likes of Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Emelio Estevez, and Ralph Maccio! For reals. You know you wanna see a pre-Scientology Tom Cruise being a badass.

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Whether you were a would-be hoodlum or not as a kid, we can all relate to needing to belong, to feeling like they’re out to get you, and finding solace only in friends and family. Some things, like being a kid, never change. Whether that’s good or bad.. hey, I don’t have all the answers.

Carpe Diem!

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Comments
  1. You sparked my interest in this book. And you are right, who wouldn’t want to watch the movie with a cast like that?! 🙂

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