Social injustice and it’s binding perils have been a persistent problem in all societies of the world through times immemorial, and no better is this described than in S.E Hinton’s novel ‘The Outsiders’.
Short and powerful, the title of the book explains it’s content in a very simplistic way, giving the reader’s a hint into the content that is set before them in this beautiful tale. From olden day slavery to modern day hazing, ‘The Outsiders‘ explores the core feature of all these social problems alike, giving readers insight into the perils and never considered collateral damaged caused by the phasing-out of social castes and classes.
Ponyboy Curtis, the narrator, is walking home from a movie one day. He is one of the ‘greasers’, a term loosely used for the lower-class boys from the east side of Oklahoma because of their greasy hair. He is apprehended along the way by a group of ‘socs’ boys, ‘socs’ being short for ‘socials’, otherwise referring to the rich kids from the west side. They proceed to beat him quite horrifically, until some of the greaser boys arrive at the scene to rescue him and chase the socs away.
Among these boys are Ponyboy’s brothers Sodapop and Darry (Darrel), Johnny, a quiet sixteen year old, Dally, with a rap sheet longer than the great wall of China, and Two-bit, the oldest of the group. Ponyboy, Sodapop and Darry have all been recently orphaned when their parents died in a car crash, and Darry has been allowed to assume responsibility for his two younger brothers so long as they behave themselves. This fight strategically placed right at the beginning of the book is highly significant as it sets the tone for the entire story.
The next night, Ponyboy, Johnny and Dally set out to go watch a movie, where they run into two soc girls by the name of Cherry and Marcia. Dally flirts with them furiously and when asked to stop by Johnny, walks away in anger. Two-bit joins them and they offer to walk the girls home after the movie. On their way, they bump into the girls’ boyfriends Bob and Randy, and the girls leave with them to avoid a fight from ensuing.
Pony boy and Johnny decide to relax in the park for a while before going home, and they fall asleep, sending Darry into a fury when Ponyboy arrives home way past his curfew. The argument between the two brothers gets heated, and Darry hits Ponyboy. Ponyboy runs away, adamant on teaching Darry a lesson, and returns to the park with Johnny. Unfortunately, luck is against them, and they run into Bob and Randy again, however, this time they are outnumbered by the soc boys.
They begin to beat Johnny violently, and they push Ponyboy’s head underwater in the fountain making him unconscious. Afraid that they will drown Ponyboy, Johnny panics and stabs Bob, killing him. When Ponyboy comes to, he and Johnny flee the scene. They go to Dally who they believe might be able to help them, and he gives them some money and a gun along with directions to a safe hideout just outside town. Ponyboy and Johnny retreat into the old abandoned church as Dally has suggested, where they spend their next few days cutting and coloring their hair to disguise themselves, and reading aloud chapters from ‘Gone With the Wind’.
Soon after, they are visited by ally, who informs them that Cherry has testified to the police that Bob was drunk the night of his murder, and feeling partly responsible, has become a spy for the greasers. Knowing this is his best chance, Johnny decides to turn himself in to the police. Just as the boys are about to leave to return home, a fire breaks out in the church where they have been taking refuge, and they realize that a visiting group of school children is trapped inside. Without giving it a second thought, Ponyboy and Johnny run inside to rescue them, but just as they are pulling the last of the children out, the roof collapses. Ponyboy gets a way by a fraction of a second, however Johnny is too late. A banister from the roof falls on his back, and he is critically injured.
After a few days in the hospital, Johnny passes away. This sends Dally into a complete breakdown, and in his frenzy he robs a grocery store. He calls the group to come rescue him, but they are too late. Just as they are arriving on the scene they see Dally pull a black object from his jacket, and presuming it to be a gun, the police shoot him down, killing him. The book ends with the judge’s verdict on Ponyboy for his involvement with Bob’s murder.Ponyboy realizes the importance of family and stops fighting with Darry.
The characters in the story are what make the Outsiders such an enjoyable read for people all around the world. Simple and realistic, Hinton has been careful not to make the characters seem fictional, in lieu of making them more relatable to the audience. All kinds of people, from different backgrounds and different parts of the world, each and every one of them can relate to one or another character in The Outsiders. whether the greasers or the socs, each and every one of us has been on either side of the hill at some point in their lives, making the story real and all the more moving for audiences.
Hinton puts the readers in the shoes of the teenage boys in Oklahoma back in the 60’s, giving the a true taste of the agony and perils suffered by them through the constant social out-casting and phasing that they faced. Hinton uses real life incidents to describe and portray his message regarding the psychological damage caused to those children who have no place where they feel like they ‘fit in’, thus hindering they’re development as individuals.
Hinton’s message in ‘The Outsiders’ is a strong and clear one, and regardless of the time in which the book was written, it is still very much relevant in all times, in every part of the world. The audiobook of The Outsiders is narrated beautifully by Jim Fyfe to create an enjoyable experience for it’s listeners, drifting them away into the world and the lives of the 1960’s Oklahoma teens.
Through his story, Hinton seeks to move audiences to look past prejudices and create a more integrated society, making them aware of the damages caused to both sides in times of social injustice. For anyone who enjoys a moving, strongly opinionated and heartwarming story, the tale of The Outsiders is a must listen!