The Outsiders by author S. E. Hinton: An Honest, Gritty Coming-of-Age Story That Still Resonates!

A Timeless Novel About Youth, Identity and Bullying


When I first read S.E. Hinton’s coming-of-age novel “The Outsiders” as a teenager back in the 80s, I was immediately captivated by the honest, gritty portrayal of rival teen gangs in suburban Oklahoma. The story follows the lives of two groups of kids from opposite sides of the financial tracks, the working-class “greasers” and the rich “Socs” (short for “Socials”). The greasers, our protagonists, struggle to find their place in the world while dealing with bullying and harassment from the Socs, who seem to have it all.

Published in 1967 when Hinton herself was just 17, “The Outsiders” was one of the first realistic young adult novels. It confronted issues of violence, identity and social alienation years before they became common YA tropes. While capturing a specific moment in time, the novel explores universal and timeless themes about youth, family, friendship and finding one’s way in an often unkind world.

Nearly 60 years since publication, this seminal work continues to deeply resonate with each new generation of readers. Its raw honesty and gripping narrative make the characters’ struggles feel vivid, relevant and real. Let’s dive deeper into the plot, characters, themes and lasting impact of this short but mighty novel.

The Outsiders by author S. E. Hinton

You can find The Outsiders by author S. E. Hinton on your favorite bookstore, including and Amazon UK.

About author S. E. Hinton

Author S. E. Hinton

S.E. Hinton pioneered the Young Adult genre with her groundbreaking 1967 debut novel The Outsiders, creating hard-hitting coming-of-age stories marked by emotional honesty and empathy. Drawing on her experiences growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Hinton’s realistic portrayals of adolescence in turmoil resonated deeply, securing her status as one of the most influential authors shaping literature for young readers.

Propelled to fame while still a teenager, Susan Eloise Hinton was born in 1948. Observing the class conflicts and unrest in her high school between rival groups, Hinton channeled these details into The Outsiders. Told from the perspective of 14-year-old Greaser Ponyboy Curtis, the novel explored complex themes of alienation, identity, and social stratification from the often unexamined vantage of young outsiders. Rejecting superficial stereotypes, she compelled reconsideration of how socioeconomic and societal factors influence behavior.

Published when Hinton was just 19, The Outsiders enjoyed overnight success—the first mainstream novel marketed directly to young readers depicting adolescence in such an unflinching light. Hinton gave voice to struggling, aimless youth and underscored their inherent worth, catalyzing Young Adult fiction’s emergence. Her emphasis on empathy and emotional depth in the face of turmoil became a defining hallmark of the genre. Over 15 million copies of the novel have been sold to date and it still widely appears in school curriculums globally, further cementing Hinton’s game-changing impact.

While a student at the University of Tulsa, she continued writing, publishing That Was Then, This Is Now in 1971 and Rumble Fish in 1975, both set in the same starkly realistic world that resonated strongly with dissatisfied young readers feeling marginalized in modern society amid shifting cultural attitudes around class, violence, and authority in America. Tackling teenage angst, domestic strain, identity crises and uncertain futures, Hinton’s novels were refreshingly authentic.

In 1979, she married David Inhofe and took a break from writing while starting a family. However, Hinton later divorced and resumed writing full-time. Expanding her repertoire, she published several more acclaimed novels for younger readers that further solidified her reputation as the voice of troubled youth, including: Taming the Star Runner, Hawkes Harbor, and Big David, Little David. Though some criticized the unflinching violence and maturity of her subject matter, Hinton’s popularity continued growing.

Proving her breakthrough debut’s incredible cross-generational appeal, director Francis Ford Coppola adapted The Outsiders as a 1983 film featuring emerging young talents like Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze—cementing the story’s legacy. Hinton’s fame has now spanned over five decades but her honest, emotionally-resonant exploration of youth and her championing of often overlooked perspectives remains vitally relevant for new generations. Still residing in Tulsa today, Hinton continues nurturing young talent and serving the community while working on new fiction projects exploring the timeless struggles of troubled youth.

Life on the East Side: Getting to Know Our Greaser Narrator

The story is told through the eyes of our 14-year-old narrator Ponyboy Curtis, the youngest member of a greaser gang that includes his two older brothers Sodapop and Darry. In the opening scene, Ponyboy is skipping school and killing time with his buddy Johnny before a planned movie outing later that night.

Right away, we get insight into Ponyboy’s academic struggles, his interest in sunsets and movies, and his overall introspective nature. The bond between the gang members also becomes quickly apparent through their fraternal teasing, loyalty and willingness to physically defend one another when needed.

As Ponyboy and Johnny walk through their neighborhood, they’re constantly on guard, wary of being jumped by Socs at any moment. Ponyboy explains how he and his friends are always looking over their shoulders, never able to fully relax.

“[We’re] always needing to watch our backs and the backs of our buddies,” he remarks. “Maybe that’s why we’re different…we feel too much.”

This establishes the dangerous volatility the greasers face regularly from their rivals. As the story progresses, readers gain more insight into the gritty day-to-day existence of Ponyboy’s gang as they try making ends meet while dealing with threats around every corner.

Meet the Greasers: A Makeshift Family of Misfits

The members of Ponyboy’s gang essentially function as an adopted family. His parents were killed in an automobile accident, leaving oldest brother Darry as their legal guardian. Though just 20, Darry works multiple jobs to provide for his brothers after promising their late parents he’d keep the family together.

The middle brother Sodapop is a high school dropout who works full-time at a gas station. Though he struggles in school, he’s charming, fun-loving and loyal to a fault. The brothers’ diverse personalities and friction offer a nuanced exploration of intra-family dynamics.

Rounding out the crew are other colorful members of their extended greaser family, including the brooding Dallas Winston, timid Johnny Cade who suffers abuse at home, two-bit jokester Steve Randle, and wannabe hoodlum Two-Bit Mathews.

Contrasting Worlds Collide: Greasers vs Socs

On the other side of the tracks are the Socs, short for “Socials.” Wealthy, athletic and seemingly perfect in every way, the Socs have everything in life handed to them. They look down on and relentlessly bully the greasers, venting their boredom and entitlement issues by jumping them, wrecking their hangouts and dousing them in garbage.

“We’re poorer than the Socs and the middle class,” Ponyboy explains. “I reckon we’re wilder, too…The Socs were always behind a wall of aloofness, careful not to let their real selves show through.”

The Socs, we learn, mindlessly perpetuate a cycle of violence mainly to live up to expectations from parents and peers. Through Ponyboy’s eyes, readers recognize how socioeconomics and peer pressure fuel bullying, aggression and the widening divide between the two groups.

Traumatic Turning Point Drives the Action

One pivotal night after the movies, Ponyboy and Johnny get assaulted by a carload of drunk Socs including Bob and Randy. Johnny ends up stabbing Bob to death in self-defense, forcing the boys to hastily flee town. They hide out for nearly a week in an abandoned church on Jay Mountain, shivering through cold nights, missing home, and relying on one another for survival.

During this period in hiding, they meet a kind minister named Jerry who brings them blankets and food. He listens without judgement and assures the boys that he once felt like a misfit too. His empathy resonates deeply, hinting he may have questioned his own path at their age. His character represents one of the few virtuous, non-judgemental adults in the story.

Johnny’s Unfortunate Home Life

Hinton offers more insight into Johnny Cade’s wretched home environment through flashbacks while the boys are in hiding. Physically and emotionally abused by his alcoholic mother and absent father, Johnny is shown compassion only by his fellow greasers who essentially adopt him.

His battered psyche leaves him constantly on edge for the next attack. After years of torment, Johnny channels all that pent-up fear and rage unexpectedly when defending Ponyboy from Bob the Soc.

While hiding out, Johnny pens a brave but heartbreaking note recounting how he “died” inside long before stabbing Bob. This offers perspective into his extreme reaction that fateful night – a culmination of lifelong suffering finally boiling over.

Emerging Maturity Through Introspection

The church scene also shows Ponyboy maturing introspectively. Inspired by a Robert Frost poem in Jerry’s copy of Gone with the Wind, he discovers poetry and sunsets, viewing both through a new lens.

He recognizes how sunsets separate people by class – they’re just pretty spectacles for carefree Socs who “can look at a sunset without worrying,” while downtrodden kids like himself rarely pause to appreciate them.

Ponyboy yearns for that sort of leisure to contemplate life’s beauty amid its harsh realities. This moment plants early seeds for Pony to consider perspectives beyond his gritty existence.

Race to Rescue Friends From Fire & Fracas

After a week in isolation, the boys learn from Dallas that a fire has broken out back home in the old abandoned church where they’ve been hiding. They speed back to town to rescue a class of little kids trapped inside. Working with their rival Socs, they save the children right before the building collapses, though Johnny suffers severe burns and a broken back.

When Ponyboy finally gets home, he faces interrogation from frantic Darry who slaps him hard in a moment of terrified relief. This scene captures the complexity of their relationship and Darry’s internal struggles to balance parenting with brotherhood.

Johnny’s Death & Unlikely Aftermath

With Johnny now hospitalized and wanted for murder, tensions between the greasers and Socs reach new heights. There’s talk of calling a rumble – an all-out brawl between the two gangs to settle the score over Johnny’s wanted status.

In the hospital, a panicked Johnny makes Ponyboy promise to remain gold inside and in his studies, while lamenting “Stay gold, Ponyboy” – a reference to their talks about Robert Frost. Soon after, Johnny tragically passes away, leaving Ponyboy emotionally shattered.

Dally Winston spirals self-destructively after losing Johnny, his sole emotional anchor. He robs a grocery store before getting gunned down by cops, discretely ensuring his own demise. The greasers are crushed realizing Dally wanted to die, with Johnny’s demise being too much for him to take.

Rumble & Reconciliation Between Rivals

Remarkably, the night of the rumble takes an enlightened turn. Ponyboy reconciles with Darry, recognizing how Darry’s gruffness comes from dedication, pressure and devotion – not resentment. Ponyboy also chats with Randy the Soc, each apologizing for their groups’ past actions and Johnny’s death.

The rumble itself is anti-climactic, ending quickly as both sides fight half-heartedly, already exhausted from grief. This marks a turning point signaling the senselessness of their rivalry. In the aftermath, Soc and greaser alike mourn their shared humanity and costs of the vicious cycle.

Bittersweet Life Goes On

In the final chapters, Ponyboy struggles with depression and their collective losses. He nearly fails school before pulling things together remembering Johnny’s plea to “stay gold.” He aces his classes and exams, sees a counselor regularly, and stops having nightmares about the fire.

The three brothers are settling into their new normal though still deeply missing Johnny and Dally. The novel concludes with Ponyboy writing their story as a class assignment about saving the kids from the fire. This frame narrative comes full circle, with Ponyboy hoping readers relate to his experiences and see that greasers have value too.

We’re left on a cautiously optimistic note as the next stage of Ponyboy’s life begins, now a little wiser and increasingly at peace with himself and others.

Why “The Outsiders” Still Matters Today

It’s incredible that a novel written over 50 years ago still feels so authentic and relevant for today’s youth. While capturing a specific era, the themes around cliques, bullying, finding identity and the high stakes of adolescence remain truly timeless.

Hinton gave the YA genre credibility by offering an honest portrayal of teenage existence – far grittier and real than anything aimed at young readers in the 1960s. She respected her audience, confronting heavy topics like abuse, violence, death, and addiction that weren’t typically considered appropriate.

The characters’ painful quest towards self-acceptance, maturity and reconciliation continues to deeply resonate generation after generation. “The Outsiders” lays bare certain awful realities of youth and poverty but not without hope.

The novel shows how empathy can emerge even between bitter rivals like greasers and Socs when they fully grasp each other’s humanity. Poignant moments of kindness also overcome socioeconomic divides, whether from the minister Jerry or the children saved from the fire.

We all yearn to “stay gold” inside amid the harshness of life – to remain innocent, appreciative and authentic before the world hardens us. That universal longing for goodness and mutual understanding continues touching reader’s souls decade after decade.

Ultimately “The Outsiders” remains relevant by conveying certain unavoidable pains and perspectives of youth that will continue far beyond any period details that date the work. There’s solace knowing that socieoeconomic status, cliques and other superficial divisions don’t fully erase our shared human experiences.

Why You Should Still Read This Coming-of-Age Classic

If you haven’t read the timeless, coming-of-age story of Ponyboy and his greaser gang, the novel’s realistic dialogue, sobering themes and emotional resonance give profound insight into teenage struggles. It confronts universal feelings of frustration and vulnerability in an unfair world one may feel powerless to change.

As an early pioneer of gritty realism in YA lit, the novel offers an uncompromisingly honest take on adolescence. The characters’ raw desperation for connection and understanding continues to grip readers.

While capturing a snapshot of 1960s youth culture, economic divides and social conformity, major aspects of humanity transcend the specifics. The characters model resilence against stacked odds that inspires hope generation after generation.

Give this short but mighty novel a chance to imprint its arc of hardship, personal growth and hard-won wisdom into your mind. Expect characters and scenes to stick with you long after the last page leaves you longing to follow Ponyboy a little further into the unknown road ahead.

If you enjoyed stepping into the world of Ponyboy Curtis and the greasers, here are 5 more phenomenal coming-of-age stories:

  1. The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger – This classic needs no introduction following critical loner Holden Caulfield as he ventures to New York after being expelled. Salinger captured teenage rebellion and alienation like no other in this 1951 novel.
  2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky – This epistolary novel set in the 1990s deals with introversion, bullying, first crushes, the suicide of a friend, and the perseverance of hope. The protagonist Charlie is as memorable as Ponyboy trying to find his way.
  3. The Chocolate War” by Robert Cormier – A contender for the darkest high school novels, this story centers on a nonconforming boy’s resistance to join in annual fundrasing chocolate sales and the fallout from standing up against bullying peers.
  4. A Separate Peace” by John Knowles – Set during World War II, this novel explores coming-of-age themes through characters Gene and Phineas forging a conflicted, subjective dynamic of friendship, rivalry, adhesion and betrayal shaped by larger world events.
  5. Lord of the Flies” by William Golding – This allegorical masterpiece channels adolescent tribal darkness as British schoolboys descend into barbarism after being marooned on an uninhabited island trying to govern themselves with tragic results.


What is The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton about?

The Outsiders is a coming-of-age novel about two rival groups, the Greasers and the Socs (short for “Socials”), who are divided by their socioeconomic status. The story is told from the perspective of 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis, a Greaser who struggles with right and wrong in a society that shuns him and his friends. After getting jumped by the Socs, Ponyboy and his friend Johnny get into a brawl that results in dire consequences and forces the boys to go on the run.

What period is covered by The Outsiders?

While never directly stated, contextual clues imply that The Outsiders takes place during the mid-1960s. References are made to contemporary television shows, cars, and events that match up with the mid-60s time period, such as the Ford Mustang and the Vietnam War. Though universal in its themes, grounding the novel in this specific era also highlights the class divides and social problems of the time.

Who are the main characters in The Outsiders?

The main characters include the narrator and protagonist Ponyboy Curtis and his two brothers Sodapop and Darry. On the Greasers side there is also Johnny Cade, Dallas “Dally” Winston, Two-Bit Matthews, and Steve Randle. On the rival Socs side there is Cherry Valance, Randy Adderson, Marcia, and Bob Sheldon among others. These characters become embroiled in the conflict between the underprivileged Greasers and the wealthy Socs.

What is notable about the narration style?

An interesting narrative choice by Hinton is that the story is told entirely in first-person by Ponyboy. This brings an emotional intimacy and lens into the world that only Ponyboy experiences. Since he is young and sensitive, it also results in poetic and deeply thoughtful narration, allowing Hinton to explore complex themes from an unexpected viewpoint.

How did the book get its title?

The outsiders title captures how the Greasers are made to feel in their community and society—like outsiders. They are labeled as hoodlums and delinquents without means or futures, shunned for not conforming to societal standards. This background sets up Ponyboy’s introspection on his purpose and identity within a society that views him and his friends as nothing more than outsiders.

What inspired S.E. Hinton to write the novel?

Interestingly, Hinton started writing the novel when she was just 15 years old, finishing it when she was 17. Having witnessed rivalry between two groups at her Oklahoma high school, she sought to realistically portray the dynamics she observed—including how many teens felt rejected from mainstream society. Drawing on these personal experiences made The Outsiders an authentic, emotionally resonant novel.

How was the novel received when it was released?

Since its release in 1967, The Outsiders enjoyed critical acclaim and strong readership, especially among young adult readers who related to its emotional honesty. It is noted as one of the first major Young Adult novels, pioneering the contemporary incarnation of the genre. Over 15 million copies have been sold to date.

Has The Outsiders been adapted to other media?

Yes, The Outsiders has been adapted into a 1983 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola featuring emerging young stars Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, and Patrick Swayze. Produced for young audiences, the film earned a dedicated following. The novel has also seen stage and musical adaptations, while maintaining popularity as classroom reading material due to its maturity and literary merit.

What themes does the novel explore?

Key themes involve empathy, identity, family, and examination of social inequality through the lens of youth disenfranchisement. By portraying complex characters who defy stereotypes, Hinton compels reconsideration of how we label and judge others without truly knowing them. Ponyboy’s emotional journey also highlights the life-altering importance of choosing compassion over violence.

Why is The Outsiders still relevant today?

While grounded in its 1960s setting, the battles of divided social groups, understanding marginalized perspectives, and the disenfranchisement of youth resonate profoundly in the present day. New generations continue to connect with its messages about empathy. Its iconic status as a Young Adult novel that takes teenagers seriously while showing moral complexity also cements its ongoing relevance.

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