Dr Mark’s Meaning in a Nutshell

S. E. Hinton, The Outsiders (1967) – Novel Meaning

Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell: S. E. Hinton, The Outsiders (1967)

S. E. Hinton’s began writing her novel about what would commonly be perceived as delinquent youth, The Outsiders (1967), when she was only 15 but it was mostly written when she was 16.  Frustrated with prevailing trends in young adult or teen fiction, she sought to write a novel that was more realistic, which dealt with teenagers in a manner to which they could relate.  Consequently, she wrote about the world she knew directly in 1963, the gang warfare in Tulsa, Oklahoma between the lower class or underclass ‘greasers’ and the more affluent or middle class ‘socs’. 

She sides openly with the greasers, telling the story from their perspective through the character Ponyboy, which she used as a vehicle to convey her own opinions.  Her overriding purpose was to counter popular prejudices against these tough-looking and tough-acting youths by revealing their emotional complexity and their softer or more sensitive or sentimental sides.  The gang includes a few young men who, by their nature, are headed for a life of crime involving prison terms and perhaps a violent premature death, but most of the others are fundamentally good people and who secretly dislike the gang violence but value their gang as a surrogate family.  Most of these gang members engage in petty crime, like stealing or underage drinking, and carry switchblades more for show than for use in combat, but they are shown to be decent people who can distinguish between right and wrong.  Some greasers even prove themselves to be conventional heroes, confounding gang-member stereotypes by rescuing children from a burning building.

Hinton takes care to depict the greasers as being from economically deprived and dysfunctional homes, with this serving as a partial explanation for their attraction to gang life and for their errant or delinquent ways and their tendency towards misadventure pursued for kicks.   

Class divisions are presented as a major source of the problems involving these young people.  The rival gangs are defined by class differences, while the notion that the greasers are deprived of socio-economic opportunities is presented as an injustice and as an almost insurmountable obstacle.  Young people are presented as wrestling with these difficult issues in whatever way they can, and in being far from successful in dealing with them.

Importantly, the novel presents several of its major characters, including the storyteller Ponyboy, as appreciating that they have more in common with their enemies than they originally realised, and in seeing the futility of gang violence.

Student and teacher resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2019 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students and teachers seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: The Outsiders meaning, The Outsiders themes, The Outsiders analysis, The Outsiders notes