The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is often regarded as one of the classics of American literature. The basic plot revolves around Ponyboy Curtis who is a member of a gang of greasers.
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In the beginning of the book, Ponyboy is leaving a movie theater when he is jumped by “”Socs,”” the greasers’ rival gang. Two other members of the greaser gang, Darry and Sodapop, come to his rescue. The next night, Ponyboy and two of his greaser friends, Dally and Johnny, meet Cherry and Marcia, two girls who are involved with the Soc gang, at a drive-in movie. Cherry turns down Dally’s attempt at flirtation with her harshly, but Ponyboy ends up speaking civilly with her, emotionally connecting with a Soc for the first time in his life.
After this, Ponyboy, Johnny, and their friend Two-Bit begin to walk Cherry and Marcia home, when they are stopped by Cherry’s boyfriend Bob, who had previously beat up Johnny a few months prior. Bob and the greasers exchange words, but Cherry prevents a physical fight from happening by willingly leaving with Bob. Ponyboy ultimately gets home at two in the morning, which angers Darry to the point that he suddenly slaps Ponyboy. Pony runs out the door and meets up with Johnny, expressing his anger at Darry’s increasing coldness after his parents’ recent deaths in a car crash.
After running away from home, Ponyboy and Johnny wander into a park, where Bob and four other Socs surround them. After a huge argument, Ponyboy spits at the Socs. This causes the Socs to attempt to drown him in a fountain that was nearby. Shockingly, Johnny ends up stabbing Bob and killing him. This scared all the others away. Scared and unsure of what to do next, Ponyboy and Johnny rush to find their friend Dally, who gives them money and a loaded gun and tells them to hide in an abandoned church in a place called Windrixville. During their extended stay there, Pony cuts and dyes his hair as a disguise, reads Gone with the Wind to Johnny, and, upon viewing a particularly beautiful sunrise, recites the poem “”Nothing Gold Can Stay”” by Robert Frost.
After a while, Dally comes to check on them and reveals that violence between the two gangs has only heightened since Bob’s death. It has become an all-out city-wide conflict, with Cherry acting as a spy for the greasers. Johnny ultimately decides to turn himself in and Dally agrees to take the boys back home to face their fates. While they are about to go to leave, they notice the church has caught fire and some children have been trapped inside. The greasers run inside the burning church to save the children, but Ponyboy is passes out from inhalation of the fumes. He is taken to the hospital where he discovers that he and Dally are not badly injured, but a piece of the church roof fell on Johnny and broke his back. Sodapop and Darry come to the hospital, resulting in Darry breaking down and crying. Ponyboy then realizes that Darry cares about him, and is only hard on him because he loves him and cares about his future.
The next morning the newspapers call Pony and Johnny heroes for saving the school children from the fire, but Johnny is to be charged with manslaughter for Bob’s death. Two-Bit informs the guys that the gang rivalry is to be settled in a final battle. Ponyboy and Two-Bit are approached by a Soc named Randy, Bob’s best friend, who expresses regret and remorse for his involvement in the gang war and says he will not participate.
Later, Ponyboy visits Johnny at the hospital, where he is in critical condition. On their way home, Pony sees Cherry and they begin to talk. Cherry says she won’t visit Johnny in the hospital because he killed her boyfriend and is very upset about that. Pony ends up calling her a traitor, but after she explains herself they end up on good terms in the end. After escaping the hospital, Dally shows up just in time for the final gang rumble. The greasers end up winning the brutal fight. Afterward, Pony and Dally rush back to the hospital to see Johnny, but he dies moments later and a hysterical Dally runs out of the room, devastated. Pony returns home that night feeling confused. Dally calls Pony’s house to say that he has robbed a store and is running from the police. The greasers search for him and find Dally deliberately pointing an unloaded gun at the police, which causes them to shoot and kill him. Ponyboy faints and is sick in bed for days due to the concussion he received in the rumble. When the hearing finally comes, the judge frees Ponyboy from responsibility for Bob’s death and allows Pony to remain at home with Darry and Soda.
Ponyboy ultimately returns to school, but his grades drop. Although he is failing English, his teacher, Mr. Syme, says he will pass him if he writes a good theme. In the copy of Gone with the Wind that Johnny gave him before he passed away, Ponyboy finds a letter from Johnny describing how he will die proudly after saving the kids from the fire. Johnny also urges Ponyboy to “”stay gold””. Ponyboy decides to write his English assignment about the recent events, and begins his essay with the opening line of the novel: “”When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home…””
The Outsiders is basically a coming of age novel where all the boys are involved in crime. It is more a commentary on how age can really effect a person’s involvement in crime and the types of crimes they commit. When Johnny killed Bob, it wasn’t really because he had premeditated foresight and made a conscious decision that he was going to kill someone that day. Things simply escalated and because Johnny was a child, he made a split second decision to stab Johnny with severe consequences. The majority of the novel follows Ponyboy and Johnny running and hiding from law enforcement as a result of their actions. This is very telling of the authoritative climate at the time of writing. It is clear that the children are extremely fearful of what will happen to them if they are found by law enforcement. They know that the consequences will be harsh because of their actions, even if they weren’t thinking about those consequences at the time of perpetrating the crimes. This is another way that the book shows that while children are generally incapable of making quick, last-minute decisions like Johnny’s decision to kill Bob, they are not so na??ve that they don’t understand the meaning of consequences. It is also significant to note that all of the boys involved in this book were at some point impoverished in some way or another. Sources show that there are correlations between poverty and involvement in crimes. The poverty coupled with the boy’s young ages makes for a situation where crime is bound to occur.
Another thing that particularly stands out from a juvenile justice standpoint from this book was the significance of Two-Bit’s switchblade. The switchblade is Two-Bit’s most prized possession and in many ways it represents the disregard for authority for which typical greasers of the day traditionally prided themselves on. Firstly, the blade is stolen. Stealing things is a blatant disregard for authority and simple rules. Second, it represents a sense of the individual feeling of power that comes with the potential to commit violent acts. This symbolism becomes extremely clear when Dally borrows the blade from Two-Bit and uses it to break out of the hospital to join his gang at the rumble. Two-Bit finally loses the blade when the police confiscate it from Dally’s dead body. This reflects the way that authority generally wins in the end of most things. The loss of the weapon, at this point, becomes linked with the loss of Dally?”a figure who embodies individual power and authority.
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