'The Outsiders' Overview

S. E. Hinton's Groundbreaking Coming-of-Age Story

On the set of The Outsiders
American actors Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Thomas C. Howell, Patrick Swayze, and Tom Cruise on the set of the movie adaptation of 'The Outsiders,' directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Corbis / Getty Images

The Outsiders is a coming-of-age novel written in 1967 by S. E. Hinton. The story, narrated by its 14-year-old protagonist, deals with socioeconomic disparities and impositions, violence, friendship, and the need of a sense of belonging.

Fast Facts: The Outsiders

  • Title: The Outsiders
  • Author: S. E. Hinton
  • Publisher: Viking Press
  • Year Published: 1967
  • Genre: Young-Adult
  • Type of Work: Novel
  • Original Language: English
  • Major Themes: Group vs. individual, rich vs. poor, empathy, honor
  • Major Characters: Ponyboy Curtis, Sodapop Curtis, Darry Curtis, Johnny Cade, Cherry Valance, Bob Sheldon, Dally Winston, Randy Adderson
  • Notable Adaptations: 1983 movie adaptation directed by Francis Ford Coppola, featuring actors Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, and Diane Lane, among others
  • Fun Fact: More than 50 years after it was first published, the book still sells 500,000 copies a year.

Plot Summary

The story in The Outsiders centers on two rival gangs: the rich and posh Socs and the greasers from the "wrong side of the tracks." The story is narrated from the point of view of Ponyboy Curtis, a precocious 14-year-old greaser who has a literary bend and college potential. The events in The Outsiders gradually escalate, starting with two greasers befriending two Soc girls, followed by a fight in which a Soc boy is killed and the death of a greaser, leading up to the final “rumble” between the two factions. Despite the emphasis on violence, the characters in the novel undergo significant personal growth, learning to see individuals beyond the social group they belong to. 

Major Characters

Ponyboy Curtis. The narrator and protagonist of the novel, he is a 14-year-old greaser who likes books and sunsets. Following the death of his parents, he lives with his two older brothers, Sodapop and Darry.

Sodapop Curtis. The middle Curtis child, he is a happy-go-lucky fellow who dropped out of high school and is content working at a gas station.

Darry Curtis. The eldest Curtis child, he sacrificed his ambitions to become the legal guardian of his two younger brothers after their parents' death. He is strict with Ponyboy because he sees his potential.

Johnny Cade. The most frail and quiet of the greasers, Johnny comes from an abusive household. He worships Dally, and the other greasers are very protective of him

Dally Winston. With a past among the gangs of New York and a stint in prison, Dally is the most violent of the greasers. However, he has a strong code of honor and is also very protective of Johnny.

Bob Sheldon. A Soc who is heavily spoiled by his parents and is also Cherry’s boyfriend, Bob is a violent individual who beat up Johnny quite badly prior to the events of the novel. Johnny ends up killing him when he tries to drown Ponyboy.

Cherry Valance. Soc girl and a popular cheerleader, Cherry bonds with Ponyboy over their mutual love of literature. She is one of the characters who sees beyond the divide of the two groups.

Randy Adderson. Bob's best friend and a fellow Soc, Randy is one of the characters who sees the futility in the ongoing fight between Socs and greasers.

Major Themes

Rich vs. Poor. Rivalry between the greasers and the Socs stems from socioeconomic differences. However, those differences do not automatically cause members of the two groups to become natural enemies.

Honor. While generally undisciplined, greasers abide by their idea of an honor code: they stand up for one another when facing enemies or authority figures.

Empathy. In The Outsiders, empathy enables characters to resolve conflicts. In fact, the conflict between the Socs and the greasers is based on class prejudice and appearance, but beneath that façade, they all have their fair share of issues. Once they come clean about their lives, the characters make progress in their own personal development.

Group vs. Individual. At the beginning of the novel, characters rely on belonging to a certain group for their identity. However, the dramatic events that unfold in the novel encourage several characters to question their motivations. Ponyboy, a greaser, has enlightening conversations with Socs such as Cherry and Randy, who showed him that there was more to individuals than their belonging to a specific social group.

Literary Style

S. E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was just 16. The prose is quite simple and relies a lot on the physical description of the characters, whose beauty is a little idealized. However, she is quite insightful in portraying the conflicts between the two rival gangs, especially as they are rooted in socio-economic class differences. 

About the Author

Born in 1948, S. E. Hinton is the author of five young adult novels, two of which—The Outsiders and Rumble Fish—have been made into major motion pictures directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Hinton is credited with creating the Young Adult genre.