The Outsiders has remained in classrooms across the nation for decades because it presents the harsh realities many teenagers face, without trying to gloss over the details. In many ways, S. E. Hinton's novel is credited to have kick-started the young adult genre. Students can examine how the first person narration, characters, and subject matter make this novel especially relevant to teenagers.

This book focuses a lot on stereotypes and how somewhat similar people are often pigeonholed into a mold, regardless of their individuality. Classroom discussion can include how characters fit or defy stereotypes and how they unfairly judge others.

Hinton also includes allusions to literature and then-contemporary popular culture, most notably Gone With the Wind and Robert Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay." When teaching The Outsiders, it will be useful to familiarize students with these works and explain any other references. This lesson will help students enjoy the novel not only for the relatable characters, but also for the richness of the text.

Summary

Fourteen-year-old Ponyboy Curtis is part of a band of brothers and friends known as the Greasers. This rough-and-tumble, lower-class gang is constantly at odds with the richer, upper-class Socs, a rival group. One night, after getting in a fight with his older brother, Ponyboy and fellow greaser Johnny Cade are involved in a brawl, which ends in the death of a Soc, forcing Johnny and Ponyboy to run away. The novel follows the Greasers, who must contend with their violent actions, their place in society, and whether their lives will end with redemption or tragedy.

Content Warning

The Outsiders contains violence and criminal behavior and references to abuse, drinking, and sex.

Objectives for Teaching The Outsiders

  • Discuss how peer pressure can weaken an individual's sensitivity and sense of individuality.
  • Explain how both the Socs and the Greasers are guilty of stereotyping.
  • Discuss how, in the absence of parental love and approval, the approval of friends and gang members can be a substitute, but never a completely satisfactory substitute.
  • Explore the concept of innocence and how characters either try or fail to maintain their innocence.
  • Identify how foreshadowing is used to build interest and suspense.
  • Analyze the significance of eye color within the novel.
  • Consider how the title fits the book, including the fact that "Outsiders" is plural.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Circular Structure
  • Flashback
  • Foreshadowing
  • Intertextuality
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Symbol
  • Vernacular

Themes and Motifs

  • Coming of Age — The novel follows Ponyboy on a journey through his adolescence, ending in a state where he has mentally matured through his experiences.
  • Individual and Society — Possibly the most relevant theme, the diversity between the Socs and the Greasers represents a larger scale diversity in society.
  • Identity —  Throughout the novel, characters are faced with the issue of identifying themselves as true members of society or as outcasts.

Related Works

Theme of Coming of Age

 

Theme of Individual and Society

 

Theme of Identity

Key Facts

  • Length: 180 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 750
  • Publication Date: 1967
  • Recommended Grade Band: 6 – 8

Awards

  • ALA Best Young Adults Books, 1975
  • New York Herald Tribune Best Teenage Book, 1967
  • Chicago Tribune Book World Spring Book Festival Honor Book, 1967
  • Media and Methods Maxi Award, 1975
  • Massachusetts Children's Book Award, 1979

Movies

A film adaptation was released in 1983, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The movie stars Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, and other notable actors. In 2005, Coppola re-released the film as The Outsiders: The Complete Novel and included previously-deleted scenes that make the movie more faithful to the book.

Watch the Film Trailer

Your students will love:

  • Being able to relate to the characters in many different ways and situations
  • Reading a young adult novel that is honest and upfront about the lives of teenagers

Students may have problems with:

  • The gang violence in the book; some students may not be old or mature enough to understand what exactly the reasons are for fighting.
  • Understanding 1960s slang or pop culture references

More Teacher's Guides to Literature:

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.