If you're in the market for a book that's resonated with teenagers for decades, definitely try The Outsiders.In this novel, S. E. Hinton presents the issues many adolescents face. Hinton is credited to have written one of the first novels about young adults, for young adult readers; however, what might especially excite students is that she wrote The Outsiders while still in high school! Students can examine how the first-person narration, characters, and subject matter make this coming-of-age novel especially relevant to teenagers. Furthermore, they'll enjoy drawing connections between their lives and the concerns of Ponyboy, his friends and family, and his rivals. Ultimately, they'll learn that although a great deal has changed since the 1960s, it will always be difficult to be a teenager.

This book focuses on themes regarding class, stereotypes, and identity—how, particularly in adolescence, individuals are often grouped into categories. Classroom discussion can include how characters fit or defy stereotypes and how they unfairly judge those who are different from themselves. Have your students consider what common ground the greasers and Socs have. Themes in the novel involving isolation and belonging will resonate with students who have felt like outsiders both in and beyond their own social groups. They will encounter the motif of allegiance and contemplate the benefits and consequences of unconditional loyalty.

Hinton also includes references to literature, most notably Gone with the Wind and Robert Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay," and pop culture of the time, like the Beatles and Mickey Mouse. When teaching The Outsiders, you may want to provide or guide analysis and context of these references to further enrich the lesson. Lead a discussion as to why Hinton might have chosen such references. It might be fun to consider how certain characters in The Outsiders might feel about the ideas presented in these works.

Ready to transport your class to the '60s? Read on!

Summary of The Outsiders

Key Facts

  • Length: 180 pages
  • Lexile® Measure: 750
  • Recommended Grade Band: 7-9
  • Publication Date: 1967
  • ALA Best Young Adult 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

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 group called the Socs. One night, after a fight with his older brother, Ponyboy and fellow greaser Johnny Cade are involved in a brawl. This intense scuffle ends in the death of a Soc, forcing Johnny and Ponyboy to face the consequences of their choices. The novel follows the greasers, who must contend with their actions, their place in society, and whether their experiences will end in redemption or tragedy. Ultimately, the story itself is revealed to be an essay Ponyboy wrote for his English class, with the hope that his perspective could end the town's destructive class rivalry.

Content Warning: This novel contains violence, criminal behavior, and references to abuse, drinking, and sex.

What Your Students Will Love About The Outsiders

  • Relatable characters
  • Reading a novel written by a teenager

Potential Student Struggles With The Outsiders

  • Gang violence
  • Understanding 1960s slang or pop culture references

Learning Objectives for The Outsiders

  • Discuss how peer pressure can weaken an individual's sensitivity and support mob mentality.
  • Explain how both the Socs and the greasers are guilty of stereotyping.
  • Explore how, in the absence of parental love and approval, friends and gang members can serve as substitutes, but never completely satisfactorily.
  • Consider the role of innocence and how characters try or fail to maintain their virtue
  • Trace how foreshadowing is used to build interest and suspense.
  • Analyze the significance of appearance, specifically eye color and hair styles, within the novel.
  • Compare the issues of the teenagers in the novel to those of modern-day high school students.

Literary Elements in The Outsiders

  • Allusion
  • Circular Structure
  • Conflict
  • Flashback
  • Foreshadowing
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Symbolism
  • Theme
  • Vernacular

Major Themes in The Outsiders

Coming of Age — The novel follows Ponyboy as he matures and learns from his experiences.

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Class and Society — The clash between the Socs and the greasers mimics the large-scale diversity in society.

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Identity — Throughout the novel, characters wrestle with their identities. Are they accepted members of society, or are they outcasts?

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Other Resources for The Outsiders