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“The Outsiders” was published 50 years ago this spring, just as S.E. Hinton, its teenage author, was graduating from her high school in Oklahoma.
At the time, most fiction for young adults was more about what Ms. Hinton once characterized as “Mary Jane’s big date with the football hero” than about reality. “The Outsiders” changed that forever: A novel about gangs and alienated youth, it told a darker, truer tale about adolescence that spoke to its readers in a new way.
In a 1967 essay for the Book Review just after “The Outsiders” was released, Ms. Hinton challenged writers to start respecting young readers. She ended this way:
In this Text to Text lesson plan, we pair a scene from the novel with recent reporting from the South Side of Chicago, where the Times journalist John Eligon spent months with gangs who are “Bored, Broke and Armed.” In both pieces, an “insider” gives us a view of the world through the eyes of “outsiders.”
If you choose to show this video to students, please preview it first to make sure it is appropriate.
No matter where or when in history you look, you will find groups of people who are “insiders” and groups who are “outsiders" — the haves and the have-nots, the center of society and the margins.
As Ms. Hinton put it in a recent interview, “That concept of the ‘in crowd’ and the ‘out crowd’ is universal. The names of the groups may change, but kids still see their own lives in what happens to Ponyboy and his friends.”
Ponyboy’s story has spoken to so many over the decades because balancing on a precipice between hope and despair is, for many young people, a daily reality. For most young people coming-of-age, learning to fit in and find their place in the world is a big enough challenge. But for the young men in these texts, gangs, with their promise of brotherhood and belonging, add additional allure and danger.
Ms. Hinton wrote the book as a high school student, living the conflicts that became central to her book. Times reporter John Eligon wrote about Chicago gangs after spending weeks with current and former members. Both pieces raise questions about identity and belonging, manhood and respect — and introduce us to young men who “defy easy caricature” as they wrestle with those issues.
Key Question: What can we learn by seeing the world through the eyes of outsiders?
Activity Sheets: As students read and discuss, they might take notes using one or more of the three graphic organizers (PDFs) we have created for our Text to Text feature, which matches often-taught texts with Times articles and other content.
• Comparing Two or More Texts
• Double-Entry Chart for Close Reading
• Document Analysis Questions
Text 1: Excerpt from The Outsiders, Chapter 7
... As I lit up, the Socs who had jumped Johnny and me at the park hopped out of the Mustang. I recognized Randy Adderson, Marcia’s boyfriend, and the tall guy that had almost drowned me. I hated them. It was their fault Bob was dead; their fault Johnny was dying; their fault Soda and I might get put in a boys’ home. I hated them as bitterly and as contemptuously as Dally Winston hated.
Two-Bit put an elbow on my shoulder and leaned against me, dragging on his cigarette. “You know the rules. No jazz before the rumble,” he said to the Socs.
“We know,” Randy said. He looked at me. “Come here. I want to talk to you.”
I glanced at Two-Bit. He shrugged. I followed Randy over to his car, out of earshot of the rest. We sat there in his car for a second, silent. Golly, that was the tuffest car I’ve ever been in.
“I read about you in the paper,” Randy said finally. “How come?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I felt like playing hero.”
“I wouldn’t have. I would have let those kids burn to death.”
“You might not have. You might have done the same thing.”
Randy pulled out a cigarette and pressed in the car lighter. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. I would never have believed a greaser could pull something like that.”
“ ‘Greaser’ didn’t have anything to do with it. My buddy over there wouldn’t have done it. Maybe you would have done the same thing, maybe a friend of yours wouldn’t have. It’s the individual.”
“I’m not going to show at the rumble tonight,” Randy said slowly.
I took a good look at him. He was seventeen or so, but he was already old. Like Dallas was old. Cherry had said her friends were too cool to feel anything, and yet she could remember watching sunsets. Randy was supposed to be too cool to feel anything, and yet there was pain in his eyes.
“I’m sick of all this. Sick and tired. Bob was a good guy. He was the best buddy a guy ever had. I mean, he was a good fighter and tuff and everything, but he was a real person too. You dig?”
Text 2: Excerpt from “Bored, Broke, and Armed”
The young men who call themselves Gangster Disciples skirted by an empty lot. They marched past a “Stop the Violence” mural painted on a corner store, coming to a halt when they saw members of a rival gang, the Black Disciples.
It was late September on a busy South Side intersection, and now tensions were escalating, gang members who were there recalled.
There were glares, they said. Then words.
“You’re a rat,” a Black Disciple said to one of the Gangster Disciples who he believed had given the police information about him.
Things were about to blow.
It had been exactly 90 days since some of these same men had sat across from one another in an airy church hall to broker peace and confront a hard truth: The gang war they had inherited and were viciously continuing was helping to unravel parts of this city, where the levels of violence were reaching horrific new heights.
... The Times spent several weeks this fall with gang members to get a better understanding of what it means to be in a gang. They were often days of boredom, punctuated by bursts of drama and bravado. Gang life means animated debates over whether the guys on the next block meant to insult you or not. It means worrying over how to make enough for your next meal or your next high. And it means mourning the loss of loved ones, retaliating in their honor, yet wanting the cycle to stop.
Ron, a 23-year-old Black Disciple who uses the nickname Kaos, and for safety reasons asked that his last name not be used, explained the relentless cycle of violence: I’ve already lost friends. If we are making money, I can ignore the urge to retaliate. “But if we’re sitting here bored, getting high and we got guns around, it ain’t nothing else to do,” he added.
Still, these are young men who defy easy caricature. They are the sales associates who help you find shoes at a sportswear store or factory workers next to you on the assembly line. They kiss their young children on the lips and cry when someone close to them dies.
And, yes, they do use and sell drugs, and sometimes lash out in inexplicable bursts of violence over disputes like a battle for a girl’s attention, or disrespectful words uttered on a rap video posted to YouTube.
Or, as was the case in front of the corner store in late September, over an insult hurled on a busy intersection.
For Writing and Discussion
1. The article observes that gang members are “young men who defy easy caricature” and that boredom contributes to the cycle of violence in Chicago’s neighborhoods. Where do you see similar themes in the novel? What other parallels do you see?
2. Both “Bored, Broke and Armed” and “The Outsiders” are based on firsthand observations. An adage for writers advises us to “write what you know.” Why might that be especially important when telling the stories of cultural outsiders? What other outsider narratives can you think of? How were they told?
3.Research shows that, for many, belonging to a gang can fill the role of family. How do both the article and the novel show this? What lines or scenes from the article on this theme echo lines or scenes from the novel? How?
4. In describing how gangs emerged in Chicago neighborhoods, Mr. Eligon writes, “Boys, with little supervision, money or education, formed cliques. They hung out socially, and got into fights and other petty trouble. He continues: “Now they were everywhere and nowhere — gangsters by name, but kings only of corners and blocks.” How do power and powerlessness play a part in these two texts? How do these power dynamics contribute to cycles of violence? What questions do the texts raise about manhood? Why?
5. In a section of “Bored, Broke and Armed” called “A Red Hoodie on Enemy Turf,” Mr. Eligon writes:
The clique worried that the war was about to flare again, said Antwine White, 24, a Gangster Disciple who is called Weedy. “You just get prepared for the worst,” he said. “They can walk over here. We can think it’s cool. They shoot.”
That defines day-to-day gang life in Chicago. The young men bound around with their chests out, but their heads are on constant swivels, eyeing everything around them.
What does the article reveal about how perceptions and expectations can contribute to cycles of violence? Do you see similar attitudes playing a role in cycles of violence elsewhere, whether in your own personal experience or as you read headlines in the newspaper about conflicts around the world? How?
6. How do both the article and the novel feature people who defy stereotypes of gang members? What can you learn from them?
Gangs and Law Enforcement
The Times recently reported that shootings in New York had fallen to the lowest number since the ‘90s, with most of the credit going to new policing tactics that increase focus on gang-related issues. But in one town in Long Island, gang violence is running rampant — and drawing attention to the effects of gangs even on young people who are trying to avoid them.
Based on what you read in these two articles, list specific steps that law enforcement might take to improve life in communities troubled with a history of gang violence. Which of these steps might make good immediate priorities and which make better long-term goals? Which might work best in a community near you?
“The Outsiders” at 50
Writing in the Book Review in 2007, Dale Peck reassessed “The Outsiders” on its 40th anniversary. He pointed out that Ms. Hinton’s book was in many ways fresh, original, and exciting for young readers, changing the Young Adult genre forever:
Hinton, earnest teenager that she was, wrote to reveal the universality of her Greasers, just as Wright and Ellison did for African-Americans, or Paley and Roth did for Jews.
The review noted, however, that Ms. Hinton also borrowed techniques from other classic books. Mr. Peck writes that these “echoes … soften the challenging nature of the book’s subject matter by wrapping it in references, tropes and language familiar to its adolescent readers, even as they alleviate the fears of those readers’ too-earnest parents.”
For readers in 2017, is Ms. Hinton’s novel still relevant?
Read the essay Ms. Hinton wrote for The Times in 1967 about young adult fiction, and see how much of it still rings true. Then, create an annotated bibliography or a library display of contemporary Y.A. novels that owe a debt to her work because they capture the realities of life for today’s 21st-century teenagers, or for “outsiders” or any kind. What would you include? Why?
Part of what takes Ponyboy and Johnny beyond stereotypes of gang members is their sensitivity, manifest most memorably in their allusion to Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”
How has Johnny’s advice to “stay gold” come to permeate our pop culture? Use Google’s search to look at the many ways this phrase has been used to imagine, advertise, joke and encourage. What patterns do you observe in these homages? (Note: if you want to stay in the author’s good graces, never say “stay golden.”)
Then, consider how poetry still resonates with young people today. For example, watch this video from Favorite Poem Project, in which a young man from South Boston reads a Gwendolyn Brooks poem that shares some of the themes in this lesson plan.
What are your favorite poems? How do they resonate with things you see around you in the world today? Our long-running Poetry Pairing series matches classic poems with Times reporting. What poem and Times article would you pair?
When “The Outsiders” first came out, the publishers did not want to use S. E. Hinton’s first name, Susan, because it might put off boys who would not normally read books written by women. To this day, many readers assume that because the voice of the novel is male, so is the author.
In what ways have you, like the characters in “The Outsiders” and Ms. Hinton herself, defied stereotypes — of your age group, race, religion, gender or anything else that contributes to who you are? Write a personal essay, or create something, like this artist did, that confronts those expectations.
Outsiders in the World Today
Who are the outsiders in your community? In the world at large right now? How can “outsider thinking” enhance or endanger a community?
To investigate questions like these, put the word “outsider” or “outsiders” into Times search and see what comes up. You might find anything from an article about The New High School Outsiders to a video about innovation called The Power of Outsiders to an Op-Ed called Enter the Age of the Outsiders to a review of the annual Outsider Art Fair in New York City.
Discuss your findings with a small group. What do you notice? What patterns or clichés do you find in these reports about those identified as outsiders? Which of these pieces seem most interesting? What stories seem to be missing?
Finally, consider what stories of outsiders in your own community need telling, and brainstorm ways they could be told.
‘Sometimes the Tough Teen is Quietly Writing Stories’
Part of what makes the ending of “The Outsiders” so memorable is that we discover Ponyboy is writing his own story to save his grade in high school and to give an untold perspective he believes people must hear.
The Young Adult author Matt de la Peña helps us see from a similar perspective in more contemporary times in his piece “Sometimes The Tough Teen Is Quietly Writing Stories.” In it, he tells a story about a boy he meets when he does a reading at a school — someone the principal calls “a real instigator”:
After the session, Joshua came to the front of the stage and asked to speak with me in private. He told me he was born in a prison and that he’d been held back in school. Twice. He didn’t belong in junior high anymore. It made him feel like a loser. But he wanted me to know that he wrote stories sometimes. About San Antonio gangs. When he asked if I’d be willing to read the one he’d just finished, I told him I’d love to. “But you’ll have to get it to me quick,” I said. “They’re about to shuttle me to the next school.”
What questions would you like to ask Mr. de la Peña? Ms. Hinton? Both are active on Twitter, though it might be a good idea to scroll through their feeds first before you pose questions they may have answered many times in the past.
Curating an “Outsiders” Museum
“Once you’re a fan of ‘The Outsiders,’ you’re always a fan of ‘The Outsiders,’ writes Hayley Krischer in “Why ‘The Outsiders’ Lives On: A Teenage Novel Turns 50.”
In fact, one 48-year-old fan loves the book so much he wants to turn the house pictured above into an “Outsiders” museum:
On a particularly windy day in the Crutchfield neighborhood here, the writer S. E. Hinton was touring the renovations of the future Outsiders House museum. The rundown Craftsman bungalow was where the Curtis brothers — Darry, Sodapop and Ponyboy — lived in the 1983 Francis Ford Coppola movie based on Ms. Hinton’s book “The Outsiders.”
The book, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, was arguably one of the most influential young adult books of its time, and leading this tour was the self-described fanboy Danny O’Connor, 48, who made his own contribution to pop-culture history as a member of the 1990s hip-hop group House of Pain.
Mr. O’Connor has been on a quest to find artifacts to include in the museum, amassing a collection of memorabilia from the movie, vintage photographs and hard-to-find editions of the book. Next on his search list, he told Ms. Hinton, 68, was a claw-foot tub like the one 18-year-old Rob Lowe (Sodapop Curtis in the movie) stepped out of with just a towel wrapped around his waist.
If you were curator of the “Outsiders” museum, what would you want to feature? What exhibits would you have? How would you set it up? What special events might you offer? Sketch your ideal “Outsiders” museum, or create a sample exhibit for it. How might your museum or exhibit both satisfy longtime fans of the novel and pique the interest of a new generation?
Friends and Family
In a post entitled “When Friends Are Like Family,” Deborah Tannen illuminates why, like the characters in “The Outsiders,” we take some friends into our closest circle and how they become like family. As Ms. Tannen points out, “Holes left by rejected (or rejecting) relatives — or left by relatives lost to distance, death or circumstance — can be filled by friends who are like family.”
Write a personal letter to a friend who has become like a family member to you. Just like Ms. Tannen does in her article, use specific anecdotes and memories to express to this person why you see them as family.
More Text to Text Lesson Plans on Young Adult Literature
‘Speak’ and ‘Waking Up to the Enduring Memory of Rape’
‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’ and ‘On the Reservation and Off, Schools See a Changing Tide’
‘The Giver’ and ‘The Dark Side of Young Adult Fiction’
‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘The Case for Delayed Adulthood’
‘The Book Thief’ and ‘Auschwitz Shifts From Memorializing to Teaching’
‘Lord of the Flies’ and ‘A Fight Club for Flies’
Do you have ideas for matching an excerpt from an often-taught work of literature with a Times article? Let us know in the comments.
More About “The Outsiders” and S.E. Hinton
Timeline | Fifty Years Ago, a Teenager Wrote the Best-Selling Young Adult Novel of All Time
The New Yorker | S. E. Hinton and the Y.A. Debate
Letters of Note | ‘The Outsiders’
Compare the characters of Bob and Dally.
On the surface, Bob and Dally couldn't be more different. However, the two boys are linked together by the phrase, "Next time you want a broad, pick up your own kind." Right before the Socs attack Ponyboy and Johnny, in the fight that results in Johnny killing Bob, Bob states the reasoning for the attack. He wants the Greasers to know their place in society, and to stay away from Soc girls. Later, in Chapter 6, Dally echoes Bob's words when he explains that Cherry is acting as a spy for the Greasers, adding: "Man, next time I want a broad I'll pick up my own kind." Ponyboy remembers Bob saying this not even a week before. Both boys are victims of the violence between the Socs and the Greasers, and die before the story is over. They both have violent tendencies, look for fights, and end up losing their lives because of it; more important, both draw ideological lines in the sand.
Discuss the relationship between Johnny and Dally.
Johnny feels hero-worship toward Dally, and thinks of him as the most gallant of all the gang. Dally wants to protect Johnny and keep him from turning out the way he himself has. As they drive back to the church in Chapter 5, he explains, "You get hardened in jail. I don't want that to happen to you. Like it happened to me..." After Johnny dies, Dally reacts with uncharacteristic emotion. Ponyboy realizes that "Johnny was the only thing Dally loved. And now Johnny was gone."
Discuss the relationship between Ponyboy and Darry, and how it changes over the course of the novel.
At the beginning of the novel, Ponyboy resents Darry for being too strict and always bothering him for not using his head. He recognizes the sacrifices that Darry has made to raise his two little brothers, but still thinks Darry just doesn't care for him at all.
But in Chapter 5, when Soda and Darry come to the hospital, Ponyboy has a revelation. He sees his oldest brother cry for the first time in years - he didn't even cry at their parents' funeral - and realizes that "Darry did care about me, maybe as much as he cared about Soda, and because he cared he was trying too hard to make something of me." He understands that Darry is terrified of losing another person he loves, and wonders "how I could ever have thought him hard and unfeeling."
In Chapter 10, when Ponyboy wakes up momentarily, he asks Soda if Darry is sorry he's sick. He also worries throughout the chapter that maybe he didn't ask for Darry while he was delirious, but Soda finally confirms that he did. This concern for Darry's feelings is a huge change from the way Ponyboy regarded his oldest brother in the beginning of the novel. Now he is worried that, because deep down he feels he can relate better to Soda, he might have left Darry out in his unconscious babbling.
How do Ponyboy's feelings toward Randy reflect the conflict between the Socs and the Greasers?
At first, Ponyboy sees Randy as a violent Soc to be avoided; he is Marcia's boyfriend, and is involved in jumping the Greasers. But in Chapter 7, they have a conversation in Randy's car, and Randy explains why he is leaving town instead of attending the rumble. He says, "You can't win, even if you whip us. You'll still be where you were before - at the bottom. And we'll still be the lucky ones with all the breaks. So it doesn't do any good, the fighting and the killing. It doesn't prove a thing. We'll forget it if you win, or if you don't. Greasers will still be greasers and Socs will still be Socs." Ponyboy begins to see Randy as someone who can appreciate sunsets, and feels a connection to him regardless of their different social statuses.
However, in Chapter 11 when Randy comes to visit Ponyboy at home, Ponyboy's denial about Johnny's death and the events leading up to it cause a rift between the two boys again. Ponyboy decides, "He was just like all the rest of the Socs. Cold-blooded and mean."
What do Johnny's last words mean?
Johnny's last words echo in Chapter 12 when Ponyboy breaks a bottle to defend himself against the Socs. Two-Bit says, "Ponyboy, listen, don't get tough. You're not like the rest of us and don't try to be..." Ponyboy is confused by what Two-Bit means, since he felt nothing when the Socs approached him. But he proves that he is still "gold" by bending down to pick up the pieces of broken glass from the ground without even thinking about it.
How does Gone with the Wind represent an ideal for Johnny?
Johnny puts his last note to Ponyboy inside his copy of Gone with the Wind. The gallantry of the Southern gentlemen in the book, who rode to their certain deaths bravely, inspires Johnny and reminds him of Dally. This allows Ponyboy to see Dally in that light, too, and to consider that his death might have been gallant. Johnny dies as a result of rescuing children from the fire in the church, so in that way he lives up to the ideal in Gone with the Wind.
What is the difference between Ponyboy the narrator and Ponyboy the character?
It is always clear that Ponyboy is narrating The Outsiders from a point in the future, after the events of the story have taken place. However, this rift between narrator and character becomes definite in Chapter 11, when Ponyboy's pretending makes him an unreliable narrator for the first time in the story. When Randy comes to visit, Ponyboy says that he was the one who killed Bob, and that Johnny is not dead. He repeats it aloud to convince himself of it. But as narrator, he says, "Johnny didn't have anything to do with Bob's getting killed." The reader has depended upon Ponyboy's narration to dictate the events of the story, and now the frame of reference is thrown off, since we know he has moved into an alternate reality.
Discuss Ponyboy's "dreaming", particularly in regard to Johnny's death.
Ponyboy's reaction to Johnny's death has been foreshadowed by Ponyboy's tendency to create alternate realities for himself throughout the story, but the difference is that "this time my dreaming worked. I convinced myself that he wasn't dead." Throughout the story, Ponyboy creates these alternate realities in order to cope with situations he feels are unbearable. For instance, in Chapter 3 he dreams of a life in the country, with his parents still alive and Darry kind and caring again. What is important to note is that he concedes that his dreams are only dreams, and that he admits to use them as a mode of escape.
Describe how eyes are used as a characterization technique.
Ponyboy's view of other characters is often reflected by his interpretation of their eyes. For example, he says that "Darry's eyes are his own. He's got eyes that are like two pieces of pale blue-green ice. They've got a determined set to them, like the rest of him... he would be real handsome if his eyes weren't so cold." Darry's eyes reflect Ponyboy's view of his oldest brother as "hardly human." In contrast, Sodapop's eyes are "dark brown - lively, dancing, recklessly laughing eyes that can be gentle and sympathetic one moment and blazing with anger the next." Johnny is defined by his emotive eyes; the difference between his mother and him is clear to Ponyboy because of their eyes: "Johnnycake's eyes were fearful and sensitive; hers were cheap and hard."
In what way is The Outsiders a call to action?
The Outsiders ends with its own opening sentence, as Ponyboy begins to write his assignment for English class, and it becomes clear that the story the reader has just finished is the assignment itself. It is inspired by Johnny's letter to Ponyboy, in which he explains what he meant by his last words: "Stay gold." There is no reason for lives to be cut short because of senseless violence between the Greasers and the Socs. Ponyboy feels called to action by Johnny's note, and wants to save the lives of other hoods who might end up like Dally. In Chapter 12, this goal is underlined:
"There should be some help, someone should tell them before it was too late. Someone should tell their side of the story, and maybe people would understand then and wouldn't be so quick to judge a boy by the amount of hair oil he wore."