Wednesday, August 11, 2021

The Outsider As Character Type - Review of The Outsiders

The outsider is an enduring character type in fiction, TV series, and movies.

There are many reasons for this.

When an outsider arrives in a new environment, he or she upsets the current status quo. This naturally generates dramatic questions. What will be the outcome of this upset? Will the outsider replace a current leader? Change the direction of a group?

Another form of this character type is someone within a group who changes.

An example of this is S. E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders.

The POV character is Ponyboy. He's a Greaser. Wears his hair long, carries a switch blade, and fights in rumbles with his gang against others, mainly SOCs, pronounced SOSHes.

He's also a high school freshman who gets straight As.

His family is a brother named Soda who has already dropped out of high school, and an older brother, Darry, who at 20 works two jobs to support his brothers after the death of their parents. Darry also yells at Ponyboy a great deal out of concern that his conformity to being a Greaser might lead him to become a hoodlum. Dally, a wild man and member of the gang, has crossed that line, robbing gas stations and committing other crimes.

Johnny is another young member of the gang and his actions drive the story. Before the story begins, Johnny had been stomped by a group of Socs, well-off kids who drive fancy cars and appear to want for nothing.

The Socs and Greasers are tribal enemies who fight whenever their paths cross.

Johnny enjoys sunsets. He's a sensitive soul but has been born into this Greaser tribe.

At a fair, Johnny and Ponyboy end up spending some time with Cherry, a cheerleader, and another Soc girl, because their dates came to the fair drunk. The girls are impressed by Johnny's love of sunsets, and Cherry has a way of making Ponyboy understand that she has a depth of understanding about life he'd never suspected. She also conveys that just being a Soc does not guarantee an easy life, which is a revelation to Ponyboy.

When a fight with Darry sends Ponyboy out of the house, he and Johnny are cornered by Cherry's angry boyfriend and a few others near a fountain. One of the Socs says he's going to kill Ponyboy by holding his head under water. Johnny stabs and kills the Soc and he and Ponyboy are now on the lam with the aid of Dally.

They have to cut their long Greaser hair to hide out in an abandoned church in a nearby small town.

A fire erupts in the abandoned church. Ponyboy and Johnny rush into the burning building to rescue some trapped young boys.

Ponyboy rescues several boys and gets out, but Johnny is seriously wounded. Pony and Johnny are now celebrated as heroes.

It comes out that Cherry and another Soc are willing to testify that Johnny was just protecting Ponyboy. They are going against their tribe. Pony again must confront the idea that all Socs have an ideal life with no concerns.

The novel ends with Pony reunited with his brothers, but with a deepened understanding of life. He now appears ready to want the better life that Darry wants for him.

The Outsiders provides a wonderful example of the drama that can be created by a built in conflict between tribes and the conflict when a tribal member challenges the status quo.

Changes in the status quo of a family, clan, or tribe fuels many novels. It embeds conflict into the fabric of a story's world.

Hinton's The Outsiders is a novel that has spoken to different generations of young people trying to find their place in the world.


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