The Outsiders
S.E. Hinton
Contributed by Jerrold Mcmenamin
Chapter 1-2
Summary

Summary: Chapter 1

The narrator, Ponyboy Curtis, starts the novel with a story: he is making his way home one afternoon after seeing a Paul Newman film, and his mind begins to wander. He ponders how he would love to have the actor’s good looks, although he does like having his own greaser look. Also, he thinks that while he enjoys seeing movies alone, he wishes he had some company for his journey home.

Ponyboy digresses from this story to explain that it isn’t safe for greasers to walk by themselves. The greasers is the name of the gang of friends to which he belongs. Greasers avoid walking alone because the rich West Side crowd, called the Socs (short for Socials) harass them. Ponyboy explains that the greasers are poorer than the Socs, as well as wilder. The Socs are wild, too, though, and the newspapers will one day criticize them for throwing parties and praise their good citizenship on other occasions. Greasers have long hair and they put grease in it. They dress to look tough. They also steal and take part in gang fights. They tend to carry switchblades. This is primarily to help defend themselves against the Socs.

Ponyboy explains he refrains from taking part in the mischief greasers typically do because Darrel (known as “Darry”), his oldest brother, would punish him if he got into trouble. Their parents were killed in a car crash, and the three Curtis brothers live together with Darry acting as the head of the family. This arrangement will be allowed to continue only if they stay out of trouble. Darry is twenty years old. He is strict and frequently yells at Ponyboy. While Ponyboy is very intelligent, he doesn’t have much in the way of common sense. Darry finds this very frustrating. Ponyboy has a great deal of affection for Sodapop, his sixteen-year-old brother. Sodapop is very charming and has a cheerful outlook on life that Ponyboy admires.

Ponyboy goes back to the story of walking home from the movies by himself. During his walk, he sees that there is a red Corvair trailing him. He begins walking more quickly. He remembers how terribly the Socs beat up one of his friends, a boy named Johnny Cade. When the car pulls up beside Ponyboy, five Socs get out and surround him. One of them sarcastically asks, “Need a haircut, greaser?” This Soc menacingly presents a blade. Ponyboy shouts out for help as the Socs beat him up. Ponyboy’s brothers and some other greasers appear and scare away the Socs. Darry reprimands Ponyboy for walking home alone instead of asking for a ride. Sodapop urges Darry to stop nagging his brother.

The brothers make plans for the next night with the other greasers. Ponyboy and Johnny decide that they will go to the drive-in for a double feature with Dally. Dally starts talking about Sylvia, his former girlfriend. Ponyboy thinks about the girls who tend to spend time with the greasers. He is curious about what it would be like to date a Soc girl.

Ponyboy enjoys reading. When he gets home, he spends time reading Great Expectations. He ponders the ways that his life is like that of Pip, the protagonist of that Dickens novel. He is still feeling the nervous effects of his confrontation with the Socs, and he gets into bed with Sodapop. The two brothers discuss Sandy, Sodapop’s girlfriend. Sodapop hopes that he will marry Sandy one day.

Summary: Chapter 2

The following night, Ponyboy, Johnny, and Dally go to the drive-in movie theater for a double feature. Sitting behind two Soc girls, Dally starts talking in a dirty way in an attempt to embarrass them. One of the girls, who has red hair, turns around. She tells him to stop in a cool manner. Dally doesn’t cease making suggestive comments. When he goes to buy some Cokes, Ponyboy talks to the girl with red hair. Her name is Cherry Balance. They discuss the rodeo as well as Sodapop, who Cherry says is a “doll.” She asks about what happened to Sodapop. Although Ponyboy is embarrassed to admit it, he tells her that Sodapop dropped out of school to take a job at a gas station. When Dally returns, he offers Cherry a Coke. She responds by throwing it in his face. Dally attempts to put his arm around the girl. She protests, but he doesn’t listen. Johnny, who is generally quiet, surprises Dally by telling him to stop bothering the girls.

Dally walks off annoyed. Cherry and her friend, who is called Marcia, ask Johnny and Ponyboy to watch the movie together with them. Two-Bit, how is a friend of Ponyboy, arrives. He says hat Dally has slashed the tires on Tim Shepherd’s car and will be forced to fight him. Tim Shepherd is another greaser gang’s leader. Two-Bit talks about the two main rules of the greasers. These are to be loyal and always stick together and to avoid ever getting caught.

Ponyboy and Cherry go to buy some popcorn. Ponyboy describes the time the Socs attacked Johnny. Ponyboy explains that the leader of the group that beat him up wore a fist full of rings. Chery is clearly distressed. She promises him that not all the Socs are as violent as the ones who attacked Johnny. Ponyboy refuses to believe her.

Analysis

The primary focus of The Outsiders is exploration of how social class affects young people. The novel starts by talking about the differences between the greasers, who are poor, and the well-off Socs. It describes the dangerous world in which the greasers live. When the Socs attack Ponyboy in the first chapter, we gather that Ponyboy lives in a world in which even enjoying a walk is dangerous.

Hinton believes that people should be defined by their individual characteristics, not the group to which they belong. We see this reflected in this novel. For example, she doesn’t allow readers to dismiss Ponyboy as a tough street-savvy youth but rather as a boy who enjoys watching sunsets and is a reading enthusiast. It is natural for a narrator to be a bit of an anthropologist, and we see this characteristic in Ponyboy. He watches and records individual characteristics of other greasers, as well as group dynamics. Darry is shown to us not as a natural leader of a gang but rather a young man confronting many difficulties in his life. Darry has been forced to give up the chance of an education in order to support and bring up two younger brothers. Hinton makes us understand that although greasers have been excluded from the mainstream of society, they have a sense of decency and a moral grounding at least as strong as the kids from privileged backgrounds. In fact, it is probably more so.

Hinton demonstrates the constant conflict that exists between the greasers and the Socs. However, she also proves that the two groups aren’t as different as they seem. After becoming acquainted with faceless, heartless Socs, we come across Cherry Valance. Cherry is a Soc who happens to be a warm and sympathetic girl. Ponyboy and Cherry talk about how the Socs and greasers deal with their problems in different ways. While greasers feel their distress intensely, the Socs prefer to pretend that their problems don’t really exist. This discussion shows that while the two groups use different coping methods, they both have difficulties they have to deal with. The fact that they have this conversation is an example of a rare type of civil negotiation that could help address the tensions existing between the greasers and the socs. Two-Bit and Marica have a flirtation that proves there can be social compatibility between the two groups.

Hinton indicates that the friendships with the most ability to create peace between groups are those that develop between men and women. In the novel’s first half, all of the meetings between males of the two groups end up in violence, while encounters that take place between male greasers and female Socs are able to result in flirtation and happiness. This distinction indicates that rivalry between gangs comes from male hostility towards other males. The entirely masculine character of the rivalry also means that the internal bonding that takes place in the groups is also masculine. We do not see any female greasers in the novel. While they are mentioned, we never see any as characters. This further emphasizes the intense type of male bonding that exists among the greasers.

Within the Young Adult fiction genre, The Outsiders was early in suggesting that rival groups might not be very different from one another. Through the establishment of a sense of commonality from the start, Hinton makes us think in a different way. The fact that the author inspires the idea of a resolution between rival gangs so early in the story but delays it taking place for so long maintains the reader’s focus on the issues faced by Ponyboy and others.

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