The cultural relevance of The Outsiders in modern society

Jenarita Plante

Anchor Staff Writer


Image via rottentomatoes.com

The novel, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton has been widely used within middle and high schools since its inception in 1967. As the years have quickly passed by, the following has only grown. But why? What makes a novel set in the 1960s so popular among students and educators? With over fifteen million copies sold in thirty different languages, it is safe to say that something from this classic novel sticks with the readers; even now in 2022.


As an eighth-grade English teacher, The Outsiders is worked yearly into my curriculum. Not only because of the many standards-based lessons that can be created around it, but also because the novel itself speaks to so many students and staff members. As you flip through the pages and really read and evaluate, you see that life really has not changed all that much since 1967; other than the obvious livelihood things. This has been the case over the decades. In the early 1980s, a school teacher even kicked off a campaign to get the novel made into a film. Francis Cappola’s film of the same name was released in 1983. Cappola worked closely with Hinton to make sure that the screenplay had the same integrity as the book, with messages coming across clearly. An all-star cast with names like Patrick Swayze, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio and Matt Dillon (just to name a few) helped to bring the story to life.


For starters, The Outsiders deals with societal hierarchies. The so-called Socs are the rich kids from the west side; well dressed, nice cars, beautiful girls and all the breaks. The Greasers are the poor kids from the east side; they wear jeans and leather jackets, slick their hair back with tons of product, their girls are loud and obnoxious, and they get blamed for everything. The two groups are in a constant battle with one another, often having fights or rumbles. So many young readers really relate to one side or the other; they can easily see what side they belong to as well as the injustices that the Greasers face because of where they were born. As much as many may not want to admit it, it’s a display of society even today. We like to believe that all people are treated equally, but that is often not the case. With money comes power, and it is hard to break the social structures with which we have been bound.


Students identify with the battles between what is right and what is wrong. In the novel, the main character Ponyboy finds himself in an intense situation when he and his friend Johnny are jumped by a group of five Socs. Being outnumbered, they are quickly overpowered – Pony is on the verge of being drowned. As he begins to blackout Johnny kills one of the Socs harming Pony. The two Greasers quickly find themselves on the run. In all of my years teaching the novel, students have always very quickly realized that Johnny and Pony go on the run not because of the event but because of the social injustices that are directed toward the Greasers themselves. They know that their side of the story will be overpowered by the wealthy, whose parents can pay easily to get them out of trouble. Students in today’s society see social injustice in the media every day and see the parallels between this story and the current world they live in. They see that the pair know running away from the problem is wrong, but that they are doing what they feel is their only option. So many people today are constantly battling with what is right and wrong; maybe not to this extent, but it is a similar battle nonetheless.


Students and young adults may also identify with the novel in today’s society because of the writing style. Hinton herself was only fifteen years old when she started writing the novel. She finished and published it when she was graduating high school. The first-person narrative style feels much like you are talking to a friend; giving you not only an account of each event but also of what the main character Ponyboy is thinking and feeling. Students identify with the hopes, dreams, anxieties and comedic interlude that the character articulates.


With the ever-changing and ever-evolving world, there is one thing that I know as a constant; The Outsiders is a timeless classic that may just forever remain culturally relevant within our society.

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