The Outsiders: “For Teenagers, About Teenagers, Written by a Teenager”

The OutsidersAccording to a New York Times essay written by Dale Peck in 2007, The Outsiders was an instant hit when published in 1967 and has remained an all-time best seller for more than forty years. I believe that these facts say a great deal.

Although The Outsiders has been criticized for its “sometimes workmanlike prose” and intermittent clichés, such as, perhaps, the novel turning out to be Ponyboy’s crucial English theme, these elements might also be considered those which make the novel authentically Y.A. (Peck, 2007). That is, because The Outsiders was written for teenagers, about teenagers and by a teenager, it is distinctly reflective of the adolescent experience. In fact, the authenticity resulting from these circumstances is said to have profoundly influenced subsequent Y.A. works because after the publication of The Outsiders, young readers began to insist that Y.A. fiction mirror their realities. This meant that from 1967 on, Y.A. fiction would not only need to recount the teenage experience, but recount it in a voice that rang true to young readers.

As for the so-called clichés, these may be considered amateurish, or they may be considered reimaginings of various aspects of quintessential American stories (think “Rebel Without a Cause” and “West Side Story”). And given that the novel’s author, S. E. Hinton, was only fifteen when she began writing the novel, the term “amateurish” hardly packs a punch. No matter what its toughest critics say, the popularity of The Outsiders speaks for itself. Hinton has clearly given the people what they wanted.

-SD

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3 thoughts on “The Outsiders: “For Teenagers, About Teenagers, Written by a Teenager”

  1. Great blog!
    I believe that while some of the themes in The Outsiders can be cliche’, they are timeless and still relevant to many of our students’ lives. For example, both the Socs and the Greasers can be compared to what gang violence is today, with rivalries that are surrounded by the same issues that the characters in The Outsiders face: social class, identity, and popularity. I can envision this novel being read in a classroom where the teacher could supplement the story with real articles on gang violence or could perhaps conduct a social experiment on various social circles that exist within the school. My 8th grade students read this novel in their 7th grade class last year and absolutely loved it– so much that they begged me to teach it to them again this year. After reading it, it is easy to recognize why stories like these are so valuable to teenagers, particularly in environments where these cliche’, yet important themes are connected to their lives.
    –VM

  2. SD- Amazing blog! Short, sweet, and to the point! I especially love your statement “That is, because The Outsiders was written for teenagers, about teenagers and by a teenager, it is distinctly reflective of the adolescent experience. In fact, the authenticity resulting from these circumstances is said to have profoundly influenced subsequent.” I really feel like this is an important and duh moment for critics. People who have read The Outsiders, especially teachers who teach it, show proof that this book has a profound effect on the young adult. The Outsiders, like VM states, is exceptionally timeless. In a generation where our kids grow up in a “concrete jungle”, they face some of the exact same feelings and maybe situations that our lovable character Ponyboy does. This is what really makes this book so timeless and applicable to all generations. While the most important aspects of this book are text-to-self connections that can easily made, I also think that the uniqueness of the author’s craft is something to show and praise to students. I think that something that is written in a very simplistic manner can actually become something that greatly impacts thinking and discussions. We can show students that sometimes the impossible seems possible.

    -DML

  3. Thanks guys; I appreciate your feedback!
    VM, I love your idea about bringing current events in during a reading of this text, as outlined in your statement: “I can envision this novel being read in a classroom where the teacher could supplement the story with real articles on gang violence or could perhaps conduct a social experiment on various social circles that exist within the school.” I also appreciate the insight that your eighth graders wanted you to teach the novel for a second time. That’s incredible!
    -SD

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