Feminist criticism of Cherry Valence in The Outsiders

In The Outsiders, Cherry Valence initially comes as off as an intense, no-nonsense girl. She responds to Dally’s inappropriate comments by dousing him in the face with soda, and readily engages in conversation with Ponyboy, regardless of the potential backlash that may result from her peers in responses to their interaction. However, Cherry Valence’s character, while dignified in her response of protecting the greasers, in the end succumbs to solely becoming submissive to both her gender expectations and her social class. While Cherry protects the greasers by defending Johnny at the trial, her “loyalty” to the greasers remains inferior to the protection of her status. Cherry, as a portrayal of women, although noble in her attempt to do justice for the greasers, ends up being weakened by proving herself to be a woman who easily submits to the pressures around her. Cherry also denies herself the right to chase or to love a “bad boy” like Dally, thus making her seem fearful of the consequences that loving him may have, as opposed to braving the chances in order to obtain what she desires.

As a former teenage girl who teaches many teenage girls, I found myself groaning in dismay at the lack of effort on Cherry’s part. When she initially meets Ponyboy, I was hoping for her to have a change of heart and to leave her comfort zone in effort to defy social/gender standards and to become friends with the greasers and to pursue her desire to be with Dally. Instead, she proves herself to be a woman who is aware that everyone “watches the same sunset”, yet does nothing in order to bridge the gap between the two rivaling parties. Instead, she remains a helpless bystander, only trying to make peace from a safe distance—this making her certainly no role model for a growing girl to look up to. In essence, Cherry’s actions (or lack there of) ensure young women that it’s ok to stand up for something you believe in, that is, from a safe distance of being seen. As a teacher, I often try to encourage my students (particularly the girls) to defy standards and stereotypes, to go for what they want, and to always voice their beliefs. Cherry Valence on the other hand, is not a woman of these values, but rather a watered down portrayal of a what a heroine should be. Is this what we want to teach our kids—to only speak their mind from behind the protection of closed doors?

-VM

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2 thoughts on “Feminist criticism of Cherry Valence in The Outsiders

  1. Thanks for this post, VM. While I agree that Cherry “denies herself the right to … love” Dally, I wonder whether she might’ve had sound (rather than poor, self-sacrificing) reasons for this. To me, there is something impressive about Cherry’s resisting the temptation of Dally. There is also something noble about the way she remembers the good in Bob after his death, instead of bashing him for his mistakes. In the end, Cherry remains standing on her own two feet, boldly speaking her truth at the trial. It seems that part of the reason why Cherry does little beyond speaking at the trial to “bridge the gap between the two rivaling parties” is that she is an adolescent, who – if nothing else – understands that boys will be boys. We cannot know whether Cherry goes on to become a social worker or public defender or politician, so I’d like to give her a bit more credit. Just a bit. Much like Jane of Fifteen, Cherry is imperfect. Yet she has some redeeming qualities, such as her ability to be objective and her hatred of violence, which probably prompt her decision to testify in Ponyboy’s trial. For these reasons, I hesitate to criticize her actions, or, as you say, lack thereof, too harshly, despite what the hardcore feminists might think.

    -SD

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post, VM and yet I have to agree with SD in a way. I agree with you VM that she doesn’t really chase after what she truly wants,the bad boy Dally, and yet, I agree with you SD that she does indeed bridge the gap by speaking at the trial in favor of the greasers. While we don’t see the outcome of how this event will effect Cherry, we don’t really have much to work with here since this book does indeed fail the Bechdel test even though it was written, ironically, by a female. I think it is also important to note that because Cherry doesn’t appear as often or plays a major role within the book, we can’t assume much of her character. While she had every chance to really stick up for her own people, the Socs, she chooses to break away and be honest because “they all watch the same sunset”. As for teaching this book to our students, I would absolutely teach it and I would also mention that it does indeed fail the Bechdel test and why this test is important. This may help your students (male or female) see why it is important for us as humans to stand up for what we believe in.

    -DML SP’15

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