The Outsiders And Problem Novels English Literature Essay

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Ponyboy identifies with the protagonist, Pip, because like him, he is also, poor, orphaned, and struggling to make sense of the world. There is many other literature connects describe throughout Hinton's novel. For instance, Robert Frost poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" helps the protagonist, and his friend, Johnny, understand that childish things do not last forever, and that growing up as well as facing reality is part of growing up. Later in the novel, Johnny compares his friend, Dally, to a Southern gentleman in Gone with the Wind; having romanticized with Dally makes Johnny able to understand him better. Literature does not only create a bond between a reader, and the characters on the page, it also creates "a mirror and a connection" that are "deeper than the color of skin, with connections based on characteristics of specific characters in books" (Stewart 1&10). Identical to how Pony creates "a mirror and a connection" of himself with the character, Pip, which is based on the characteristics that they are both poor, orphaned, and struggling to make sense of the world. Johnny does the same as he creates "a mirror and a connection" with his friend Dally.

Some would argue that this "mirror and connection" makes young adult literature "authentic," yet; there has been a lot of controversy over the "authentic" in young adult literature as well as its subgenre, "problem novels." Rose Mary Honnold's The Teen Reader's Advisor defines the subgenre of young adult literature, "problem novel," as dealing more with characters from lower-class families and their problems; being "grittier"; using more realistic language; and including dialects, profanity, and poor grammar when it fits the character and setting. McGee echoes this sentiment as he points out how "many young adult novelists, especially those who write in the problem novel tradition or those who employ the diary-type confessional format, the need for an 'authentic'-sounding teen voice" which gives the novel, itself, a "believable" or "realistic" perspective (McGee 172). Mike Cadden, on the other hand, argues, "Novels constructed by adults to simulate authentic adolescent's voice are inherently ironic because the so-called adolescent voice is never - and never can be-truly authentic" (146). While few scholars would nitpick with the idea of "authentic" in children literature, something has to be said about qualities of "authentic" within the reader.

As I will demonstrate, the tendency in scholarship of children's literature is to privilege "mirror books" for its achieving qualities, its ability to place the reader inside of the novel. Rather than argue for a way to sharpen the potential of the children's "authentic" in general, I will argue for the focus on the unique potential of "mirror books." To illustrate how a novel for young readers can embrace "mirror books," I will read extensively from S.E Hinton's 1967 novel, The Outsiders.

The Outsiders and Problem Novels

I will soon narrow my analysis of "mirror books," but it is first worth noting why I chose Hinton's novel, and the meaning of the term. The reason I chose to study S.E Hinton's The Outsiders. In "The Irony of Narration in the Young Adult Novel, Cadden states "Novels constructed by adults to simulate an authentic adolescent's voice are inherently ironic because the so-called adolescent novel is never-and never can be - truly authentic" (146). McGee agrees with this statement by stating that "precisely because young adult novels are rarely written by teens themselves" (172). After reading their claims, I felt that it was necessary to study The Outsiders because Hinton was a teenager when she wrote the novel, which indeed focuses only on teenagers, and became the first of its kind. Dissatisfied with the lack of realism of teenagers in traditional novels, Hinton wanted a book that would reflect the experience she saw going on around her. Through the perspective of an outsider, she interview many groups in high school, and saw "the big picture" better than most. Furthermore, she decided to write about boys because she claims, "at that time girls did not do much. They waited around for their boyfriends, concentrating on their hair and makeup." She wanted her novel to be more realistic, so she spent time with boys and wrote about them. Last, "unlike standard teenage novels, The Outsiders and her subsequent novels, including That Was Then, This Is Now (1971), Rumble Fish (1975), Tex (1979), and Taming the Star Runner (1988), contain characters who cope with such [problems] as violence, poverty, alcoholism, and drug addiction" (enotes). The subgenre of young adult novel, "problem novels" was created.

Problem novels have been around for a long time; however, not much has changed throughout the years. As I illustrated before, Rose Mary Honnold defines "problem novels" as dealing more with characters from lower-class families and their problems; being "grittier"; using more realistic language; and including dialects, profanity, and poor grammar when it fits the character and setting. Hinton's novel does contain all these aspects, which is no surprise since the novel was the first of its kind; however, what I have found surprising is that how many other YA novels or in other words "problem novels" have also followed the same criteria. Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and Walter Dean Myers' Fallen Angels all have main characters that "are poor and on the lower end of the financial and social scale" (Seay 69), as each character tries to deal with their own problems of personal and social issues. The Chocolate War, published in 1974, follows the protagonist, Jerry Renault, as he challenges the school's cruelty, brutality, and the ugly mob rule brought upon his fellow classmates, and teachers. Fallen Angels, published in 1988, follows the protagonist, Richard Perry, as he enlists into the Vietnam War, and realizes that war is not victories, as it seems from the perspective of home. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, published in 2007, follows the protagonist of a Native American teenager named Arnold Spirit, Jr. as he transfers from a Spokane Indian Reservation to an all-white high school at an off-reservation of Reardan. All three of these novels deal with issues such as racism, poverty, and the loss of innocents. Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, on the hand, according to Barbara Tannert-Smith, "exemplifies the contemporary revision of the earlier teenage 'problem novel' into the 'adolescent trauma narrative'" (397). Speak is about Melinda Sordino's first year in high school and ends with the realization that she was raped by an older student at a party before the school year began. In addition, Anderson slightly breaks the mold by placing Melinda in a middle-class family, and the story is told in a "diary-type confessional format with short, darkly comic, and ironic entries [which] anticipates contemporary teenage blog culture" (Tannert-Smith 397). Yet, critics still criticize the "authentic" of young adult literature, although young adult readers relate to these novels because the narrator is from their own age group and reflect many issues that they themselves may face. On her website, Justine Larbalestier, a well known YA author, states how she could not believe how helpful problem novels were for many young readers: "Readers told me over and over again that they were able to find someone like themselves in the main character dealing with abuse, with an alcoholic mother, a drug addicted father, or what have you. Librarians talked of being able to put the right book in the hands of a struggling teen, which not only got them reading, but every bit as important, gave them a way to talk about what was happening to them and thus get help." Obviously, young adult readers continue to relate to these "problem novels" as they see themselves or lose themselves within the pages.

Mirror Books

Chris McGee states that any study of the young adult genre should lead to ask, "Who young adult novels are written for, what fantasies they fulfill, and what purposes their 'authentic' narrative voices serve" (172). Cheryl Kelin, senior editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/ Scholastic, would answer that children is "what young adult novel are written for," the "fantasies they fulfill" is that they allow children to see themselves in the text, and "their purpose of 'authentic narrative voice" is to relate with the reader. At her lecture entitled, "Black and White and Read All Over: Diversity and Inequity in Children's Publishing," Klein defined the term as a way that "allows[s] children to make connections deeper than the color of skin, with connections based on characteristics of specific characters in books" (Stewart 1&10). For instance, "even though the character in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is black - something that Klein cannot make a full connection with - the character is a misunderstood, lonely, nerdy teenager who eventually overcomes all to become 'super successful and awesome.' Klein said that character reminded her of herself, making a mirror and a connection" (Stewart 1&10). Now, I will compare the term "mirror books" with S.E Hinton's The Outsiders; even though the novel is set in 1966, a reader of any society, ethnic and time-period can easily relate to the theme and characters of the novel. I will illustrate this point by observing the Hinton's character development, plot, and techniques.

Character Development

The character development of S.E Hinton's The Outsiders makes the novel more relative to the readers. Hinton first introduces Ponyboy, the narrator, as a unreliable teenage who is both insecure and confident at the same time, as he wants to look "tuff," but knows that his looks are what sets him apart from the rest of his friends.

I have light-brown, almost-red hair and greenish-gray eyes. I wish they were more gray, because I hate most guys that have green eyes, but I have to be content with what I have. My hair is longer than a lot of boys wear theirs, squared off in back, and long at the front and sides, but I am a greaser and most of my neighborhood rarely bothers to get a haircut. Besides, I look better with long hair (Hinton 1).

Though Ponyboy is not superhuman, he, and the other characters are humans after all, which makes them more relative with the readers. After Pony, and Johnny saves a bunch of children from a burning abandon church, Two-Bit responds to a headline about their rescue, "Y'all were heroes from the beginning" (). At first, Pony does not understand what Two-Bit is say, however, when others tell him that they are impressed by his rescue of the children, he simply shrugs and claims, "anyone would have done the same" (). I will now list few other characteristics of Ponyboy that read can relate to. He is smart, and has "good grades and a "high IQ" (Hinton 4). Yet, he is a bit naïve at times, like when he tried to convince himself that the only difference between the Socs, and the Greases is that Greasers like Elvis and do not like the Beatles and Socs like the Beatles and do not like Elvis (). Last, when Johnny dies, Pony feels loss for the death of his friend, and dislocated from the reality. For instance, he tried to convince himself that Johnny is not dead: "That still body back in the hospital wasn't Johnny. Johnny was somewhere else-maybe asleep in the lot" (). Even though Ponyboy is from a different class, ethnic, or society than the reader, the reader can still relate with his insecurity, braveness, modesty, smarts, partly naïve, and loss of a love one.

Plot

S.E Hinton's The Outsiders is about a fourteen-year-old named Ponyboy, he is tough, and confused, yet he is sense behind his bold front. Since his parents 'death, his loyalties have been to his brothers and his gang, the rough, swinging, long-haired boys from the wrong side of the tracks. When his best friend, Johnny, kills a member of a rival gang, a nightmare of violence begins and inevitably envelops Ponyboy in a turbulent chain of events. The novel tackles issues that adolescents can easily identify with such as suicide, teenage pregnancy, underage smoking and drinking, the importance of staying in school and graduating, and, eventually, the need to "fit in:" that sense of belonging to a group who understands their problems and with whom they can relate. Manny of these issues are still common today because the struggles and the emotions the characters deal with are universal themes which accounts for the novel's durable appeal with teens, and adults of today.

Techniques

Hinton uses a first-person narrative that is easily identified by the use of "I" in telling the story; this narration style effectively expresses the anxieties and insecurities of a fourteen-year-old, which makes for an intimate reading experience, and helps the reader relate with the narrator's story.

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home. I was wishing I looked like Paul Newman - he looks tough, and I don't - but I guess my own looks aren't so bad. I have light-brown, almost-red hair and greenish-gray eyes. I wish they were more gray, because I hate most guys that have green eyes, but I have to be content with what I have. My hair is longer than a lot of boys wear theirs, squared off in back, and long at the front and sides, but I am a greaser and most of my neighborhood rarely bothers to get a haircut. Besides, I look better with long hair (Hinton 1).

As illustrated, with this first person point of view, the presence of the author is removed almost entirely from the story; therefore, she does not cause interruption with the themes and plot of the novel. The characters' teen-age voice captures the speech rhythms of modern youth, and many critics believe that Hinton's ability in this area is extraordinarily masterful. One critic named Michael Malone suggested in a 1986 Nation article that Hinton's ability "to evoke for her audience how teen-agers feel about those clashes [of ideals] is indisputable." Hinton definitely has a gift for the exact vocabulary, and the syntax of the modern teenager. Thus, the novel seems to take on an air of being true for the reader, even if the situations seem sentimental or cliché at times.

Mirror books continue to be the model for writing successful young adult literature

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