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The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton is a novel about gang rivalry and the consequences of stereotypes and social classes. The Outsiders is composed of two gangs that are socially different but racially homogenous. The Socs are the wealthy kids from the West side of Tulsa who drive new cars, wear madras shirts, and cut their hair short. On the East side of town the Greasers are the working class boys who walk or drive jalopies, wear t-shirts and jeans, and slick their long hair back with grease. But these trimmings are just the external manifestations of their identities. Class differences and the stereotypes society have placed on the two gangs are what really fuels their animosity for one another. My argument pertains to the way these societal conceptions affected both members of the gang and ultimately cause the death of Bob, Johnny, and Dally.
Class can be defined as the division based on quality, rank or grade and the relationship to the means of production. The Socs, relying and their parent's wealth, have a much more fortunate relationship to the means of production than do the Greasers.Â The Greasers have fewer resources to use when faced with a crisis requiring some sort of power in society. When Ponyboy's parents are killed in a car accident, Darry must give up all his dreams of an immediate future to ensure the safety of his brothers. He is not legally required to care for his younger siblings and they could have been left for the state to deal with. But the state would have placed them in a group home where they would suffer significantly from a lack of adult guidance. Ponyboy and Soda cannot get into trouble with the law or the state is reasonably capable of deciding that Darry is not a suitable parent and eradicate his brothers from his custody. I imagine if Darry and his brothers were affiliated with the Socs, there would be some sort of monetary support or insurance that would solve this problem and allow the boys, especially Darry, to still have hopes of a successful future.
The Greasers' and the Socs' hatred for one another is due to popular ideas about class, predominantly in the United States. To be poor or rich are more than just misfortunes of birth, they are moral categories. In the United States, children are frequently educated to believe that moving up in class is not just possible, but is almost inevitable for anyone that works hard. So it's easy to see why the Socs may feel threatened by the Greasers as well as deserving their hatred. The Soc's parents are those who make legal decisions and compose of most of the education system while the Greasers are juvenile delinquents with no aspiration in life beyond fighting and drinking. Very little thought is given to how the Greasers' lack of prosperity combined with class discriminations against them complete their association in this category. We can also see that the consequences for law-breaking are far less harsh for the Socs than they are for the Greasers. The justice system is inclined to see Greasers as essentially bad and deserving of cruel punishment. As for the Socs, the consequences for their delinquency are much lighter.Â The justice system is more liable to see them as good boys who just made unusually bad decisions so their penalties tend to be less severe.
In the Greaser's gang, Johnny's father is an alcoholic and his mother is heartless. Two-bit's mother works in a bar to support her children after being abandoned by their father. Darry is becoming old before his time trying to bear the responsibility of his two younger brothers, and Sodapop drops out of school to assist him. All along, "the Socs had so much spare time and money that they jumped us and each other for kicks, had beer blasts and river-bottom parties because they didn't know what else to do" (Hinton 43).
Class freedom is further established by the Socs' favored technique of fighting. It's usual for several of them to jump one Greaser. This not only reveals their overall spinelessness, but that all of the Greasers will eventually be jumped by the Socs. The Socs have a more advantaged relationship to the means of production and so the two classes can hardly ever see eye to eye. Maybe the reason the Greasers are so eager to fight the Socs is because this ground of physical violence is the only true meritocracy.
Ponyboy's untraditional family does not express a negative stereotype of working class life. Darry can be seen as characterless in that he "doesn't understand anything that is not plain hard fact. But he uses his head" (Hinton 7). Sodapop has a joy for life and he never drinks alcohol since he "can get drunk in a drag race or dancing without ever going near alcohol" (Hinton 8). Ponyboy's parents are also not stereotypical working class either. They were actually loving and involved in their children's lives. His father was "never rough with anyone without meaning to be" (Hinton 6), unlike Darry, who has now taken over the paternal role and constantly lives under the pressure of raising a family as a single father. Darry's fate demonstrates to what extent class mobility is a myth. Ponyboy explains that "Darry didn't deserve to work like an old man when he was only twenty. He had been a real popular guy in school; he was captain of the football team and he had been voted Boy of the Year. But we just didn't have the money for him to go to college, even with the athletic scholarship he won. And now he didn't have the time between jobs to even think about college." (Hinton 16) There seems to be little hope for Ponyboy since the same forces that have formed Darry's life are also planning to make it exceedingly difficult for him to leave the working class.
Ponyboy and Johnny have the most unclear gender characteristics of the Greasers and if it wasn't for their love of fighting they would almost be marked as feminine. Both boys have an attraction to sunsets and seem to be unashamed to cry in the other's presence. But throughout the story both characters are exploring their identities and forming them from the qualities and guidance given by those around them. At the end of the novel, the two characters who reside on opposite ends of gender traits both die. Dally had always emotionally felt so little and flirted with death so much that it became almost suicidal. And Johnny felt so much and put others before him to a degree that it would be difficult for him to survive to adulthood either.
Both Ponyboy's and Johnny's preferred type of literature displays how they have internalized the ideas of middle and upper class. Johnny is enthralled with the novel Gone with the Wind, a book that is usually more suitable for women than men. This is because Johnny "was especially stuck on the Southern gentlemen--impressed with their manners and charm" (Hinton 75). Ponyboy explains that he had to read Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and the character of Pip reminded him of his gang, "the way he felt marked lousy because he wasn't a gentleman or anything, and the way that girl kept looking down on him" (Hinton 15). Johnny's attraction to the manners of a Southern gentleman is somewhat important. When the middle class arose at the end of the 18th century, the members began to legitimize themselves as something more than just rich. They began distinguishing themselves by the manners they expressed. "Before the rise of the middle class, a gentleman was someone with an inherited title, something not available to everyone. After the rise of the middle class, however, a gentleman came to be defined as someone who behaved in a certain way, something that conceivably anyone could do."
It's made clear that Ponyboy does not symbolize the stereotypes of working class masculinity. He is not like the other gang member, but more literate and thoughtful. He enjoys reading books and studying movies so he can pay more attention to the values of the stories. When Ponyboy describes the other Greasers, it becomes very clear that the members also don't completely represent the stereotype of working class masculinity. Together the Greasers are "almost like hoods; they steal things and drive old souped-up cars and hold up gas stations and have a gang fight once in a while" (Hinton 3). This description does not justify the individual portrayal of the members in the gang. Two-Bit, the clown of the gang "liked fights, blondes, and for some unfathomable reason, school" (Hinton 10) Tragically, Dally and Johnny best represent stereotypes of working class family life. Dally is the hardest member of the group "he spent three years on the wild side of New York and had been arrested at the age of ten" (Hinton 10) A result of living in New York made Dally tougher, colder and meaner than the rest of them. Johnny is the youngest member of the gang and comes from a family that embodies the best example of their class. "His father was always beating him up, and his mother ignored him, except when she was hacked off at something, and then you could hear her yelling at him clear down at our house" (Hinton 22).
Ponyboy meets Cherry, a Soc girl, at the movies one night with Johnny. After an argument with Dally, the girls ask Ponyboy and Johnny to sit by them. It is under these conditions that Ponyboy sees the connection between himself and people of another class. When Ponyboy tells Cherry the story of Johnny almost being beat to death by the Socs she replies, "all Socs aren't like that" (Hinton 42) and "things are rough all over," (Hinton 43) for both the Socs and the Greasers. Cherry sees the diverse values, not money that separates the two groups. She depicts the Greasers as more emotional, while the Socs tend to be "sophisticated-cool to the point of not feeling anything" (Hinton 38). But Cherry fails to understand how these personalities she allocates to the two groups are also a result of class. She recognizes that the Socs suffer from having more than they want, and as a result persist to hunt for some insubstantial thing to satisfy them (Hinton 38). Not having to worry about whether they'll be able to eat or have shelter for or even feel safe walking home at night gives them the liberty to have this desire for the indescribable.
Bob, Cherry's boyfriend, has the same traits as Dally, "he was a reckless, hot-tempered boy, cocky and scared stiff at the same time" (Hinton 162). His rings are symbolically similar to the Socs' cars. Throughout literature it has become common for jewelry to be symbols of wealth. The rings that Bob wears ultimately represent the power that accompanies wealth. By using the rings as weapons during fights, Bob is taking advantage of his economic supremacy over the Greasers and using his prosperity to hurt his opponents.
The guys who have the conventional, steady upper class family such as Bob are not automatically better parented in these situations. Randy talks to Ponyboy about his deceased friend and that his parents "spoiled him rotten . . . gave into him all the time. Bob kept trying to make someone say 'No' and they never did" (Hinton 116). Ponyboy's untraditional family seems to be more caring and stable than Bob's.
Living within the upper class encourages the Socs to be less outwardly emotional than the Greasers.Â Controlling one's emotions signifies the capability to manage one's self in other arenas in life, and the working class is often described as a group missing self control. Dally is a great example of this loss of self control. The Socs have more organization in their lives than the Greasers do. Both gangs might have much in common, but when the Greasers become adults, they have a lot less capacity to establish the path of their lives than do their better off counter parts.
The Outsiders depicts the story of two groups of teenagers whose bitter rivalry stems from socioeconomic differences. Hinton suggests these differences in social class do not necessarily make natural enemies of the two groups. I believe Hinton is correct but in the end the differences they share prove to be too strong and the groups are ultimately destroying themselves due to the stereotypes placed upon them. The Greasers and Socs do share some things in common and over the course of the novel, Ponyboy begins to see the pattern of shared experience. He realizes that the hardships the Greasers and Socs face may take different practical forms, but that the members of both groups must inevitably come to terms with fear, love, and sorrow.