By Eva-Joy Schonhaar
“We’re all we’ve got left. We ought to be able to stick together against everything. If we don’t have each other, we don’t have anything.” -The Outsiders, chapter 12
When S.E. Hinton published her debut novel, The Outsiders, in 1967, it shocked readers everywhere. Until that point there had been few realistic YA novels (if any). Most people had no idea there were teens in the world who lived lives exactly like those he portrayed. Hinton’s raw writing style and matter-of-fact way of telling a story (almost as if she were writing a journalism article) opened people’s eyes to the minds and struggles of teenagers across America (and, to a large extent, around the world).
Even though The Outsiders tells a small, specific story about a small, specific group of teenagers, it resonates with millions of different readers. And it’s done so across many, many decades (with no signs of slowing down—a musical of the book is being developed even now). One of the biggest reasons for The Outsiders’ enduring resonance and popularity (in my opinion, at least) is it touches on themes and relationships pretty much everyone has experienced in their life. It’s a relatable book with relatable characters.
One of these universal truths The Outsiders illustrates perfectly is the importance of family ties. Of brotherhood in particular, because Ponyboy Curtis (the main character) lives with his two brothers (their parents are dead). The Outsiders shows how essential a strong family bond is with the help of several positive and negative examples. The positive examples mainly come through Ponyboy’s deep friendship with Sodapop (his actual brother) and Johnny (his best friend who’s basically his brother). Ponyboy has a strong connection with both Soda and Johnny—he hero-worships Soda and watches out for Johnny.
But the negative examples, the instances that show the dangers of letting those brotherly bonds drop to the ground… those are important too. Nearer to the beginning of the novel, Ponyboy’s oldest brother, Darry, slaps him after he comes home late. Ponyboy runs out of the house, leaving his family behind, and ends up getting involved in a murder just a few minutes later. Now, it wasn’t right for Darry to slap Ponyboy. But by leaving the safety of his home and his brothers’ protection (yes, even Darry), Ponyboy found himself pulled into even deeper trouble.
However, an even tougher example comes much later in the story. After a series of circumstances I won’t get into, another friend of Ponyboy’s runs away from his friends, his almost-brothers, the people who care for him. He ends up robbing a store and committing suicide just a couple hours later. This friend, Dally, thought the only person in the world who cared for him was dead—and so he imploded. But if he’d stopped and thought for just a moment, he might have realized that his other friends also cared. That they were as close as brothers too. That he didn’t have to take the way out that he did.
If S.E. Hinton had wanted to write pure tragedy, she could have ended The Outsiders with Dally’s death. The hopelessness that his friends feel. The awful circumstances that greasers in the 60’s found themselves in, time after time.
But she didn’t do that.
Instead, she had one more ‘running away’ scene up her sleeve, one that would tie together her novel’s themes of family and friendship and belonging. In that scene, which comes during the book’s final chapter, Sodapop runs out of the house and away from Darry and Ponyboy. He’s sick at heart over their fighting, so he leaves. But he’s not left by himself… to run away and maybe get into trouble the way Ponyboy and Johnny and Dally did. Nope, Ponyboy and Darry chase Soda down and tackle him and make him talk about what’s bugging him. They listen. They let their bond become stronger instead of snapping.
And that is why, even after all the tragedies of the book, Ponyboy will be okay. So will all of us, if we hold tight to the people we love and never let them run away.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eva-Joy Schonhaar is an aspiring author who has written several novels and hopes to be published some day soon. She’s a Christian fangirl who drinks insane amounts of coffee, thinks that chocolate chip cookies solve pretty much everything, and always uses the Oxford Comma. In her spare time she can be found geeking out over superheroes and reading The Hunger Games for the millionth time.