Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Devouring Books: The Outsiders by S E Hinton
I always thought of The Outsiders as a book I knew a lot about but had just never gotten around to reading yet. I know it is referenced in Fangirl, I thought it was referenced in Donnie Darko (it is not) and I know Rob Lowe was in the film version because I read his (actually surprisingly good) memoir. From this really sketchy evidence,, I thought I had a super clear idea about the storyline of The Outsiders, but as the structure of this sentence suggests I actually had no idea.
In its most basic details, The Outsiders was the book I expected. Ponyboy Curtis (the actual name of our narrator) is one of a gang of Greasers, sworn enemies of the Sons, and in a really simplistic sense, this sets up tension and danger and badness between poor and rich, and have-nots and haves (respectively). It's what Hinton does from this jumping off point though, that keeps The Outsiders from being cliched and dull, and makes it a novel that deserves attention and analysis.
Here's a thing, for instance: Ponyboy is a reader. This makes him so much more interesting than a general hoodlum, because it means that he things about the world around him in a different way to his brothers and his buddies and makes him a really engaging character to hang out with. Although Ponyboy has come to see being tough and fighting as a part of life that he has to deal with, it is made clear that really he prefers reading and art and watching sunsets to fighting and violence and being shitty to people. He's really a pretty great kid.
As a result of Ponyboy being a great kid, the novel gains the majority of its depth. My very favourite thing about The Outsiders is that, as a result of Ponyboy seeing the world differently, he starts to see that everyone thinks of themselves as outsiders, and that everyone has a hard time, regardless of social class. As a result of this, Ponyboy begins to see people as individuals rather than as a part of their group, and so he begins to understand that 'socs' are actually individual people, as diverse in character as all the members of his own friendship group. THIS is my actual favourite thing for people to start to understand about the world, because I think that basically all problems arise from seeing entire groups of people as sharing the exact same beliefs and lifestyles and using that as a way to subjugate that whole group and just aghhhhh no. Ponyboy comes to understand that people are individuals, and should be treated as such, rather than immediately dismissed because of (in the case of this book) their social class.
That's really the good stuff in this book, and even though the storyline is also pretty engaging and exciting and kept me entertained on a train journey, I'm really all about the understanding that literally everyone has individual experiences and ideas and can't be treated as a mass idea. So, come for the cult novel, stay for the engaging story, appreciate the awesome world view and be grateful that I told you it's totally ok to read The Outsiders. You're so very welcome.