death conveniently resolves the problem of the murder of the Soc and is followed within hours as Whissen puts it, "Dally is made into a tragic antihero. He 'fought for Johnny,' and when Johnny dies, Dally, too, must die. And what he dies for is the absence of fairness in the world, for as all teenagers know, life is anything but fair. Again, though, where adults may guffaw at the sentimental silliness of Dally's way of death, Hinton makes it all quite credible -- even moving" (p. 185).
These events also serve as the basis for Ponyboy redeeming himself academically with his English teacher who cautions him that, "Pony, I'll give it to you straight. You're failing this class right now, but taking into consideration the circumstances, if you come up with a good semester theme, I'll pass you with a C. grade" (p. 178). After calling his English teacher late at night to determine how long the paper could be, Ponyboy begins to write about his friend, Johnny and how fate had placed him in the right place at the right time to die a hero, even though he was far too young when it happened. Ponyboy concludes the book by reciting from the beginning of his paper, "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 . . ." (p. 188).
The cast of characters in the Outsiders consists mostly of Ponyboy and his friends and associates, with a few named socs thrown in for good measure. The novel main characters are the protagonist and narrator, Ponyboy, whose older brothers, Sodapop (that is his real name, Ponyboy assures the reader and his newfound friend of Cherry Valence at the "sit-down" part of a drive-in movie situated in front of the concession stands for those without vehicles and he assures her that the name even appears that way on his birth certificate) and Darry, struggle to prove that they are able to survive as "outsiders" in their community in spite of the predatory nature of the "socs" (short for "Socials") and their limited employment and general life opportunities. The brothers are friends -- in varying degrees -- with a group of other adolescents and young adults who are from the same socioeconomic class and whose membership engages in varying degrees of malicious mischief, fights (both prearranged and spontaneous), and downright criminal activity ranging from petty theft involving shoplifting at the local stores to grand theft auto.
By and large, though, Ponyboy and Sodapop try to stay out of trouble (or to not get caught when they do) because to do otherwise would jeopardize their family arrangements with their older brother, Darry. According to Whissen, "Although there are stronger characters in the book, Ponyboy serves as the book's conscience as well as its heroic center. He is the one who translates experience into understanding, who goes out into the world, learns from it, and returns with a message for others to profit by" (p. 188). This is made clear when Ponyboy realizes that Darry will somehow manage to work his way out of his current circumstances and overcome the challenges and obstacles facing him no matter what because his brother is a winner, and that makes him a winner too. Likewise, Ponyboy is sensitive to the world around him in ways that would be effeminate if he was not so tough otherwise. For example, Whissen notes that Ponyboy "is also the sentient center of the book for Ponyboy describes himself right off the bat as a loner who 'digs' movies and books in a special way: 'For a while there, I thought I was the only person in the world that did'" (quoted at p. 188). "In addition, Ponyboy enjoys just walking, reading poetry and watching sunsets in ways that help establish a connection between the two disparate worlds of the socs and greaters. In this regard, Whissen adds that, "In fact, when he discovers that Cherry Valance watches sunsets, too, he thinks, 'Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren't so different. We saw the same sunset' (quoted at p. 188).
Perhaps it is these very qualities of Ponyboy in particular that help make the Outsiders appealing to both males and females because Ponyboy can be cultured (at least for a greaser) but he never forgets who he is or where he comes from. As Whissen points out, "Ponyboy is a character with whom both sexes can easily identify. For boys he is the kid brother they either are or have, and his puppy-dog devotion and kiddishness mix comfortably with his aggressiveness, for he does not back off from a fight or take insults lying down" (p. 188). Furthermore, Hinton's characters face up to their problems and with the sole exception of Johnny and Ponyboy hopping a freight train in their efforts to evade the law after Bob the drunk soc is killed, the greasers in particular are willing to confront whatever comes their way head-on in ways that make even the most hard-hearted readers grudgingly respect these kids. This point is also made by Whissen who concludes, "Instead of whining about the unfairness of life and welcoming its bitter burdens, Hinton's characters are unbelievably mature in their understanding of worldly injustice and unbelievably positive in their ability to take others for what they are and still maintain their faith in human nature" (1992, p. 184).
Although the story is set in the mid-20th century, Herz and Gallo (1996) suggest that the book has a timeless message and that young people "from any socioeconomic group can relate to Ponyboy and Sodapop in S.E. Hinton the Outsiders -- to their struggle to fit in, their feelings of alienation" (p. 20). These authors go on to note that Hinton's book "provides the reader with a view of characters struggling to understand a society interested in self-gratification, a society that exploits its less powerful members" (Herz & Gallo, 1996, p. 23). The author was just 16 years old when she wrote the Outsiders, but she managed to capture the perspectives of both the males and females of the same age and relates these differing viewpoints throughout the book. In this regard, Whissen notes that, "The story that Ponyboy tells is a boy's story, and boys continue to identify with its narrator and his buddies. But the story also holds a powerful fascination for girls who can wax ecstatic about the way this book is their voice" (p. 186). The fact that the author was an adolescent female was not publicized when the book was published since this would have likely adversely affected the appeal of the book for its original targeted audience of that consisted largely of similarly situated adolescent males who would undoubtedly be intrigued by the accounts of gang fights and troublemakers.
The book, though, has an enormous appeal for females as well. For instance, Whissen notes that Ponyboy performs a subtler function [for girls] for he allows them to indulge in subconscious erotic fantasies. Ponyboy's loving description of his brother, Soda, could be a junior high school girl's dream" (p. 188). Early in the book, Ponyboy enthuses about Sodapop and his relationship with him. Even though he says he lies to himself all of the time (but never believes himself) about his relationship with his oldest brother, Darry, his fondness and love for Sodapop is made abundantly clear: "I love Soda more than I've ever loved anyone, even Mom and Dad. He's always happy-go-lucky and grinning, while Darry's hard and firm and rarely grins at all" (p. 10).
When he meets Cherry Valence at a drive-in movie and she says he looks like Sodapop. Ponyboy is flattered to no end because he highly admires his older brother's looks:
Soda is handsomer than anyone else I know. Not like Darry -- Soda's movie-star kind of handsome, the kind that people stop on the street to watch go by. ... He has a finely drawn, sensitive face that somehow manages to be reckless and thoughtful at the same time. He's got dark-gold hair that he combs back -- long and silky and straight -- and in the summer the sun bleaches it to a shining wheat-gold. His eyes are dark brown-lively, dancing, recklessly laughing eyes that can be gentle and sympathetic one moment and blazing with anger the next. (p. 10)
This is not the only reference to his older brother's good looks. In fact, according to Whissen, "[Sodapop's'] good looks are mentioned repeatedly throughout the novel, and Ponyboy can only sleep well when he is literally sleeping in Soda's arms" (p. 188). In a vaguely disturbing scene that tends to detract from the story's credibility as being the work of a male author, Ponyboy…