The Outsiders was the first novel of the American author Susan
Eloise Hinton, who has mainly written fiction for young adults. Hinton was
born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1959 (Biography). The Outsiders was
published in 1967 when Hinton was just eighteen years old. Hinton wrote
the novel because she felt there was no realistic fiction about teenagers,
and because she was frustrated by the social situation in her own high
school where people were divided into different groups (Biography).
The Story of The Outsiders
The story of The Outsiders is told by Ponyboy, a fourteen-year-old
boy whose parents have died in a car-accident, and who is living with his
two older brothers, Darry and Sodapop. The three brothers belong to a gang
of greasers, as do their friends Steve, Two-Bit, Dally and Johnny. The
greasers are rivals with the Socials, or "Socs"1. The greasers are middle class, and poorer than
the Socs, but also wilder. The greasers wear their hair long and use hair
oil thus the name. The Socs are rich and well-dressed, and one of
their favorite things to do is to attack greasers.
At the beginning of the novel, Ponyboy and Darry have a fight which ends
in Darry hitting Ponyboy. Devastated by this Ponyboy runs to a nearby park
with Johnny. While they are there, a group of Socs arrive. The drunken
Socs are mad because earlier in the evening they have seen Ponyboy and
Johnny with their girlfriends. The Socs try to drown Ponyboy, but Johnny
stops them, accidentally stabbing one of the Socs to death.
Ponyboy and Johnny know they have to get away and hide from the police.
With the help of Dally, Johnny and Ponyboy run away to the countryside, to
Windrixville, where they hide in an old church. Later Ponyboy and Johnny
save a group of children from the church that has caught fire, and Johnny
is badly injured. The boys return to town, and Ponyboy makes up with
Darry, and understands that his brother is hard on him just because he
While Ponyboy and Johnny have been away, a full blown war has broken out
between the Socs and the greasers. There is a big fight between them to
settle things for good. The greasers win and as a result the Socs are to
keep away from the greasers' territory for good. Later Johnny dies in the
hospital, and Dally is shot by the police after robbing a grocery store.
The death of two close friends, on top of trying to get by without parents
and struggling with being labelled a greaser, has an enormous effect on
Ponyboy. In order to make sense of it all, Ponyboy decides to write down
everything that has happened thus, we have The Outsiders.
Americanisms in The Outsiders
There are several factors which reveal that The Outsiders is an
The way certain words are spelled in Standard American English (SAE)
differs from the way they are spelled in Standard British English (SBE).
Examples of this are listed below (the American word appears first,
followed by its British equivalent).
- behavior (20) behaviour
- center (27) centre
- color (20) colour
- favor (13) favour
- gray (9) grey
- honor (116) honour
- neighborhood (9) neighbourhood
- self-defense (94) self-defence
- smoldering (63) smouldering
There are also words in SAE that have completely different counterparts in
SBE. Examples of word pairs like this are listed below (again, the
American word appears first).
- fall (61) autumn
- fender (178) wing
- gas station (17) petrol station
- garbage (48) rubbish
- go to the movies (21) go to the cinema
- grocery store (161) supermarket
- movie (10) film
There are several references to school in the novel. A junior (18) is
third-year student, and a senior (22) a fourth-year student in high-school
or college (Rekiaro 855, 986). Ponyboy talks about the A's and B's (21) he
gets from school (A is the highest grade you can get, and B the second
highest grade), and also says that he "made the honor roll at school all
the time" (116), which means that he had high enough grades to be among
the best students in school (Rekiaro 834). Cherry Valance (a Social girl
Ponyboy has a crush on) is a cheerleader (29), and Darry used to be
captain of the football team (24) in school.
Some well-known real-life people are referred to in the novel. Ponyboy
says that Two-Bit reminds him of Will Rogers (18), an American humorist
(Rekiaro 973). When Ponyboy and Johnny are in Windrixville, Ponyboy is
remembering a poem by the American poet Robert Frost (86). The beginning
of the big fight reminds Ponyboy of books written by the American author
Jack London (151). In addition, Elvis Presley (45) is mentioned.
Some other references are made to popular culture. In Windrixville, Johnny
buys Ponyboy a copy of Gone with the Wind (79), which is an
American novel written by Margaret Mitchell. During a hearing concerning
the death of the Soc Johnny killed, Ponyboy wonders if he has been
watching too many Perry Mason shows (175). Perry Mason is an
American TV series about a defence attorney named Perry Mason; the
popular, long-running series first aired in the fifties (Brockman).
Some geographical names relating to the United States are mentioned in the
novel. The story itself is taking place somewhere in the Southwest (19).
New York (18) is talked about several times, because Dally had lived there
for a few years. In addition, Texas (88), Florida (182) and the Arkansas
River (145) are mentioned.
Cars play a vital role in the novel. Car makes such as Mustang (21),
Corvair (44), Sting Ray (93), T-bird (96) and Ford (111) appear in the
Some American-origin brand names are also mentioned. There are
references to two cigarette labels, Kool cigarettes (27) and Camel
cigarettes (87), and to Coke (29), that is, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi (40).
There are several other references to typically American concepts. For
example, Dally rides in rodeos (19). A drugstore (27) is a store that
sells cosmetics and other types of goods besides medicines. In
Windrixville Ponyboy, Johnny and Dally stop at a Dairy Queen (91) to get
something to eat. In addition, the F.B.I. (49), that is, the Federal
Bureau of Investigation, and Halloween (81) are mentioned.
Colloquial Language and Slang
The language of the novel is very colloquial, and there is also a great
deal of slang used, because the way the greasers mostly talk is not
standard English. This is emphasized by the spelling of many words and
phrases, as in the following examples:
The letter "g" is often omitted from present participle forms of verbs and
replaced by an apostrophe. Thus forms such as doin',
walkin', and comin' (21) appear in the novel.
- `cause (25) = because
- coulda (82) = could have
- Didya catch 'em? (20) = Did you catch them?
- `fore (68) = before
- gonna (13) = going to
- gotta (60) = got to
- oughta (121) = ought to
- outa (54) = out of
- shoulda (82) = should have
- ya (57) = you
There are also some examples of the double negative in the novel.
Sentences like I ain't got nobody (59) and That don't bother me
none (96) appear in the novel.
Some examples of slang words that are found in the novel are listed
below. All the following words can be found in Ilkka Rekiaro's
Whaddyacallit [a dictionary of American English slang].
Certain colloquial or slang exclamations are also often used in the novel.
These include for Pete's sake (14), gosh (30), gee
(50), golly (60), heck (40), and shoot (60).
- booze (35) = alcohol
- broad (22) = woman
- bug (17) = annoy
- cooler (20) = jail
- dig (10) = like
- dig (25) = understand
- dough (125) = money
- fuzz (28) = police
- gal (94) = woman
- get hauled in (23) = get arrested
- heater (91) = gun
- holler (10) = yell
- slugg (13) = hit
- swipe (24) = steal
- two-timin' (22) = cheating
- In the book, "Socs" was always written with a upper-case "S",
whereas "greasers" was written with a lower-case "g", perhaps symbolizing
the distinction between the "upper" and "lower" classes of the two gangs.
- Brockman, D.M. Perry Mason TV
Series. 13 November 2007.
- Hinton, S.E. The Outsiders. New York: Viking Books, 1967.
- Rekiaro, Ilkka. Whaddyacallit. Amerikanenglannin slangin ja
amerikkalaisuuksien sanakirja. Helsinki: WSOY, 2002.
- Biography. S.E.
Hinton.com. Viewed 13 November 2007.