The concept of poverty is pervasive throughout the novel The Outsiders and provides a significant representation of the struggles of those living in it. Poverty is the state of being extremely poor and greatly affects the quality of someone’s life. Written by S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders (published 1967) follows the story of a group of juveniles who are discriminated against because of differences in socioeconomic status in society. Poverty in The Outsiders creates division in society and affects a greaser’s life to such an extent that it shapes their entire place in life. Due to their behaviour, greasers prompt society to create a stereotype for themselves as hoodlums. Greasers do badly in school because of their need to conform to their social status created by division in society. Also, Greasers turn to crime and violence as a way to create an identity for themselves, so that they can fit in with their social class and fulfil society’s expectations.
Because greasers live in poverty, they cannot access support and motivation to do well in school. Greasers are extremely poor so they cannot afford to focus on schoolwork as it does not conform to the social normalities of a greaser. Also, greasers have an extremely difficult life outside of school, so they cannot complete homework or assignments, hence they receive bad marks. On the contrary, socs are privileged and can focus on school as their life at home is easy. For example, because his dad beats him, Johnny does not have a place at his house, so he escapes to his gang on the streets and becomes a hoodlum. Johnny is forced by society fulfil his expectations as a hoodlum and flunk school. This is evident when Johnny’s teacher labels him as “Just plain dumb” (p. 58) because he had always received bad grades in school. This tell the reader that society is think his are inferior not worthy of education. This prejudice denies him opportunity to improve his life into adulthood. Dropping out of school is seen as a solution to the torment, but it just worsens the situation. It labels greasers as outcasts of society. Having no skills and money, leads to reliance on crime and violence for support and belonging.
Greasers often engage in crime and violence because they live in poverty. For greasers, criminal activity is a survival technique, as it provides them with a purpose and an identity. This identity is being someone of low social status - a hoodlum. This difference in social classes fuels the aggression within greasers towards the socs and society. A prime example of this typical ‘crime and violence of a hoodlum’ is Dallas. Dally comes from a poor family, his dad abandoned them, and his mum has to work as a waitress to support her two kids. Having very little money, Dally grew up with his gang and was instantly labelled as a greaser. Most greasers tend to fight back against the stereotype of being a greaser, however Dally chose to embrace it, which makes it his entire purpose in life. Johnny is a major part of Dally’s identity as a greaser since “Johnny was the only thing Dally loved” (p. 109). At the event of Johnny’s death, Dally feels ‘trapped in a corner’ because he his identity and purpose as a greaser was lost. Dallas feels a need to rob the grocery store afterwards as a desperate way to gain it back. From this event in the novel, the reader is told that the idea of identity and belonging to a gang is really important to a greaser. This is because it provides them with a solution to their separation from the rest of society.
A Greasers entire life is affected by division in society, which in turn is caused by poverty in the community. Being poor, greasers are unfairly labelled as hoodlums. Living in poverty greasers are forced to join gangs to survive the pressure of being separated by society. Coming from poor backgrounds, greasers cannot get the help needed for school, so they fail their classes or drop out. This turn of events is very cyclical. They do badly in school, and then live in poverty during adulthood, just like their parents do. Being in gangs is a refuge from society’s abuse to greasers for being poor. In order to be in the gang, the greasers need to conform to the normalities of being a hoodlum, which means crime and violence. Greasers do this because without a gang, they have no purpose or identity. Even if it separates society into socioeconomic classes, poverty provides people such as greasers and hoodlum an identity and meaning, which overall unites them in gangs.