The Outsiders is a bildungsroman novel, written by S.E. Hinton when she was a teenager. Although it was written in the ’70s, the themes of loyalty, isolation, and identity explored throughout the novel are still pertinent to teenagers today.
In The Outsiders, loyalty is a recurrent theme and a point of pride, honor, and principle for the greasers. Hinton displays just how important it is for adolescents to be a part of a group and feel included. The greasers understand that the true essence of being part of a gang was to “stick up for the members. If they don’t stick up for each other, stick together, make like brothers, it wasn’t a gang anymore.” One of the greatest examples of loyalty is when Johnny kills Bob because “Bob might have killed Ponyboy.” Johnny’s loyalty to Ponyboy goes so far that he is later willing to turn himself in, so Ponyboy can be reunited with his brothers. Through this loyalty, the author establishes that family is who you want it to be and the greasers are the perfect example of this timeless message. Teenagers may not have it all figured out but their loyalty is strong and that, according to Ponyboy, is the thread that holds his gang together - it cuts across their differences.
Hinton explores the epitome of teenage problems - feeling alone and unable to relate to anyone. On the contrary to what readers may perceive, amidst the love and loyalty Ponyboy receives from his brothers and the greasers he is very much isolated. Hinton confirms that isolation isn’t only physical and can occur even when you are surrounded by people who love you. This ‘emotional isolation’ is apparent when Ponyboy recognizes that “nobody in [his] gang digs movies and books the way he does.” Unlike the other Greasers, Pony is talented, driven, and has a tolerant, sensitive nature. This difference of interests is exemplified by his love for watching sunsets and literature. Darry complains that he “doesn't use his head”. This illustrates Ponyboy’s emotional temperament that makes him more prone to act irrationally. Feeling isolated is relevant to people of any age, society, or culture and the emotions it brings are beautifully captured in the novel.
The author explores how one’s personal morals and views overshadow the group identity an individual may take on. For example, Ponyboy does not fit the stereotype of a typical ‘hood’. While he is a greaser he is not totally devoted to the gang's way of life. He is on a journey to find his own path and voice, after the events surrounding Bob's death cause Ponyboy to think deeper about who he wants to be. A literary technique that supports this argument is the full-circle ending. The first and last lines of the book are: 'When I stepped out into the bright light of the sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.' This full-circle ending suggests that Ponyboy does not change despite the circumstances of the novel. This is echoed in Johnny's advice to Ponyboy to 'stay golden.' Despite the violence and horror around him, Ponyboy remains true to himself. His identity is rooted in something deeper than his external circumstances. Just like Ponyboy, teenagers today are more than the cliques they lock themselves into. While the lines between a group and personal identity can become blurred, Hinton challenges the idea that one’s identity is determined by external circumstances.
Hinton’s cult classic novel, The Outsiders, is still relevant to teenagers today. The author emphasizes the significance of loyalty to form strong and meaningful bonds. She also establishes that isolation can occur amidst all the love in the world and that one’s identity is more than the group you are part of or your external circumstances.