The Outsiders Suggested Essays
by S. E. Hinton
Suggested Essay Questions
Compare the characters of Bob and Dally.
On the surface, Bob and Dally couldn't be more different. However, the two boys are linked together by the phrase, "Next time you want a broad, pick up your own kind." Right before the Socs attack Ponyboy and Johnny, in the fight that results in Johnny killing Bob, Bob states the reasoning for the attack. He wants the Greasers to know their place in society, and to stay away from Soc girls. Later, in Chapter 6, Dally echoes Bob's words when he explains that Cherry is acting as a spy for the Greasers, adding: "Man, next time I want a broad I'll pick up my own kind." Ponyboy remembers Bob saying this not even a week before. Both boys are victims of the violence between the Socs and the Greasers, and die before the story is over. They both have violent tendencies, look for fights, and end up losing their lives because of it; more important, both draw ideological lines in the sand.
Discuss the relationship between Johnny and Dally.
Johnny feels hero-worship toward Dally, and thinks of him as the most gallant of all the gang. Dally wants to protect Johnny and keep him from turning out the way he himself has. As they drive back to the church in Chapter 5, he explains, "You get hardened in jail. I don't want that to happen to you. Like it happened to me..." After Johnny dies, Dally reacts with uncharacteristic emotion. Ponyboy realizes that "Johnny was the only thing Dally loved. And now Johnny was gone."
Discuss the relationship between Ponyboy and Darry, and how it changes over the course of the novel.
At the beginning of the novel, Ponyboy resents Darry for being too strict and always bothering him for not using his head. He recognizes the sacrifices that Darry has made to raise his two little brothers, but still thinks Darry just doesn't care for him at all.
But in Chapter 5, when Soda and Darry come to the hospital, Ponyboy has a revelation. He sees his oldest brother cry for the first time in years - he didn't even cry at their parents' funeral - and realizes that "Darry did care about me, maybe as much as he cared about Soda, and because he cared he was trying too hard to make something of me." He understands that Darry is terrified of losing another person he loves, and wonders "how I could ever have thought him hard and unfeeling."
In Chapter 10, when Ponyboy wakes up momentarily, he asks Soda if Darry is sorry he's sick. He also worries throughout the chapter that maybe he didn't ask for Darry while he was delirious, but Soda finally confirms that he did. This concern for Darry's feelings is a huge change from the way Ponyboy regarded his oldest brother in the beginning of the novel. Now he is worried that, because deep down he feels he can relate better to Soda, he might have left Darry out in his unconscious babbling.
How do Ponyboy's feelings toward Randy reflect the conflict between the Socs and the Greasers?
At first, Ponyboy sees Randy as a violent Soc to be avoided; he is Marcia's boyfriend, and is involved in jumping the Greasers. But in Chapter 7, they have a conversation in Randy's car, and Randy explains why he is leaving town instead of attending the rumble. He says, "You can't win, even if you whip us. You'll still be where you were before - at the bottom. And we'll still be the lucky ones with all the breaks. So it doesn't do any good, the fighting and the killing. It doesn't prove a thing. We'll forget it if you win, or if you don't. Greasers will still be greasers and Socs will still be Socs." Ponyboy begins to see Randy as someone who can appreciate sunsets, and feels a connection to him regardless of their different social statuses.
However, in Chapter 11 when Randy comes to visit Ponyboy at home, Ponyboy's denial about Johnny's death and the events leading up to it cause a rift between the two boys again. Ponyboy decides, "He was just like all the rest of the Socs. Cold-blooded and mean."
What do Johnny's last words mean?
Johnny's last words echo in Chapter 12 when Ponyboy breaks a bottle to defend himself against the Socs. Two-Bit says, "Ponyboy, listen, don't get tough. You're not like the rest of us and don't try to be..." Ponyboy is confused by what Two-Bit means, since he felt nothing when the Socs approached him. But he proves that he is still "gold" by bending down to pick up the pieces of broken glass from the ground without even thinking about it.
How does Gone with the Wind represent an ideal for Johnny?
Johnny puts his last note to Ponyboy inside his copy of Gone with the Wind. The gallantry of the Southern gentlemen in the book, who rode to their certain deaths bravely, inspires Johnny and reminds him of Dally. This allows Ponyboy to see Dally in that light, too, and to consider that his death might have been gallant. Johnny dies as a result of rescuing children from the fire in the church, so in that way he lives up to the ideal in Gone with the Wind.
What is the difference between Ponyboy the narrator and Ponyboy the character?
It is always clear that Ponyboy is narrating The Outsiders from a point in the future, after the events of the story have taken place. However, this rift between narrator and character becomes definite in Chapter 11, when Ponyboy's pretending makes him an unreliable narrator for the first time in the story. When Randy comes to visit, Ponyboy says that he was the one who killed Bob, and that Johnny is not dead. He repeats it aloud to convince himself of it. But as narrator, he says, "Johnny didn't have anything to do with Bob's getting killed." The reader has depended upon Ponyboy's narration to dictate the events of the story, and now the frame of reference is thrown off, since we know he has moved into an alternate reality.
Discuss Ponyboy's "dreaming", particularly in regard to Johnny's death.
Ponyboy's reaction to Johnny's death has been foreshadowed by Ponyboy's tendency to create alternate realities for himself throughout the story, but the difference is that "this time my dreaming worked. I convinced myself that he wasn't dead." Throughout the story, Ponyboy creates these alternate realities in order to cope with situations he feels are unbearable. For instance, in Chapter 3 he dreams of a life in the country, with his parents still alive and Darry kind and caring again. What is important to note is that he concedes that his dreams are only dreams, and that he admits to use them as a mode of escape.
Describe how eyes are used as a characterization technique.
Ponyboy's view of other characters is often reflected by his interpretation of their eyes. For example, he says that "Darry's eyes are his own. He's got eyes that are like two pieces of pale blue-green ice. They've got a determined set to them, like the rest of him... he would be real handsome if his eyes weren't so cold." Darry's eyes reflect Ponyboy's view of his oldest brother as "hardly human." In contrast, Sodapop's eyes are "dark brown - lively, dancing, recklessly laughing eyes that can be gentle and sympathetic one moment and blazing with anger the next." Johnny is defined by his emotive eyes; the difference between his mother and him is clear to Ponyboy because of their eyes: "Johnnycake's eyes were fearful and sensitive; hers were cheap and hard."
In what way is The Outsiders a call to action?
The Outsiders ends with its own opening sentence, as Ponyboy begins to write his assignment for English class, and it becomes clear that the story the reader has just finished is the assignment itself. It is inspired by Johnny's letter to Ponyboy, in which he explains what he meant by his last words: "Stay gold." There is no reason for lives to be cut short because of senseless violence between the Greasers and the Socs. Ponyboy feels called to action by Johnny's note, and wants to save the lives of other hoods who might end up like Dally. In Chapter 12, this goal is underlined:
"There should be some help, someone should tell them before it was too late. Someone should tell their side of the story, and maybe people would understand then and wouldn't be so quick to judge a boy by the amount of hair oil he wore."
The Outsiders Essays and Related Content
- The Outsiders: Major Themes
- The Outsiders: Lesson Plan
- The Outsiders: Questions
- The Outsiders: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- S. E. Hinton: Biography
- The Outsiders Summary
- About The Outsiders
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1 and 2
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 3
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 5
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7 and 8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 9
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 10 and 11
- Summary and Analysis of Chapter 12
- Films based on S.E. Hinton's novels
- Related Links on The Outsiders
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources