Critical Essays Has Society Changed?


The Outsiders, written in the mid 1960s, makes the reader wonder how, if at all, the story would be different if it were told today. The novel includes the usual references that date a story, generally related to pop culture — for example, models of cars, movies, and music — but those are incidentals, and do not affect the narrative or the outcome.

The first thing to consider is the way in which the story is told. If the story were written today, the author probably would continue to use the first-person narrative, because it is a very effective tool for allowing the reader inside the storyteller's mind. The language would be the same, but it would undoubtedly be heavily laced with expletives. The use of swear words, especially by teenagers, is a show of power and a part of everyday life today. The tolerance level for swearing is at a much higher level than it was in the 1960s; current movies and music demonstrate that shift.

Many of the issues that adolescents in the novel face are still very prevalent today. Teenage suicide, pregnancy, smoking, drinking, and the importance of staying in school are still areas of concern for teens. Perhaps the only area that is missing is illegal drug use. Today, undoubtedly, at least one gang member would be using an illegal drug.

Gangs continue to be a part of our society. Gang initiation is not a topic in The Outsiders, but perhaps today it would be. Gang initiation in the past was something that happened to the prospective member. Today that prospective member is expected to do something to somebody else or something else. The characters in the novel talk little about acquiring new members, because Ponyboy's gang is like family.

Weapons would be more prominent in a contemporary book than in the 1960's version. The prevalence of automatic weapons and the relative ease in acquiring them would definitely make both the greasers and the Socs more dangerous.

Sex is not addressed in the novel, with the exception of when Soda's girlfriend has to leave town. S. E. Hinton was only sixteen when she wrote The Outsiders, and presumably she didn't include sex in the novel because her experiences writing as a teenage boy were limited. In today's more open society, the novel would probably include more discussion of this critical issue for teens. A movie made today would definitely cover this issue.

The premise of the whether the authorities will allow the three Curtis brothers to remain together is still viable.The novel makes reference to the need for a clean, respectable house for the imminent visits of social workers. The same procedure would probably be followed today if the boys had no other living relatives.

Perhaps the scariest change would be in the way the adults and the adolescents relate. On the whole, the teens in The Outsiders have little or nothing to do with adults. The few times they cross paths, however, the adults are there to help them. When Johnny and Pony are in the country, and Pony stops a local farmer to ask for directions, he answers the questions kindly and without suspicion, and then laughs, "Boys will be boys."

After Johnny's death, Pony leaves the hospital dazed and confused. A man picks him up, and takes him home to his waiting brothers. Today teenagers often frighten adults — especially teenagers who appear to be gang members. Adults assume that a teen who looks like a hood probably has a gun and will use it. Therefore, an adult is usually not going to stop and help a suspicious-looking teen. Teenagers in the l960s knew that whether they wanted help or not, an adult was usually someone they could turn to in a time of need. That is not the case today. Teenagers are usually on their own — truly outsiders.

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