Waiting for Life to ‘Clique’
Several tall, muscular guys grab their lunch trays and instinctively head towards their usual table. Although they collectively look like a pack of lions, they tug at their delicate, wine-colored sweaters as they make their way to their predetermined seats. The well-known, pretty girls, already seated at the table, greet them with smiles. Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, guys with greasy hair and motorcycle jackets jokingly push one another, while waiting for the time to pass. The two sides of the room do not intermingle; they do not acknowledge each other; they do not speak to people on the opposite side. Unfortunately, many people have experienced this typical lunchroom scene. For decades, in every high school and middle school across the country, two distinctively different social groups exist. These same groups form early in life; as early as preschool, young children fall into associations with other kids who look, talk, and think like they do. “Definition of CLIQUE: a narrow exclusive circle or group of persons; especially: one held together by common interests, views, or purposes” (Merriam-Webster). Although cliques surfaced long before the 1960’s, it took one brave fifteen-year-old to expose the reality of the toxic groups (Hinton). S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders to portray the grim truth about the interactions between teenage cliques.
Ponyboy Curtis, a fourteen-year-old Greaser, who lives with his two older brothers, as a result of the death of his parents, tells his story in The Outsiders. Similar to the typical lunchroom scene, the dynamic of the book is Socs versus Greasers (Socialites versus Outsiders). The Greasers stand out from the crowd with their greased-back hair and tough attitudes. Besides the Curtis boys, only a few other guys associate with the gang. The Greasers enjoy each other’s company, stealing things, and acting tough. Aside from the Greasers, the Socs, the popular rich kids, also stick together in their own group. The socialites enjoy jumping greasers and riding around in their nice cars. A deadly encounter between the two groups escalates the hatred between the Socs and the Greasers, while Ponyboy contemplates who he is and why the hatred between the two cliques exists in the first place.
In 1967, when The Outsiders was published, the content shocked people. “One of my reasons for writing it was that I wanted something realistic to be written about teenagers. At the time realistic teenage fiction didn’t exist” (Hinton 185). Hinton ripped open the doors of teenage fiction and essentially created a new genre. The previous ‘rainbow and sunshine’ literature became a genre of the past. Teenagers wanted to read about familiar, relevant issues, such as gangs and violence. Although some may perceive the book as dark, teenagers feel as if they can relate to the characters and issues in The Outsiders; the book was written by a teenager for teenagers. Aside from content, the style in which Hinton wrote also relates to teenagers. The characters speak in slang, which adds depth and also provides a deeper understanding of the characters. For example, Dally, the Greaser, said “‘Boy howdy, I ain’t itchin’ to be the one…’” (Hinton 61). Clearly, Hinton understood that Dally’s character would not speak using formal language. During a confrontation, Bob the Soc said “‘Nup, pal, yer the ones who’d better watch it” (Hinton 55). Obviously, Hinton knew that proper enunciation would not be used in the midst of a confrontational fight. The presentation of the characters and the issues addressed made the book an instant sensation among teens.
The Outsiders changed the boundaries of teenage fiction; the issues in the book still remain relatable to teenagers in today’s society. The book has withstood the decades and even today’s reading teachers still include it within required reading lists. “Even today, the concept of the in-group and the out-group remains the same…The uniforms change, and the names of the groups change, but kids really grasp how similar their situations are to Ponyboy’s” (Hinton 186). Teenagers relate their personal experiences to the characters in The Outsiders. Regardless of the decade, gangs, violence, cliques, and death will continue to mark the days of adolescence. Likewise, as teens mature and develop, the brutal confrontation of belonging to the ‘in-crowd’ or the ‘out-crowd’ will continue to haunt them. In the meanwhile, they do not have to travel the journey alone. While they try to find their place in the world, they can trek through the troublesome times with Ponyboy Curtis.
Hinton, S.E. The Outsiders. New York: Penguin Group, 1967. Print.
Merriam-Webster. Britannica Company, 2013. Web. 25 Jan 2013.