“The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton was a popular young adult novel during its time of publication, and its popularity still continues to this day. Even as a young adult, it still remains one of my favorite teenage novels. The novel opens up an entirely different aspect of the adolescent world, and the life of an adolescent in the 1960’s.
Adolescents experience far more than temporary insecurities, frustrations in life, and the feeling that they are misunderstood by others. They are also forced to confront harsh realities that reflect on the cold and brutal world such as abusive parents, broken homes, and poverty. Like many other works published or set during the 1960’s era, “The Outsiders” shows the reader that the 1960’s was an era that had its share of social issues. The novel demonstrates two of the many social issues of the era, teenage gangs and a lower class group of teenage boys most commonly known as greasers. Greasers were generally known as juvenile delinquents, and were abhorred by society. Ever since its publication in 1967, the book has been read and enjoyed by many young people for the past forty-nine years. However, the book is being introduced to a new generation differently. A teenager’s first read of “The Outsiders” is now within the classroom. “The Outsiders” is now treated as a work of literature. “The Outsiders” is analyzed for its supposed intellectual depth through classwork and study material. People seem to mistake great, but common food for thought for intellectual depth. “The Outsiders” does not deserve literary merit, therefore it should not be studied in school.
S.E. Hinton wrote “The Outsiders” when she was only sixteen years old. Her primary reason for writing the book, besides her passion for writing was to present a work of fiction that represents teenage lives more realistically. Titles such as “Mary Jane Goes to Prom” and “Tommy Hits A Home Run” often implied that the stories would reflect teenage ideals in teenage life and quite frankly she was tired of seeing them. Hinton had displayed worldliness and an impressively strong understanding of reality in her novel at that age. Although she was also a well and widely read author(her references to literature demonstrate that), she did not intend for it to be a piece of literature. It is a book that has been written to be read by teenagers, and it is about teenage life. This novel reflects the hard lives of many teenagers of all modern generations. Teenagers are exposed to life’s brutal realities such as alcholism, emotional pain, and hatred from the outside world. Even though the book has insightful and thoughtful meaning, there is no deep meaning that needs to be analyzed. Thus, the question is why should “The Outsiders” be studied in school as though it is a work of literature?
Currently, English teachers require their students to read the novel and watch the movie as classwork and homework assignments. For instance, the purpose of a classroom viewing of “The Outsiders” is to perhaps show the students a comparison between the novel and the film. That is a very fun activity. But, is it relevant to an academic course? The novel and movie adaptations can easily be read and viewed for personal pleasure. Moreover, study guides and literature notes for “The Outsiders” have been published for classroom uses. Apparently, the purpose of this material is to provide students with further reading and more “solid” background to help then have a “better” understanding of the story. “The Outsiders” is a leisure novel with no profound meaning. There is no need for study notes and literature notes to be used in a classroom. Cliff Notes and Spark Notes are the most commonly used resources for English classes. “The Outsiders” study guides and literature notes are also published under Cliff Notes. For instance, Cliff Notes contains a chapter/character analysis, study help, critical essays/essay questions, and practice projects. Spark Notes also covers themes, motifs, and symbols. These literary elements do not need intense study. In fact, the background and meaning of “The Outsiders” is insightful, yet easy to see and understand. The background represents gritty aspects of adolescent life in the 1960’s. The meaning of “The Outsiders” reflects upon Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by showing the difference between idealism and understanding the real world. The background and meaning of the story are both good insights to introduce to a new generation of teenagers. As young people on the verge of adulthood, it is very important for them to see the world for what it truly is. Also, the meaning and background can be perceived without study. Therefore, the section in Cliff Notes marked study help is completely unnecessary.
According to Cliff Notes in the chapter named themes, “The Outsiders is a theme in itself. Looking at life as an outsider/…feeling as though one is an outsider is a matter of perspective/…treated as an outsider is a matter of perspective or point of view. Someone who feels like an outsider may conclude that life is unfair.” Yes, Cliff Notes has made an insightful statement that is nevertheless true: but how does the theme provide any intellectual or profound substance that is needed in an academic environment? Themes in literature are complex universal ideas richly deep, and show the reader how the author reflects upon the human experience. Themes in “The Outsiders” are thoughtful, yet still mundane. They tend to cover everyday aspects of human life. How “The Outsiders” is a theme in itself is one of the many examples of a commonplace idea. A representation of a youth who is in the processing of maturing. Oftentimes, literature covers mature themes. Although the theme is not intellectually deep, it provides a person with perspective on how people view their own place in the world. Further themes are also found in Cliff Notes including evolution of family relationships, and colors in a black and white world. The overall ideas offer plenty of food for thought for the average reader rather than a student who is studying English Literature. Cliff Notes covers on a theme that offers a lot for the reader to chew on- “Colors in a black and white world.” The theme reveals an understanding of how teenagers view and regard the world. Also, Cliff Notes explains the theme: “Adolescents have a tendency to embrace people and events as absolutes.” A statement that speaks truth and reflects adolescent thinking is not always appropriate for literary study. A theme should relate to a reflection of the human experience.
Rather than introduce “The Outsiders to a new generation of eighth grade English students, incorporate it into a book club for teenagers. The problem does not truly rest with “The Outsiders” being read or with having notes published for “The Outsiders.” Instead, the problem lies with their use as classroom resources. It is a suitable choice for a group discussion. The themes and ideas reflect everyday life in the outside world. Yet, some aspects of life are often overlooked. Assignments relating to identifying theme or writing an essay comparing and contrasting the two social classes should be completed as group activities. They aren’t suitable for academic assignments. “The Outsiders” is far too enjoyable and pleasurable to be overlooked. Discussing how and why “The Outsiders” provides good food for thought about the world and is an excellent idea for a group discussion at a book club.