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Wood 1 Jim Wood Tom Berninghausen ENT 439-1 Studies In Young Adult Literature 04 September 2013 The Outsiders

Written in 1967 by sixteen-year-old S.E Hinton the coming of age novel, The Outsiders has been both lauded for being ground breaking and canonical, and banned from school libraries for its frank portrayal of teenage antisocial behavior and dysfunctional family life. Hintons portrayal of the main character and narrator Ponyboy Curtis, and his fellow juvenile delinquents broke off the traditional sugar coating that most often encapsulated the characters in literature aimed at young adults in the early part of the Twentieth century. Her frank portrayal of adolescent angst caused even more turmoil in the heart and minds of, parents, educators, and religious leaders, in that already tumultuous decade. She gave voice to the existential fears of a new generation as surely as Edvard Munch portrayed them almost one hundred years before her. S.E. Hinton portrays the main characters as a ragtag makeshift family constructed of people from similar circumstances. Each character suffers a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world (1). The novel portrays the characters attempting to find meaning in their world through their connections with family. Ponyboy Curtis and his two brothers lost their parents to an accident, and now live without adult supervision. Darrel, the oldest brother is only 20, and none of their

Wood 2 extended family stepped up to take them in. Random acts of fate conspired to leave them orphaned and fending for themselves. Cake for breakfast, smoking in bed, rumbles in the night using pipes and chains as weapons, make up a world filled with absurdity. Ponyboys friend Johnny comes from an equally dysfunctional home life. Johnnys father beats him mercilessly, and his mother neglects him. The Curtis boys and their friend Johnny turn to the neighborhood gang to fill their need for family. Early in the novel, Ponyboy muses on his perception that the members of the gang all were Johnnys big brothers. He thought, But they couldnt, no matter how hard they tried, take the place of his parents (Outsiders 78). The idea of the necessity of parenting comes up again in the novel. Ponyboy and Johnny get jumped by members of the Socs, a rival gang, and end up killing one of the Socs in self-defense. Ponyboy later has a conversation with one of the surviving Socs in which the rival gang member tries to explain why the dead boy acted as he did. He said, He kept trying to make someone say No and they never did. They never did. That was what he wanted. For someone to tell him No. To have somebody lay down the law, set the limits, give him something to stand on. Thats what we all want, something to stand on. Thats what we all want, really (Outsiders 102). In this passage Hinton again shows how the characters are desirous of the family being the source of stability and meaning. She implies that being told what not to do is as important as what to do.

Wood 3 Hinton presents a number of themes in the novel, The Outsiders, and the importance of family in the life of these characters is strongly represented. The novel portrays the characters attempting to find meaning in their world through their connections with family; The three Curtis brothers trying to connect as a family unit after the death of their parents, Johnny with his surrogate big brothers never quite being able to fill the hole in his heart left by his despicable parents, the Socs gang member rejecting his affluent life and secure future to search for limits. All of these characters suffers a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world, and seek solace and meaning in family (1).

1. Robert C. Solomon, Existentialism (McGraw-Hill, 1974, pp. 12).

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