The Outsiders Historical Context 📖

Even though the book, The Outsiders was written more than 50 years ago, you can still find lessons that are relevant to today’s youth in it.

The Outsiders

S. E. Hinton

The story depicts the culture of what is obtainable in the era it was written. 

The Outsiders Historical Context

The Rise of Youth Culture

The period of 1945 to 1963 in the United States was termed the “Baby Boom period” because of the huge increase in new births during those years. More than one-third of the country’s population was fifteen years old or younger by 1958.

After World War II, there was also an increase in wealth throughout the U.S. By the time they became teenagers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, those born during the baby boom era had plenty of spare cash to spend. Business organizations competed to attract these new consumers as their customers.

The film, fashion industry, movies, music, television, and fashion industries created products made especially for the booming teen market. The music on the radio and other forms of entertainment reflected this new focus on adolescents. For portraying teenage anti-heroes in ‘Rebel without a Cause’ (1955) and ‘The Wild One’ (1954), actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando became teenage idols. Paul Newman, whom Ponyboy admires in the book as being tough, followed in these actors’ footsteps by playing similarly cool characters in the films ‘The Hustler’, ‘Hud’, and ‘Cool Hand Luke’.

Furthermore, the increased spending power of the youth gave them a new measure of independence from their parents. Their rebellion against adult authority became a notable theme in many teen plays, films, and movies. Loud music such as rock ‘n’ roll became another way for teens to defy their parents’ values. And some of these teen rebellions turned violent, and teenage gangs began coming out in urban areas. An increase in the population of young people also means an increase in juvenile delinquents.

These juvenile delinquents became an urgent concern for law enforcement in the 1950s and 1960s. However, not all of these delinquents came from poor neighbourhoods, as ‘the outsiders‘ revealed. Teens from apparently “good families” also became drop-outs,  substance abusers, and gang members.

The Vietnam War and the Protest Movement

Many people including teenagers were not the only Americans who challenged the authority of the American government in the 1960s. The general public, in general, was not happy with the United States’ involvement in Vietnam’s war against communist rebels. The United States had been providing military advisors to this southeast Asian country since the 1950s.

In 1964, however, the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam doubled. By 1967, almost 500,000 Americans were fighting the war in Vietnam. However, many people doubted the reasons, effectiveness, and morality of why the USA had to get involved. This led to a lot of anti-war demonstrations, which had protesters coming from all walks of life: groups included those made up of students, clergy, scientists, and women.

Race Relations in the 1960s

Even though all of the characters in ‘The Outsiders’ are in the lower-class gang, the greasers are white, and the discrimination and animosity they endure mirrors that suffered by African Americans and other non-whites during the same era. Several laws and court decisions of the late 1950s and early 1960s outlawed public segregation. Nevertheless, many blacks in the 1960s saw discrimination as part of their daily life. 

Publication and legacy

S. E. Hinton’s first novel is more than 50 years old, but in its heart, it is still a teenager, has always been a teenager, and will continue to be a teenager. It is a teen in every sense of the word, from its creation story to its legacy to its characters and its contents.

S. E. Hinton started writing the book at the age of 14, using the working title A Different Sunset. When she was 17, she sent it to a publisher and got a book contract on the day of her high school graduation. Sadly, the book was initially promoted to adults, and it floundered. It nearly became obsolete before the publishers found a better audience for it – teachers. They were using it to teach their students in classes. Suddenly, the publishers realized that there was a separate market for young adults.

The novel strongly appeals to teenagers because it’s written in a teenager’s voice -a voice that is earnest and very convinced of its own alienation and its own profundity. Ponyboy, our protagonist, is deep because he likes reading and he likes sunsets. Now, this information is presented to us as though it is the rarest thing in the world for a teenager to enjoy such things. The passage that showed this information is designed to give a teenage reader a little glow of pride and belonging. Teens will think, if I like books and sunsets, then I must be deep and special, too, just like Ponyboy.

When Cherry told Ponyboy that she loves watching the sunset too, he was glad. He started thinking, “I pictured that, or tried to. Maybe Cherry stood still and watched the sunset while she was supposed to be taking the garbage out. She stood there and watched and forgot everything else until her big brother screamed at her to hurry up. I shook my head. It seemed funny to me that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps were the same ones. Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.” – As quoted from ‘The Outsiders.

Fifty years after ‘The Outsiders‘ was first published, there has never been a passage that quite captures teenage thoughts like this. Not even Catcher in the Rye could capture it, even with its iconic teenage voice. Ponyboy’s comparatively bumbling prose sounds exactly like a 14-year-old trying to be profound because that’s exactly what it is, unlike Holden Caulfield’s polished tone. The naiveté is downright endearing. Fifty years from now, ‘The Outsiders‘ will still be endearing to teenagers because of its voice. It will always be this way because that idea is embedded in the ethos of the book: to stay gold, which means to stay young and naive and uncynical.

The Outsiders‘, at more than 50 years, is still gold.


Who is Sodapop in love with?

Sodapop is in love with Sandy close to the beginning of the book, a pretty girl with china-blue eyes and blonde hair. As the novel progresses, however, we find out that Sandy doesn’t love him as well. Rather she got pregnant with another man and moved to Florida with him, leaving Sodapop heartbroken.

Why was Ponyboy shocked about what Cherry said?

Ponyboy is astonished when Cherry says that she could fall in love with Dally Winston. The surprise came about because Cherry has said she would not drink a Coke given to her by Dally if she were starving just moments ago and has even thrown her coke in Dally’s face because of his foul language and rather crude behaviour.

Who tells Dally to leave girls alone?

Johnny tells Dally Winston to leave the girls alone. This was because Dally was disturbing those who had come to the drive-in to watch movies. Dally listens to him and stops because he feels a connection to Johnny, and he loves and cares for Johnny.

Where is the Soc killed?

Independence street in Tulsa was the setting for the scene where the socs went after Ponyboy as he was walking home from the movies and the same place where Johnny killed Rob. Also, in the movie, cast members are seen there playing and clowning around during the filming of ‘The Outsiders‘.

Who was Randy’s best friend?

Randy Adderson’s best friend is Bob Sheldon. Bob is the leader of the Socs and Cherry’s boyfriend. He is an aggressive, tenacious guy who gets killed by Johnny when he and his friends attack Johnny and Ponyboy. Later in the novel, Randy tells Ponyboy learns that Bob had his own troubles and difficulties growing up.

Ugo Juliet
About Ugo Juliet
Ugo Juliet is a passionate lover of books. For over 10 years, she has written books and articles for various organizations. She continues with her passion for literature as an expert analyst on Book Analysis.
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