Summary: Chapter 1
Ponyboy Curtis, the narrator, begins the novel with a
story: he is walking home one afternoon after watching a Paul Newman
film, and his mind starts to wander. He thinks about how he wants
Paul Newman’s good looks, though he likes his own greaser look.
He also thinks that, although he likes to watch movies alone, he
wishes he had company for the walk home.
Ponyboy steps back from his story to explain that walking
alone is unsafe for greasers, the East Side gang of friends to which
he belongs. When they walk by themselves, greasers attract the harassment
of Socials, or Socs, the rich West Side crowd. Ponyboy says that
greasers are poorer and wilder than the Socs, whom the newspapers
condemn one day for throwing parties and praise the next day for
good citizenship. Greasers wear their hair long and put grease in
it. They dress tough, steal, and get into gang fights. They often
carry switchblades, mainly to help them stand their ground against
Ponyboy says he does not participate in typical greaser
mischief because his oldest brother, Darrel (known as “Darry”),
would kill him if he got into trouble. Ponyboy’s parents died in
a car crash, so the three Curtis brothers live together by themselves,
an arrangement possible only as long as they stay out of trouble.
Twenty-year-old Darry acts as head of the family. He is strict with
Ponyboy and often yells at him. Despite his intelligence, Ponyboy
lacks common sense, which frustrates Darry. Ponyboy feels great
affection for his sixteen-year-old brother, Sodapop, whose charm
and cheerfulness he admires.
Ponyboy returns to the story of his solitary walk after
the movies. As he walks, he notices a red Corvair trailing him.
He quickens his pace as he remembers how badly the Socs beat his
friend Johnny Cade. The Corvair pulls up beside Ponyboy and five
Socs climb out and surround him. One of them asks, “Need a haircut,
greaser?” and pulls out a blade. The Socs begin to beat up Ponyboy,
who screams for help. Ponyboy’s brothers and the rest of their group appear
on the scene and chase away the Socs. Darry starts to scold Ponyboy
for walking home alone instead of calling for a ride, but Sodapop
tells him to stop nagging.
The brothers and the other greasers make plans for
the following night. Ponyboy decides that he and Johnny will go
to a double feature at the drive-in with their friend Dally. Dally
begins to talk about his ex-girlfriend, Sylvia, and Ponyboy thinks
about the girls that socialize with the greasers. He wonders what
it would be like to spend time with an upper-class Soc girl.
At home, Ponyboy, who loves to read, reads Great
Expectations and thinks about how his life resembles the
life of Pip, the main character in Great Expectations. Still
shaken by his fight with the Socs, Ponyboy climbs into bed with
Sodapop. The brothers talk about Sodapop’s girlfriend, Sandy, whom
Sodapop hopes to marry one day.
Summary: Chapter 2
The next night, Ponyboy and Johnny go with Dally to a
double feature at the drive-in movie theater. They sit behind a
pair of Soc girls, and Dally begins to talk dirty in an attempt
to embarrass the girls. The girl with red hair turns around and
coolly tells him to stop, but Dally continues to make suggestive
remarks. He goes to buy Cokes, and Ponyboy talks to the red-haired
girl, Cherry Valance. They talk about the rodeo and about Sodapop,
whom Cherry describes as a “doll.” She asks what became of Sodapop,
and although the admission embarrasses him, Ponyboy says that Sodapop
dropped out of school to work in a gas station. Dally
comes back and offers a Coke to Cherry, but she throws it in his
face. Dally tries to put his arm around her. When he will not listen
to Cherry’s protests, the usually quiet Johnny stuns Dally by telling
him not to bother the girls.
Dally stalks off, and Cherry and her friend
Marcia invite Ponyboy and Johnny to watch the movie with them.
Two-Bit, one of Ponyboy’s friends, comes to announce
that Dally has slashed Tim Shepard’s tires and is going to have
to fight him. Tim Shepard is the leader of another greaser gang.
Two-Bit explains the greasers’ two main rules: always stick together
and never get caught.
Cherry and Ponyboy go to get popcorn, and Ponyboy tells
her about the time the Socs beat up Johnny. The leader of the gang
that beat him, Ponyboy says, wore a fistful of rings. Cherry looks
distressed and assures him that not all Socs are violent like the
Socs that beat Johnny. She also tells him that Socs have problems
just as the greasers do, but Ponyboy does not believe her.
Analysis: Chapters 1–2
The Outsiders’ primary concern is to
explore the effect of social class on young people. The novel begins
by detailing the differences between the poor greasers and the rich
Socs and sketching the treacherous world in which they live. When
the Socs jump Ponyboy in the opening chapter, it suggests that Ponyboy
lives in a place where even an innocent walk is fraught with danger.
Hinton defines her characters as she thinks people should
be defined in life—not according to the group to which they belong, but
according to their individual characteristics. For instance, she introduces
Ponyboy not as a tough street youth but as a boy who likes to read
and watch sunsets. Ponyboy is something of an anthropologist, a
natural role for a narrator, and he observes and records the group
dynamics and individual traits of his fellow greasers. Darry is
presented not as the natural leader of the gang, but as a struggling
young man who has had to forgo an education so that he can support
and raise his two younger brothers. Hinton suggests that greasers,
despite their exclusion from the mainstream, have moral grounding
and sense of decency as strong as—or stronger than—the kids from
the privileged classes.
Hinton shows the constant conflict between the greasers
and the Socs, but she also shows that the two groups are not as
different as they initially appear. After meeting faceless, cruel
Socs, we meet Cherry Valance, a Soc who is also a sympathetic, warm
girl. She and Ponyboy discuss how greasers and Socs deal with their
problems differently. Greasers feel their distress keenly, while
Socs pretend their problems do not exist. Ponyboy’s and Cherry’s
discussion reveals that, despite different methods of coping, both
Socs and greasers must deal with difficulties. The conversation
between Cherry and Ponyboy exemplifies the rare civil negotiation
that would alleviate the tensions between the Socs and greasers
far more than violent conflict. The flirtation between Two-Bit and
Marcia demonstrates the social compatibility that could exist between
the warring groups.
Hinton suggests that male-female friendships are the friendships most
likely to result in peace between the groups. In the first half
of the novel, all encounters between male greasers and male Socs
result in violence, whereas encounters between male greasers and
female Socs sometimes end in laughter and flirtation. This difference
suggests that gang rivalry stems from male hatred of other males.
Conversely, the strongly masculine nature of the rivalry means that internal
group bonding is also strongly masculine. Female greasers essentially
do not exist in this novel; they are discussed, but they never appear
as characters. Their absence emphasizes the intense male bonding
among the greasers.
In the Young Adult fiction genre, The Outsiders is
unique in its early suggestion that the rival groups are not that
different from each other. By establishing this commonality at the
beginning, Hinton throws us off balance. That Hinton raises the
possibility of resolution between gangs so early but delays resolution
for so long keeps the focus on the individual issues that Ponyboy
and others face.