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Displacement Within The Outsiders

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While at face value S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders appears to be nothing more than a common teen angst book pushed upon the teens across the nation, it is actually a great book that defines overarching emotions that accompany adolescents through the years that bridge their youth and adulthood. Set in 1960’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, The Outsiders is essentially a diary by the main character, Ponyboy Curtis, retelling two weeks of his life to his English teacher. The book is focused on a group of seven boys known as “Greasers” who are navigating adolescence and societal pressures while running from the law after a murder occurs. The common mood of the book is oftentimes bitter and resentful, due to the narrator, Ponyboy, often feeling angry, jealous, and alienated due to his social standing as a “greaser”. While the story is centered around Ponyboy, the feeling of displacement reaches numerous characters at different parts of the story.

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Due to The Outsiders main characters being a group of “greasers” or hoodlums, the majority of them are ill-content with their social standing and lives. Displacement is most commonly noted in the characters Ponyboy, Johnny, and Dally.

Ponyboy longs to have more money like the “Socials” in their town, a feat which is unattainable because he is being raised single-handedly by his brother Darry after the death of their parents in an accident. Johnny, who has lived with an abusive father and apathetic mother, wishes to have a family that loves him and is often jealous of Ponyboy’s family despite Ponyboy himself not valuing the family he has. While Dally has accepted his lack of family and embraced his social status, he feels displaced within the world and lives recklessly as he searches for a reason to be alive in a world that looks down upon him.

The affect of displacement is shown in the Outsiders to be a result of socioeconomic inequality, child abuse, and the feeling of living with no potential. Previously published sources on displacement use the word as a verb in relation to a group of people or organisms. A narrowed search utilizing words such as philosophy, psychology, and terms that related to the emotions of the characters throughout the book helped limit the number of journals read and find displacement being used as an affect. The first study utilized is entitled, The Psychological Displacement Paradigm in Diary-Writing (PDPD) and its Psychological Benefits, and discusses hpw the psychological feeling of displacement can be altered through writing in a diary. The effects of this study showed that the participants who wrote in a diary twice a week for two weeks were noted to feel much more positively after each time they wrote. One of the most important findings of the study is the idea that “the ability to use different singular personal pronouns (I, you, he/she) was positively correlated with physical health… the first-person singular pronoun has a detrimental effect on psychological adjustment, whereas flexibility in pronoun usage results in psychological benefits” (Chang 1). The study found that poets and writers who were previously suicidal or depressed often used “I” in their writings, whereas the poets and writers who were in a positive mental state where able to change between pronouns and use “I/Youe/He/She” throughout their writing, which eluded to them being pulled out of their mind and more focused on the world around them.

The next article, Voodoo dolls and angry lions: how emotions explain arational actions is a philosophical study on the idea of belief-desire psychology. Belief-desire psychology is the belief that one person can understand another’s thought process simply through observing their actions. After breaking down multiple theories by several philosophers and psychologists on emotional motivation and arational actions, the general consensus is that, “emotional actions are ways to achieve the relational goal of an emotion. We call these instrumental emotional actions. In other cases, emotional actions are ways to achieve a goal that is symbolically related to the relational goal of the emotion, or that diverts attention away from the relational goal of the emotion. We call these displaced emotional actions” (Scarantino 9). This study helps to solidify the belief-desire idea it is built upon. It describes arational actions as an impulsive way or trying to clear a person’s mind and realign them with their goals by not being held back by overthinking or second-guessing.

The study entitled, “Psychosocial Accompaniment to Liberate The Suffering Associated With The Experience Of Forced Displacement” is essential to defining the feelings that make up displacement in order to help the affect be talked about on a deeper level. The words used to delve deeper into displacement are embarrassment, sadness, uncertainty, lack of trust, homesickness and suffering. It also provides the solution to improving ones psychosocial state in the midst of trauma. By discussing the emigration of groups of people due to the Columbian armed conflict, the paper heavily emphasizes how important the psychosocial needs of human beings are. The paper states that the best way for psychosocial needs to be met is through “human warmth, renew[ing] their confidence… allow them to feel the presents of others, and that they are listened to lovingly” (Sacipa 2). This is important because while physiological and safety needs are beneficial after trauma, mental healthy and psychosocial needs are closely related to a positive state of mind.

The final study, “Childhood Maltreatment and Psychological Well-Being in Later Life: The Mediating Effect of Contemporary Relationships with the Abusive Parent” brings light to the negative effects that childhood abuse can have on a child’s state of mind as they mature. The result of this study showed that, “maternal childhood neglect and abuse were associated with decreased emotional closeness with mothers, which was, in turn, associated with diminished psychological well-being. In addition, childhood neglect was associated with less frequent exchanges of social support with mothers, which was, in turn, associated with diminished psychological well-being’ (Kong 1). This study is important because it shows that childhood abuse and neglect not only negatively impacts the abused child, it also harms the abuser.

These studies and articles are beneficial in being able to closely examine the main characters of the book and the reasons why they feel displaced as well as what the result of this affect was on each character separately. Ponyboy, who recognized he was of lower status due to his lack of money, realized how grateful he should be for what he had after the death of two of his friends. Before their death at the climax of the story, he spent a lot of time with these two characters and became aware that socioeconomical inequality wasn’t important because he began to relish spending time with the family that was given to him. As mentioned in Psychosocial Accompaniment to Liberate The Suffering Associated With The Experience Of Forced Displacement, Ponyboy’s emotions about his friends deaths were validated and he was closely watched over by those who loved him, which aided in healing his negative mental state. A while after his two friends died, he looked back on their unfortunate and violent deaths, and decided to voice his grief in writing. Ponyboy writing The Outsiders is important because it relates back to the studies in The Psychological Displacement Paradigm in Diary-Writing (PDPD) and its Psychological Benefits because throughout the book he constantly mentions how the other characters are feeling about situations and does his best to accurately describe them, which is proof of his psychological state of mind improving. The study is founded on the belief that writing multiple times a week can improve mental health and because Ponyboy was doing this to finish and go beyond the assignment given to him, it can be theorized that the physical act of writing was also beneficial to his mental state healing,

Johnny, who was raised in an abusive household, ran away and died while saving several children from a church fire. He was described as being “A quiet, defeated-looking sixteen-year-old whose hair needed cutting badly and who had black eyes with a frightened expression to them” (Hinton 180). This description is important because it shows how his negative state of mind had affected his physical appearance. His mother, who never directly abuse him but instead ignored whenever his father beat him, had such a negative effect on Johnny that right before he died he still did not want to see her. While in the hospital he said, “She’ll probably come to tell me about all the trouble I’m causing her and about how glad her and the old man’ll be when I’m dead…”(Hinton 122). Despite only being sixteen, the effect that the abuse had on him relates back to Childhood Maltreatment and Psychological Well-Being in Later Life: The Mediating Effect of Contemporary Relationships with the Abusive Parent because Johnny was far more mature mentally than his age let on, and due to his mother ignoring the abuse, she was just as bad and thus not able to see her son in his final moments.

Dally was gunned down by the police a few days after Johnny’s death after robbing a convenience store and pretending to have a loaded gun. Ponyboy describes him as having, “died violent and young and desperate, just like we all knew he’d die someday” (Hinton 154). Throughout the book, Dally was considered to be the most “Greaser” of them all. It is said that ‘he had been arrested, he got drunk, he rode in rodeos, lied, cheated, stole, rolled drunks, jumped small kids…” (Hinton 11). He was never described as having a goal for his life like the other characters who had jobs or went to school, instead he lived his life day by day, acting impulsively as a way to figure out what meaning his life held in the larger scheme of the world. Dally’s actions are a direct result of when the actions described in Voodoo dolls and angry lions: how emotions explain arational actions are not recognized and instead negatively impact the path of life. Overcome by grief for Johnny’s death, Dally did not surround himself with friends and family as Ponyboy did, instead he decided that he would die as well, and made this idea come to fruition, not thinking of how it would impact those who surrounded him daily.

In conclusion, displacement as an affect is worthy of more discussion and studies despite how hard the affect is to pinpoint. The psychological causes and effects of displacement should be more commonly researched as a way to improve mental health and benefit those who feel displaced. While the description of displacement is closely related to loss, anger, and alienation, it has an emotion of its own due to the chord that the word strikes when used to describe a negative state of mind. Through the sources utilized it can be noted that displacement is similar to the description of jealousy, seeing as displacement is often noticed as one person realizing themselves to be lacking in a category that another person is not lacking in. The Outsiders utilizes this by having Johnny jealous of Ponyboy’s loving and supportive family, while Ponyboy is jealous of Johnny’s freedom he gains from apathetic parents as well as the money that the “Socials” that attend his school have. While Dally pretends not to be, he is jealous that the other boys all have dream and ambitions that keep them moving through life, while he is stuck at a primitive stage in his development that he is not able to move past. The cure to displacement is shown to be awareness of what is missing and equalizing it as best as possible. While the consequences of displacement may not be as fatal or permanent as death, it is a negative state of mind to linger in for long periods of time, and rectification can prevent negative outcomes and help stabilize mental soundness.

31 August 2020

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