The Outsiders, Yal And Adolescents In The 21St Century

Young adult literature has enthralled readers since its emergence as a genre in 1967. Through her novel The Outsiders, Hinton discovered and defined YA literature by creating a timeless story that has captured the adolescent world by the honesty and skill she uses to recreate the harsh reality of the world they must grow up in.

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The Outsiders, credited with being one of the first young adult novels (Cart, 2016), has kept its relevancy and is still widely read in the 21st century. In 2001, according to the Publisher’s Weekly The Outsiders ranked 2nd in its list of all-time bestselling children’s paperbacks (Tribunella, 2007:87). This is surprising for a book first published in the 1960’s and that had initially not sold well (Michaud, 2014). What then has happened to endear this book to millions of readers in the 21st century? In his article “Institutionalizing The Outsiders: YA Literature, Social Class, and the American Faith in Education,” Tribunella explores the question why The Outsiders, an unusual book for the times, was so readily accepted by educational institutions, though not the adult readership of the time. He suggests that the reason teachers accepted the book is because “The Outsiders” offers solutions to the problems it depicts by endorsing individualism and American education (Tribunella, 2007:87). This resonated with the philosophy of the baby-boomer generation, disarming the critics and opening the door for a new genre in literature. However, something entirely different has endeared this book to the young adults who have continued reading it.

The official publication of the Young Adult Library Services Association discusses this in detail in an article called, “The Structure of Power in Young Adult Problem Novels.” Sturm and Michel define ‘problem novels’ as a sub-genre of contemporary realistic fiction, in other words young adult literature. They quote Sheila Egoff as saying that a problem novel is where the protagonist is oppressed by anxiety and other problems resulting from an alienation from the adult world to which the protagonist is usually hostile, it has a confessional tone and is usually written in first person using colloquial language (Sturm and Michel, 2009:40). This all applies to The Outsiders. Ponyboy is dealing with the grief of his parents, hostile to his older brother – believing that he doesn’t love him (Hinton, 1967:17), and is in constant fear that the police or social workers will take him away from his family (Hinton, 1967:91). In addition to this, the book also deals with themes such as violence, love, relationships, social class and identity, all common to YA literature.

Another element common to YA literature and problem novels is that they reflect and explore the angst that adolescents must deal with during a time that is fraught with change and

emotional upheavals. According to Sturm and Michel, this is exactly what feeds the power of problem novels. These angst-ridden novels serve as a window for adults into the adolescent world and provide a place of understanding for the roller-coaster teen (Sturm & Michel, 2009:45). Characters in The Outsiders, especially the greasers, are not afraid of showing their emotions, and the novel itself is poignant and at times tragically sad. In fact, Ponyboy believes that this is what sets the greasers apart from the socs. Talking to Cherry during their walk home after the movie, he says to her, “That’s why we’re separated. It’s not money, it’s feeling— you don’t feel anything, and we feel too violently.’ (Hinton, 1976:34) He describes the socs as aloof, cold, practical and impersonal and feels that this is the real divide between them (Hinton, 1976:34). Ponyboy even describes his brother as having ‘cold’ eyes, ‘using his head’ and after being hurt by the socs he says, “You just don’t cry in front of Darry” (Hinton, 1967:7-8). Teenagers across the years have resonated with these sentiments and have shown it in their loyalty towards Hinton and her debut novel.

Since its publication in 1967, The Outsiders has enjoyed rare success. In 1983 a film was released based on the novel, in 2005 the film was re-released called The Outsiders: The complete novel, in 2014 a Blu-ray version of the film was released and in 2017 The Outsiders celebrated its 50th anniversary. This novel, which marked the emergence of a new era in literature history, has captured the hearts of adolescents and continues to do so in the 21st century.

31 August 2020

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