What is the main theme of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton?

‘The Outsiders’ by American author S.E. Hinton is a timeless coming-of-age novel that explores the universal themes of identity and belonging. Set against the backdrop of gang violence in the 1960s America, the novel follows the struggles of a group of teenagers as they navigate the complexities of friendship, family, and social class. Let us revisit the classic and see what makes it relevant today.

About the author

Susan Eloise Hinton was born in 1950 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She wrote the majority of her debut novel ‘The Outsiders’ at the age of 15, while she was still attending high school. However, when she submitted a shorter version of the story for a creative writing class, her teacher gave her a failing grade of F. Fortunately, a family friend recognised the potential of her work and contacted a publisher on Hinton’s behalf. Things took a turn in her favour and by the time she was 17, the book was in print.

At the recommendation of her publisher, ‘The Outsiders’ was published under the name S.E Hinton. The decision was made out of the concern that boys may not be inclined to read the novel if they knew a female author wrote it.

The Outsiders Recommended age: 12+

Set in Oklahoma in the 1960s, the novel follows the story of Ponyboy Curtis, a 14-year-old boy from a poor family who is part of a gang called the greasers. The greasers are constantly at odds with a rival gang called the socs, who come from wealthier families. When a violent confrontation between the two groups leaves one of the socs dead, Ponyboy and his friend Johnny Cade go on the run, setting off a chain of events that forces them to confront the harsh realities of their world and the importance of loyalty and friendship.

What makes it a classic?


Hinton’s literary legacy is grounded in a simple principle: authenticity. By staying true to this guiding principle and presenting unflinching depictions of life’s trials and tribulations, she has captured the hearts and minds of young readers for generations. Her iconic novel ‘The Outsiders’, delves deep into the timeless themes of identity, belonging, and the struggles of adolescence, resonating with readers of all ages. Hinton herself acknowledges that the reason for her enduring popularity is that she writes for teenagers with honesty and candour, never sugarcoating the realities of life. Through her characters’ complex and multifaceted journeys, Hinton delivers a powerful message about the importance of friendship, loyalty, and the search for meaning in a world that can often seem overwhelming.

Young adult fiction redefined

The literary landscape of adolescent or young adult (YA) literature was forever changed with the release of The Outsulers, as it broke the mould of traditional teen focussed fiction by giving a raw and authentic voice to the adolescent experience No longer were teenagers relegated to mere background characters or stereotypical caricatures, but instead, they became the vibrant and complex protagonists of their own stories.

Although some grown-ups were initially taken aback by Hinton’s unflinching portrayal of a world rife with peer pressure, entrenched social hierarchies, parental abuse, and gang violence, the novel quickly became a cultural touchstone for young people and writers alike. Its immense influence on the genre cannot be understated, and many scholars even trace the birth of contemporary YA fiction back to the groundbreaking publication of ‘The Outsiders’ in 1967.

Hinton’s masterpiece not only legitimised YA literature as a serious and important genre but also inspired a generation of writers to explore the rich, multifaceted lives of young adults in their own work. ‘The Outsiders’ remains a timeless classic and a shining example of the power of literature to give voice to the voiceless and empower those who have been traditionally marginalised.

Life inspires art

As a high school student, Hinton was troubled by the divisions that existed within her school, particularly the bitter rivalries between different gangs. These gangs were primarily determined by economic and social status. Growing up on the rough side of the town, Hinton was keenly aware of the challenges that these kids faced and the stereotypes that were often perpetuated in popular culture. In fact, her dissatisfaction with the way that teen life was being portrayed in books was the driving force behind her decision to write ‘The Outsiders’.

‘There was only a handful of books having teenage protagonists…. I was surrounded by teens and I could not see anything going on in those books that had anything to do with real life.” Hinton said about the inspiration behind her best-selling debut novel.

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