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The Outsiders | Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

Readers are introduced to Ponyboy as the first-person narrator, and to both his brothers as well. Readers get a lot of characterization up front and understand right away that Ponyboy is an introspective teen with some typical greaser characteristics—namely the long hair, the struggles with poverty, and the feeling of being alienated from his peers. "I usually lone it anyway," he explains. In contradiction to this tendency, he admits, "Greasers can't walk alone too much or they'll get jumped" by Socs, the teenaged boys from the wealthier side of town. Ponyboy is the youngest in his family and contrasts his two older brothers: "Darry's ... grown up too fast. Sodapop'll never grow up at all." At 14 Ponyboy is still mulling over his own approach to life in what is likely 1960s Tulsa, Oklahoma. "I don't know which way's the best," he admits. Before the story begins, their parents have died in a car accident, leaving Darry in charge of his two younger brothers.

Readers learn as early as page 2 about the rivalry between the greasers and the Socials (the Socs), who are "the jet set, the West-side rich kids." That rivalry often escalates to violence. Ponyboy matter-of-factly states, "We get jumped by the Socs." This is life as Ponyboy knows it, and he knows the dangers can be life threatening, as in the case of fellow greaser Johnny, who was beaten so badly four months previously that he cried, "half-conscious, in the corner lot." To put this into perspective for readers, Ponyboy remarks, "Johnny had it awful rough at home—it took a lot to make him cry." Ponyboy observes the outcome firsthand on a daily basis: "It wasn't pretty. Johnny was scared of his own shadow after that."

On his way walking home alone from the movies, Ponyboy is surrounded by a gang of five unnamed Socs. They punch him a few times and pull a knife on him before he screams and both his brothers come to rescue him. In fact, his whole gang rushes to his aid. There are four other greaser gang members who are all like his extended family: Steve Randle, the 17-year-old car genius; 16-year-old Johnny Cade, the lost puppy who "has been kicked too many times"; Two-Bit Mathews, the wise-cracking, oldest gang member at 18; and Dally (Dallas) Winston, the 17-year-old who is the angriest, toughest greaser.

Readers also learn the dynamics between the three brothers and their relationships to one another. Ponyboy doesn't get along with Darry because he feels Darry is too hard on him. But Soda always sticks up for Ponyboy with Darry. Ponyboy and Soda share a bedroom, and even the same bed, and are emotionally close.

At the close of the first chapter, Soda tells Ponyboy he wants to marry Sandy, but he plans to wait until Sandy has finished high school and he has obtained a better job than his current full-time gas station attendant role, and also until Ponyboy has finished high school, so Soda can "still help Darry with the bills and stuff."

Analysis

The Outsiders takes place in an unnamed city in Oklahoma. Although the state is not named until far into the story, there are multiple references to the rodeo and horses and, at one point, Johnny and Ponyboy hop a freight train to Windrixville. It is likely the city is Tulsa, which, not coincidentally, is where S.E. Hinton had lived her entire life. The time period is never stated explicitly, but the book was first published in 1967, and the dialogue of the characters is loaded with 1960s slang: "heater" for gun; "cooler" for jail; "fuzz" for police; "broad" for young woman; "weed" for cigarette; and "You dig?" for Do you get it?

One prevalent theme in The Outsiders is class difference, and this is introduced to readers right from chapter 1. Ponyboy, the first-person teen narrator, tells readers, "Organized gangs are rarities." Rather, he says, "There are just small bunches of friends who stick together, and the warfare is between the social classes." The wealthy kids from the other side of town are called Socials, or Socs, signifying society's acceptance, and the kids from Ponyboy's neighborhood are called greasers, indicating their bottom-of-the-barrel desperation. Ponyboy is intelligent, so even at 14 he realizes the odds are stacked against him, his brothers, and his neighborhood gang whose members are "almost as close as brothers." Even though there is no rival gang, Ponyboy identifies his enemy, and it is economic disadvantage. Regarding the Socs, Ponyboy says, "You can't win against them no matter how hard you try" because "they've got all the breaks and even whipping them isn't going to change that fact." Ponyboy, who is painfully aware of his social class and its stigma, assesses his situation correctly when he says, "We're poorer than the Socs and the middle class."

Family is another important theme running through The Outsiders. Ponyboy and his brothers stick together after the death of their parents. Even though Ponyboy and Darry don't get along very well on a daily basis, Darry is always there for Ponyboy whenever he needs help, like when he is ambushed by five Socs in chapter 1. Both Darry and Soda have full-time jobs to support Ponyboy until he can finish high school, even though Soda is only 16 himself. And then there is the extended family of the greaser gang: Dally, Two-Bit, Johnny, and Steve. Steve doesn't really like Ponyboy all that much, but even he comes to his aid when needed. Ponyboy thinks of the greaser gang members as additional family members, like close cousins. This demonstrates that family is comprised of whomever one chooses. People are not confined to the individuals that share their genetics as family.

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