“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” S. E. Hinton
What better things to illuminate a reader’s imagination in one sentence than the words sunshine, a movie, Paul Newman, and a car. Adding a hint of mystery is that we don’t know who the narrator is from the introduction. Is it a man, a woman, a boy, a girl? Is the narrator happy, sad, confused, or excited? What is going on with him or her? What is going to happen? From twenty-nine words, an entire world opens up. A world we all wished for at one time or another. It was a world where adults were not allowed. It was a world for teenagers, a world only for The Outsiders.
As I stare at the 1967 worn hardback, which I just somehow “forgot” to return to the
library, complete with yellow highlights that correspond to movie lines, vivid
memories of being sixteen years old flood my mind. I remember thinking as I read
page after page, “Man, this writer is good.” After I finished it, I even
inscribed inside the front cover, “This is the best book I have ever read.” I
swear I did. The date reads January 24, 1987. Fast forward 25 years, and I feel
the same. Sam Houston High School
The way James Dean embodied confusion, rebelliousness, and identity for teenagers on the screen in the 1950s, The Outsiders paralleled the same feelings for a new generation of teenagers. We were confused, mad, misunderstood, friends were everything, and the world seemed life-and-death serious. It was as if I my secret fears of not fitting in, my insecurities of not having much money, and my own desires to be grown up jumped out of the pages at me.
Reading of Cherry Valance, I wanted to be her. She was pretty, cool, rich, confident, and outspoken. Secretly, she liked Dallas Winston but they ran in different circles. Exploring her self-doubt in wanting to get to know Dallas, someone different, mirrored my own insecurities of wanting to talk to the new boy on the school bus that smelled great but was quiet and kept a low profile. He later actually became my boyfriend, but that’s another story.
Before reading The Outsiders, posters of Matt Dillon and Rob Lowe plastered my bedroom walls. After reading the book, and seeing both Matt Dillon and Rob Lowe in the movie, my fascination with the actors, the book, and the movie grew into an obsession.
As I read how the Curtis brothers survived on their own, without the watchful eyes of their parents, who were deceased, inspired me. Teenagers cooking, having jobs, bathing, living, going to school, and being self-sufficient was new. I was amazed as I found myself stuck in their world. Yet, underneath their unconventional circumstances, an inner fire glowed for the family unit, just as it secretly burned inside of me. Despite my thoughts of, “I can’t wait to be on my own,” burned against shameful thoughts of never wanting to leave the comfort of my family. I really did, and still do, love them.
Each character, from Two-Bit Matthews, to Darrell, to Johnny, to Dallas, and even Steve, seemed to be different aspects of my personality. For example, Two-Bit was my silly side that seldom emerged. Darrell represented the responsibility that comes with being the oldest of five children. Johnny was the part of me that stayed quiet and shuffled along with others, even though he didn’t want to, just so he wouldn’t be alone.
represented the wild side I longed for. Steve represented the loyal friend to
all. All those facets of my character summed me up pretty well at sixteen. At
forty two, they still do. Dallas
Over twenty-five years ago I buried myself in the world of the Greasers. Although it was a work of fiction, it was real. It was real because I related to so many things the author described. It was real because she wrote on my level. It was real because I felt other kids were going through the same crises as me and I wasn’t alone.
S.E. Hinton made me want to be an outsider. I wanted to sit on the Curtis brothers’ couch and eat cake for breakfast. I wanted to work at the gas station with Sodapop. I wanted to sit in front of Dallas Winston at the drive in. I wanted to visit Johnny in the hospital.
I wish I could meet her and thank her for describing my thoughts, feelings, confusions, and hopes. The Outsiders should be mandatory reading in high schools. For this is not only a book, it’s literature to me.