Symbolism in "The Outsiders"

S.E Hinton’s The Outsiders is a book about a boy named Ponyboy who is apart of a gang called the Greasers. Through symbolism, the main character in the book sees his true potential and how he should never lose who he is. But, in an environment where crime runs rampant, and discrimination between gangs is the norm it turns out to be harder to stay the person he wants to be most in life.

During one scene in the book (Pg 77) Ponyboy recites a poem to Johnny. Neither of them get what it means, until Johnny says ”Stay gold, ponyboy, stay gold…” on his death bed to Ponyboy (Pg 148). At first Ponyboy has know idea what he was talking about, until he receives an old letter from Johnny in his Gone with the Wind book. Johnny wrote it before he died. It explains what he thinks the poem meant, and what he meant by “stay gold”. One interpretation  behind this quote was to stay who you are no matter what pushes you not to be. Johnny believed in Ponyboy, that he could always be himself, that he would never be changed by all these outside forces. Every moment of our lives are precious, and we shouldn't waste them being someone else because of the unsatisfying circumstances we may live in.

After finding out Cherry has become a “spy” for the greasers, Ponyboy is in shock wondering why Cherry would do such a thing. “No, it wasn’t cherry the soc who was helping, it was Cherry the dreamer who watched sunsets, and couldn’t stand fights. It was hard to believe a soc would help us, even a Soc who dug sunsets. “ This quote really got to me because it brought up a recurring topic in the story; sunsets. Throughout the book certain characters, especially ponyboy talk about sunsets, particularly how they like to watch them. He also uses it on other characters, like Cherry. It seems to be used as a good, redeeming quality. It shows how lighthearted both characters are, even one from a rival gang. It is also used it johnny’s explanation for “staying gold”. Watching sunsets is one of Ponyboy’s many qualities to keep Johnny in believing in him. Watching sunsets is a way to show a person’s softer side, a way to give the characters dreams and aspirations, not to just live in the moment, but for the new ones too.

This isn’t a quote, but an object in the book that is surrounded by multiple quotes. It is the book Gone with the Wind. It particularly has to do with the character johnny. On pages 75 to 76 It talks about how he loves the book and he can truly understand and relate to it. The book also shows ponyboy how deep of a person johnny is when analyzing it. Then on pages 178 to 179 you see the letter Johnny left for Ponyboy before he died. It was in between one of the pages of the book Gone with the wind. He left it in the book that represented him the most when it came to who he was on the inside. He may have seemed like just some “dumb greaser” to most people, and even to some of his friends he wasn’t any better than that. But, within that book he is so much more. He’s kind, thoughtful, and deep person, and the only other person who knew that was Ponyboy, the person who the letter in Gone with the Wind is directed too. He also mentions Dally, one of the other characters he was also close to, who may have understood him more than people thought. Overall this book represented a different side to Johnny, and even a different side we have in all of us.

There are other people who share my ideas with symbolism and the meaning of the book and well as have conflict with them. Michael J. Twinsburg from Teen Ink said The book has a strong message of staying young and innocent. It teaches us not to create a shell to block emotions and the importance of friendship.” The book did have a message of staying young and innocent, but I also thought it was saying it is possible to stay true to yourself for the rest of your life. But, it does teach us the importance of friendship, seeing how much of a strong bond the whole gang has, especially Ponyboy, and johnny.

Symbolism is important to the book because without it there are no central ideas you get from it. Sure you could state it through text, but it’s so much more realistic and interesting to figure out what it means. I think this story does a great job at using symbolism, at taking small details and making some of them the main theme of the book. We see a main focus of identity, people acting one way for some people, and another way to other. The main character is unsure who he is, who he wants to be, or he will inevitably become. Without symbolism I don’t think I could ever get the real effect from this theme. From just sunsets, gone with the wind, and a letter I see no matter who you are, or what situation you are in you should always be the best version of yourself, which for Ponyboy is who he is right now.

Works Cited for Analytical Essay:

  1. Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders. New York: Viking, 1967. Print.

  2. Twinsburg, Michael J. "The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton." The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Teen Ink, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2015.

Comments (4)

Chelsea Middlebrooks (Student 2017)
Chelsea Middlebrooks

This paper backs up some of the things people have questions about. I like that this is a very controversial topic, but also the sources you used are good. You used things from American literature, which in some ways is a reflection of society and the authors interpretation of it. I would've liked to see a survey or study done to back up your statements more. Over all it was good, it made me see masculinity a little differently, and showed me one of the reasons and why it is shown so much is our society.

Chhievling Seng (Student 2017)
Chhievling Seng

I really enjoyed reading this. I learned that symbolism in a story is a huge part of the story itself. It's something that clues the readers into thinking deeper within the situation happening, almost as if it's a visual of the book.

I would try symbolism as a techqniue, since symbolism can be interpreted in many different ways by readers.

Michaela Peterson (Student 2017)
Michaela Peterson

1) I really liked the way you looked at the line "Stay gold, Ponyboy". To me, that always meant stay inocent and pure, like gold. Thinking about it as if Johnny believed Ponyboy was gold brings a whole new meaning to the book. 2) I really like the way you engaged with the audience, even though it was an analytical essay.