Essay Writing Samples

Book Report: The Outsiders

This is a sample book report from Ultius on the novel The Outsiders, which tells the story of two youth gangs with a serious rivalry. It is also a novel that represents the coming of age of a young boy who struggles against being labelled low class or undesirable because of his upbringing. The novel continues to illustrate how such bias can be overcome and that balance can be found, but only after an understanding of one’s self is achieved. This would likely be found on a book review blog or as an essay writing assignment.

Book Report: The Outsiders

Context of the novel

S.E. Hinton’s novel, The Outsiders, tells the story of two rival youth gangs. The events of the novel are told through the eyes of Ponyboy Curtis, a 14-year-old member of the Greasers, the gang of boys, considered to be criminals and belonging to a lower socio-economic class than their rivals, the Socs, or Socials. The setting of the story in a city in Oklahoma, but could happen anywhere. The setting and the boundaries of the territory “owned” by the two gangs, the Greasers and the Socials, is based primarily on the social and economic differences in areas of town. As the novel progresses, we begin to see these boundaries blur as the differences between the Greasers and the Socials is not so clear as they start to overlap in their interests.

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Dramatic escalation

A series of violent encounters between the two gangs brings about devastating effects for these young boys, particularly the Greasers who lose two of their members due to violent and/or criminal activity to which they are driven by the view of their social status. The novel begins with Ponyboy being attacked by members of the Socials and rescued by his fellow Greasers:

  • Soda Pop Curtis – the middle Curtis brother
  • Darrel Curtis – the oldest Curtis brother who has assumed custody over Ponyboy and Soda Pop since the death of their parents
  • Johnny Cade – son of an alcoholic and abusive mother and father
  • Two-bit Matthews – kleptomaniac and comedian
  • Dallas Winston – the tough guy and true criminal

The next night, Ponyboy, Johnny, Dallas and Two-bit attend a movie and hit it off with a couple of Soc girls who end up abandoning the boys for their Soc boyfriends. After a fight at home with his brother Darrel, Ponyboy goes to the park with his friend Johnny. The Soc gang attacks the two boys and Ponyboy wakes up after nearly being drowned to learn that Johnny had killed a member of the Socs to save him from the attack.

Fugitives from the law

Murder in Oklahoma is a crime punishable by the death penalty, so naturally the boys are frantic. On the advice of Dallas, the two become fugitives from the law and take refuge in an old church in the country. A cigarette ash sets the church on fire, which catches while the two are in town buying supplies. The two boys return to find the church afire try to save a group of children who had wandered into the abandoned building prior to the blaze. The roof collapses on them in their attempt to free the children and Johnny is trapped, breaking his back and badly burned.

The rumble

Back at home, tensions between the gangs escalate over the death of Bob–the Soc member killed by Johnny in the park. It becomes clear that some key members of the respective gangs are tired of the violence which has left their friends either dead or badly injured. The two gangs meet in a huge fight, with the Greasers defeating the Socs. When Ponyboy makes it back to the hospital with his brothers to see Johnny, they realize he is dying. Dallas loses control at Johnny’s death and returns to his criminal ways, which ends in a shoot out with the police who fatally shoot him when he raises a gun to them. After a period of depression and grief, Ponyboy resolves his issues with his brother Darrel and we learn he has returned to school, telling this story as a part of an assignment.

Not so different

While the novel is about the rival of two gangs, it also shows that they are not as different from one another as once they thought. Ponyboy’s narration highlights the bias of perspective in the telling of the plot of this story, and mirrors his development as a coming of age tale throughout the novel.

Hope for the future

Literature and storytelling affect both the point of view and the characterization of the narrative told by the main character, Ponyboy. The fact that he is able to tell his story from his own point of view is the real reconciliation of the novel, as clearly he has returned to functioning and attending school. The novel concerns itself with the development of Ponyboy’s character who is at times unreliable and, although his narration is biased towards the Greasers, it is suggested by the end that Ponyboy realizes that his hatred of the Soc’s was weak in grounding. By novel’s end, he has found a more permanent identity in his story-telling abilities.

The maturation of Ponyboy

The tone of the novel told through Ponyboy’s voice becomes almost ironic by the end since we know he is telling this story retrospectively and that he realizes things now that his character in the story had not yet learned. This creates an interesting effect since we are clearly aligned with Ponyboy and the Greasers throughout the story, even if at times we see through his bias. However, by the end of The Outsiders, the clear lesson is that storytelling is a process and that Ponyboy is actively overcoming the challenges of identity that being in the gang had created for him. Through the events of the novel and his own form of personal reflection, he becomes his own person.

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Works Cited

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

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