Staying Gold on the Wrong Side of the Tracks
Title: The Outsiders
Author: S.E. Hinton
Genre: YA Fiction
Through the theme of loss-of-innocence in literature we find ourselves meeting characters who are having experiences in their lives where a new level of awareness is reached. Loss-of-innocence can reflect rites of passage and coming of age stories through positive experiences, but that is not always the case. Most times we are taken through someone’s eyes being open to the pain and harsh realities of the world that alter their inner-being forever.
The term “innocent” may not necessarily reflect someone who is young and naïve- though in many times it does. But it also reflects someone lacking knowledge about something in their lives and then becoming aware of it. Unfortunately, most times- even in our own lives- they reach this new state of being through a struggle or suffering.
One novel that represents loss-of-innocence through the ideals of coming of age and having hard experiences that open your eyes to a new world and changes the course of who you are is The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. It is the perfect example of how doing the wrong thing at an age of ignorance can alter our view of the world through gaining new knowledge from the experience.
Now I know I usually am highlighting stories with female leads, but The Outsiders is one of my all-time favorite stories, and it upholds some of the most important messages throughout my own literary journey. Through our narrator and protagonist, Ponyboy, we are introduced to the Greasers; an East Side gang growing up with little guidance, little money, and lots of loyalty to each other. This group of young teens are exposed to a series of violent, life changing events that strip them of their innocence and remind them of the cruel, harsh realities of the world they live in.
One of the most prevalent ways we see loss-of-innocence in a general sense in this novel is through social class. These East Side Greasers that we grow to know, and love are all kids who come from economically struggling, broken families. Whereas the West Side Socials are more elite and come from families with money. Having no money and uncommon family dynamics has led them to living harsher lives.
It would appear it is their first realization of loss of innocence because it showed them all at young ages that what you have and who you know will make your life totally different. As a young teen, he even has the realization that the type of people he would be able to spend time with is also impacted by this social class. It taints his innocence in that it makes him view people differently.
The symbolism of “staying gold” and the importance of this pure sunrise is referenced in other ways throughout the story as Pony contemplates the experiences of his life. The sunrise and sunset come up when Pony is sitting in reflection. He says, “Maybe the two different worlds we live in weren't so different. We saw the same sunset." This is a moment where Pony knows that he is different than those who live a richer lifestyle, yet he knows they all lay their head down to the same sunset at night.
This just goes to show how intelligent and open-minded Pony is despite the suffering he has been exposed to. He knows we are all connected somehow, and though most others in his gang cannot see that because of everything they have gone through, Pony still tries to see that. He is someone who still tries to see the good in all the bad he has had to live as well as the people around him.
Though it is marketed as a young adult book it is valid for people of all ages because we all need to see how certain situations change us. Though these characters were young, it does not always have to be for those who are young and coming of age. We could experience a new awareness of the world around us at any age.
But in The Outsiders, we meet teenagers who are forced into their experiences because of the side of the tracks they were born on. To say that they will forever be changed is obvious. However, what they do with that change depends on the person. We see that clearly throughout the course of this story.
There is something so warming about the connections of the friendships made throughout The Outsiders, despite the grim plotline the characters face. I cry every time I read it and connect closer to Ponyboy each time I do. Though every character so well developed by Hinton is easy to feel for, I resonated with Ponyboy’s personality from the time I was a teenager and even still as I read it as an adult for the umpteenth time.
This is a classic, timeless story that makes me sigh, gasp, and take a deep breath every time I think of. It is heavy, and it is harsh, and it will play with your emotions immensely. There is action, there is rawness and realness, and there is heart. So much heart.
I understand now, more than ever, why so many educators read this book with their classes. There are countless relevant themes that are important to any coming-of-age young person. It makes you think, it makes you feel, and it opens your eyes to the more harsh parts of our world that we don’t always like to admit exists.
If you haven’t read S.E. Hinton’s book, I am going to be bold and say it- what the heck are you waiting for? Read it! Fall in love with it! And when you’re done, watch the movie. It is hands down the best movie depiction of a book that I have ever seen.
You can purchase S.E. Hinton’s classic, The Outsiders here.