The Outsiders Author/Context
Susan Eloise Hinton was born in 1948, and has spent most of her life in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Those who know her work may be surprised that she is a woman, since her narrators are almost always teenage boys. Her simple explanation is, "I've always been a tomboy." She would usually rather talk about her horses than her writing, since she has answered so many of the same questions in interviews over the years. She wrote The Outsiders as a sixteen year old loner at a high school where almost everyone belonged to one group or another. After a boy not unlike Dallas Winston was killed by the police, she decided, like Ponyboy at the end of the story, to tell the world about life in her hometown. Though the town is never named in The Outsiders, it is recognizable as Tulsa. This is true for most of her books, even when she names the town something else. Her ideas about important stories have never strayed far from home. She remembers herself as able to talk to all different groups in high school, since she didn't belong to any of them. This allowed her to see "the big picture" better than most. She understood that the fighting between gangs was useless, because every kid was an individual, not just a unit in a group. She wanted to write about boys because, she says, at that time girls didn't do much. They waited around for their boyfriends, concentrating on their hair and makeup. She didn't want to be that way, so she spent time with boys and wrote about them. She felt that the books for people her age lacked realism. (She describes them as "Mary Jane Goes to the Prom.") She wanted a book that would reflect the experiences she saw going on around her. No book at that time described what some kids her age had to deal with. She decided to write one.
While today there are many books about drugs, gangs, abusive families, etc., Hinton's stories stand out because they confront issues like these, but they are not about these issues. They are about individuals, like Ponyboy and Dallas and Johnny--three very different boys who happen to belong to the same social group. Hinton usually writes her stories in the first person, to reinforce the strong individual identities of her characters. Her other stories include Tex, about a teenager who loves horses. When his brother sells his horse to pay the bills, Tex is determined to find the horse and get him back. Rumble Fish, another story about teenage life, tells the story of Rusty-James, who fights, gets drunk, and wishes for something better. Hinton says that she wrote Rusty-James' character as different from many of her other narrators. He is not as intelligent or observant. She says that this was very frustrating for her, because she wanted to write beautiful sentences, but she knew he wouldn't say beautiful things. She wanted the story to be realistic. She believes her stories are still relevant today, especially in a time of gang violence and school shootings. She has always believed that teenagers had important thoughts and experiences, and they needed to be treated as important. Hinton has also written several books for young children, inspired by her son Nick. She has said will always find her inspiration in her own experiences.
S.E. Hinton is one of the most popular children's writers, and has been so for decades. Several popular movies have been made of her books. Though she was afraid at first that a movie version would destroy her original intentions for the story, she soon found that wasn't true. The first movie, Tex, which starred Matt Dillon, made her realize that movies could be as effective as books at telling a story. Matt Dillon returned to star in both The Outsiders and Rumble Fish, and Hinton and the then-young actor became friends. The Outsiders showcased several now-famous actors, including Tom Cruise. Hinton's work became better known because of the movies. She has been accepted as an important writer by both critics and young readers.
Daly, Jay. Presenting S.E. Hinton. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.
Hinton, S.E. The Outsiders. U.S.: Penguin, 1967.
Fleming, Thomas. "The Outsiders." New York Times Book Review. 7 May 1967, pt. 2, 10.