Ponyboy Curtis, a member of the Greaser gang, learns the value of family and friendship through his conflict with a rival gang, the Socs, and his own coming-of-age journey.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
In Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem “We Real Cool,” she describes a group of young men she once noticed at a pool hall, portraying them as not caring about responsibilities.
Introduce this poem to students before they begin reading The Outsiders, in order to familiarize them with the gang member persona, as well as the tension between gang culture and mortality. Ask students to analyze the tone of the poem and the characters Brooks presents in the poem. What type of characters do they expect to encounter in the novel who are members of gangs? What does it mean to be part of a gang? What does it mean to have a carefree attitude towards death?
“Herd Behavior” describes how individuals change when they are part of a crowd.
Have students read this article after completing Chapter 2, when Johnny is beat up, in order to provide sociological insight into group behavior. The article mentions how groups can become violent, especially if confronted by an opposing one, much like rival gangs. Ask students to discuss how the actions of the Greasers and Socs are influenced by herd behavior, as described in this text. How does the article help to explain how and why Ponyboy might have become a Greaser?
“Self-Concept” introduces several psychology concepts that describe how people think about themselves.
Have students read this informational text after reading Chapter 3, to provide psychological insight in order to analyze the characters within the novel. In this chapter Ponyboy describes his brothers and friends to Cherry, who reveals details about her own personality. In these descriptions, the conflicts between self-image and ideal self are evident. Ask students to analyze the self-concept traits of some of the novel’s main characters (e.g. Ponyboy, Johnny, Two-Bit). How does the character’s ideal self conflict with their outward portrayal? Which characters possess a strong self-image?
In “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” a speaker describes the fleeting nature of youth and beauty.
Introduce students to this poem, which Ponyboy recites, after reading Chapter 5, to contrast the value of gold in Frost's poem with friendship in the novel, as well as the symbolism of youth as something new and fleeting. Ask students to explain the meaning of the poem and its significance in the novel. What is meant by “hardest hue to hold?” What may be difficult for Ponyboy to hold onto now that he has been involved with Johnny? Ask students to consider the different things that can be equated to the value of gold. What do the characters in the novel value? You may also choose to ask students to revisit this poem after completing the novel, in order to interpret its symbolism.
In Yrsa Daley-Ward’s poem “what love isn’t,” Ward explores attributes of love not often discussed.
This poem can be given to students after they have read Chapter 6, to help them explore the complexity and uniqueness of Ponyboy and Darry’s relationship following the fire. Ask students to use Daley-Ward’s poem — and her idea that love is not uniform or mainstream — in order to define what love is and isn't within Ponyboy’s family. How does Darry and Ponyboy’s relationship change after the church fire?
A physician who overcame a difficult upbringing meditates on the nature of his career and the relationship between medicine and public service.
Provide students with this article after they have read Chapter 7, in order to explore the themes of heroism and overcoming adversity that are contained within both the article and novel. In the novel, Ponyboy and Johnny have been deemed heroes, and act that seemed as unlikely for them as it was for Sampson Davis to succeed in the article. Ask students to consider how Ponyboy and Johnny’s heroic act can possibly change the community? How does this contrast with Sampson Davis' views and experience? Using Sampson Davis’ life story as a reference, how did Ponyboy and Johnny’s life experiences prepare them to be heroes?
In this passage, Bacon discusses the notion of revenge, why some seek it, and the consequences of this fixation.
Introduce this text after students have completed Chapter 9, as it shares the novel’s theme of revenge. The Greasers are seeking revenge on the Socs which, according to Sir Francis Bacon, is an action not worth carrying out, because of the possible consequences and what it often means to dwell on old rivalries. Ask students to evaluate the motivations and consequences of revenge. How do they feel about the planned rumble in the novel? How do they think it will turn out? What consequences may results from the rumble? Ask students to consider Bacon’s reference to “profit, pleasure, and honour.” With this in mind, ask them to consider what they think would make the rumble worthwhile to the characters within the novel?
In Ralph Fletcher’s “Funeral,” a group of boys have a funeral for their friend who is moving away.
Pair this excerpt with Chapter 10 — after students have learnt about Johnny’s death — in order to help them think about themes of loss and new beginnings. Ralph experiences a separation from friends, as does Ponyboy in his loss of Johnny. Ralph is resolved in the parting while Ponyboy is left with a lot of confusion. Ask students how Ponyboy compares to Ralph in their experiences of loss and moving on. What results for the two characters after the loss of friends?
In “If,” the speaker sets out a list of rules by which he thinks his son should live.
Introduce this poem after students have finished the novel, in order to facilitate a discussion about Darry’s goals for Ponyboy and the poem’s main idea about maturing into a man. The speaker within Kipling’s poem and Darry share a paternal, supportive tone on the subject of manhood. Ask students to compare the poem’s main idea to the key virtues that have been presented in the novel. What type of future does the speaker within the poem and Darry each wish on the young men in their lives?