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The Outsiders: Effects of Social Class

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Social class describes the different “layers” that exist in society. These “layers,” or classes in society, are a division that civilization has been running on ever since the beginning of mankind. In most modern societies, our system of social class division is one of opportunity. We experience a good deal of social mobility, where people through generations or in their own lifetime can move up or down the social scale. By examining the many different perceptions of social class along with S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, it is illustrated that social class has an impact on people while they are growing up, and will usually deny them from rising above adversity.

Many people have tried to figure out exactly what it is that makes up a particular social class. In Medieval times, the “Feudal System” was the structure of social division used among landowners. The nobles of the time were the landowners, who with their family tradition, privilege and knightly conduct became the dominant ruling group (Poore). On the other hand, the peasants of this time were forced into extensive labor, rarely rising above their hardships. In the early 1900’s, racial grouping was the structure used in the American South. The African Americans at the time were at the bottom of the social ladder, whereas the plantation owners who controlled them were at the top of the social ladder. Again, this class profiling rarely allowed the African Americans to upgrade on the ladder. In S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, their structure of social class was focused on wealth, peer relations, fragile homes, and danger on the streets. As it seems evident throughout all of the different social class structures, the potential for social mobility does not appear very likely.

Discussing the facts of the book is important to serve as a future reference when referring back to specific parts. It is also important because without examining the nature of the book, one will not be able to comprehend the beliefs and views that others have about it. To start out, The Outsiders is a story about the hardships and accomplishments experienced by the Greasers and the Socs, two rival gangs living in the inner city in the early 1960’s. The name of the book reflects the story because the Greasers are the social outcasts and misfits of the city, whereas the Socs are the elite class. Ponyboy is the narrator and main character, and lives with his brothers as a greaser. One day Ponyboy and Johnny, Ponyboy’s best friend, get jumped by a group of Socs. The Socs initiate a fight and try to drown Ponyboy in a fountain. Johnny, thinking they might actually kill Ponyboy, kills the Soc trying to drown him with his switchblade.

Not knowing what to do, Ponyboy and Johnny run to a fellow Greaser, Dally, who gives them some money, a gun, and a place to hideout. They hide in a church outside their town for a week until Dally says it’s okay to come out. They go out to eat and when they get back the find the church to be on fire. Realizing that there are kids inside, and their own cigarettes maybe have started the fire, they run inside to try and save the kids. Johnny and Dally are hurt in the fire and taken to the hospital. They are both hailed as heroes in the local paper. Hearing about a rumble that will be taking place against the Greasers and the Socs, Dally breaks out of the hospital to fight in it. The Greasers beat the Socs in the rumble, but Johnny ends up dying from his injuries from the fire in the hospital. When Dally finds out about Johnny, he goes out and in his anger and confusion robs a grocery store. When the cops pull up to him, he pulls out an empty gun and the cops shoot and kill him (Phillips).

Plutarch once said, “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics” (Kearl). In today’s society, social class is typically influenced by one’s background and wealth. This usually determines the success or failure in peoples’ lives. If someone is brought up in a family of wealth, they have many more opportunities compared to someone brought up in poverty. In The Outsiders, the Socs are given a greater opportunity to succeed because of their background. An example of this would be the education available to people of a higher social class. It is hard for many poor people to go to college because of high tuition costs. While scholarships are usually available, one must still maintain a high grade point average or excel in a special field to achieve one. Because many poor people come from more fragile neighborhoods, there is generally a lack of motivation on the part of the school, family and mostly the student (Kearl). In a 1979 Carnegie study, a child’s future was found to be determined largely by social status, not brains.

Consider Bobby and Jimmy, two second-graders who both pay attention in the classroom, do well, and have nearly identical I.Q.s. Yet Bobby is the son of a successful lawyer; Jimmy’s works infrequently as a custodial assistant. Despite their similarities, the difference in the circumstances to which they were born makes it 27 times more likely that Bobby will get a job that by the time he is in late 40’s will pay him an income in the top tenth of all incomes in this country. Jimmy has about a one in eight chance of earning even a median income. (“Small Futures: Children, Inequality, and the Limits of Liberal Reform”, Richard de Lone).

While the Socs are in no way morally superior to the Greasers, they are given a higher opportunity to succeed solely based on their high-ranking social class.

Self worth can also be incorporated into the opportunity to succeed. Because the Greasers came from such a low level of society, they might have felt their self worth was not as high as someone higher on the social ladder. There are many different principles by which self-worthiness is judged, but in The Outsiders I feel it is based mainly on the stereotyping and discriminations of the opposite groups. While the Socs were the upper class of society, they were stereotyped as superior kids with good futures in store for them. The Greasers, on the other hand, were discriminated against, seen rather as the scum of the neighborhood, with little or no futures ahead of them. This results in a lack of self-esteem and sense of personal efficacy, and also a downward fall in their overall satisfaction and happiness with life. (Forster).

Sometimes it seems that people of the higher social class have everything superior, and they people lower on the social ladder are stuck in an endless cycle positive outlook in sight. But this is not always the case. There is always the vision of social mobility, which occurs whenever people move across social class boundaries, or from one occupational level to another. Throughout time, a person’s position in society has been based on their social background, race, or wealth. With the social mobility outlook, a person’s position in society is emphasized more on achievement and what a person is capable of then the characteristics that they are unable to change (Poore).

In The Outsiders, I feel that there was no social mobility viewpoint. In chapter 7 of the book, a Soc quotes, “Greasers will still be Greasers and Socs will still be Socs. Sometimes I think it’s the ones in the middle that are really the lucky stiffs” (Hinton 125). By stating that the members of both groups will always remain in their personal social classes, it suggests that it would be impossible for a Greaser or a Soc to shift their current status on the social ladder. In this belief, it appears that because their position in society is being based on their attributed characteristics, there is no chance that they will rise above the stereotyping and discriminations of their gang identities (Phillips).

In my personal experiences, I feel that even in modern times there is no chance of social mobility. Because social status affects behavior, values, and lifestyle, the different classes are aware of their privileges in their current position. People of the upper class know that they are looked upon for their elegant and refined lifestyle, and therefore try to maintain that same behavior. For instance, people of the higher class will always wear the name brand clothing, drive the fancy cars, and try to show off their wealth. This is mainly because in order to achieve these high-class possessions, one needs a higher level of education and training. For people to want to work hard, they must see that they will be rewarded in society. Therefore the rich tend to show off their lavish wealth and assets in order to show society how hard they have worked to attain them. On the other hand, people of the lower social class are looked down upon for their grubby lifestyles, and feel that there is no escape from it. While it is stereotypical to make such a statement, it can be affirmed by the fact that because many lower class members live in poverty, they are more concerned with immediate needs rather than long-term goals (Lipset).

“It’s okay… We aren’t in the same class. Just don’t forget that some of us watch the sunset too” (Hinton 55). Here, Ponyboy is pointing out to a female member of the Socs that even though the two gangs have unequal lifestyles, attitudes, and financial situations, they still live in the same world under the same sun. By agreeing on this fact, they are taking a different outlook on life and bridging the gap between the social classes. I feel that even though social classes will almost undoubtedly exist in this world, there should not be such a general stereotyping for people of a different status. I also feel that even though a person’s social class sometimes defines their position in life, we all need to stop and realize that at the end of the day, we all live in the same world, under the same sun.

Works Cited

Forster, Patti. “Social Groups and Stereotyping.” Abstract. July 2001. (http://www.moraga.k12.ca.us/JM/Teacher/Forster/Novels/SocialGroups/social_groups.htm)

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

Kearl, Michael C. “Explorations in Social Inequality.” A Sociological Tour Through Cyberspace. Abstract. February 1, 1996. (http://www.trinity.edu/mkearl/strat.html)

Lipset, Seymour Martin. “Social Class.” The World Book Encyclopedia. 1996 Ed.

Phillips, Brain. “The Outsiders.” Sparknotes on The Outsiders. Abstract. March 5, 2002. (http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/outsiders/)

Poore, Michael. “Social Class and Stratification.” Sociology at Hewitt. Abstract. (http://www.hewitt.norfolk.sch.uk/curric/soc/class/class.htm)


Opening Paragraph

o Define Social Class

o Explain different layers and social mobility

History of Social Classes

o Feudal System

o American South in the 1900’s

Summary of The Outsiders

o Main characters of the Greasers and Socs

o Greasers hardships throughout the book

Heredity of Social Class

o Determines the success or failure in peoples lives

o Opportunity to succeed is very important

Self Worth

o Stereotyping and discriminations among classes

Social Mobility

o Prospect to move along the ladder

o Difficult with stereotypes and discriminations

Personal Outlook

o Social mobility is unlikely because of current status

o Immediate needs over long-term goals

Closing Paragraph

o Bridging the gap between social classes

o All live in the same world under the same sun

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