LEARNING GUIDE TO:
SUBJECTS — Literature/U.S.; U.S./1945 - 1991;Age: 11+; MPAA Rating PG-13 (for violence, teen drinking and smoking, and some sexual reference); 1983; 91 Minutes; Color. TWM recommends The Outsiders: The Complete Novel, a director's cut which is 1 hour, 54 minutes, incorporating 22 minutes of previously omitted footage and an updated musical score. It follows the novel more closely and is available from Amazon.com.
Read the Book First! The novel The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is widely read in secondary schools across the nation. It is appropriate for readers over the age of 10 although some of the themes in the book are mature. The novel is regarded as an American classic.
This Learning Guide applies to both the movie and the book.
Description: The Outsiders is a story of conflict between two groups of teenagers, the delinquent Greasers and their privileged enemies, the Socs' (pronounced "Soshs"). They hate each other for their differences and fight as they try to navigate from adolescence to adulthood.
Rationale for Using the Movie: Teachers who assign S.E. Hinton's 1967 novel will most often use the film as a reward after the book has been read and studied in class. For classes with poor literacy skills teachers can use the movie to assist students in understanding the reading. Care should be taken that students do not use the film as a substitute for reading the book.
Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Through discussion, analysis of poetry, and writing, students will exercise important ELA skills relating to a gripping story. Students can become aware of differences in presentation between the novel and the film. The lessons of the story assist adolescents in resolving some of the social and emotional issues of growing up in modern society.
Possible Problems: Serious. As in the book, the movie is set against a violent backdrop in which fights are the preferred method of resolving conflict. One character is stabbed to death, another dies from being burned badly in a fire, and yet another provokes the police into shooting him to death. There is also mild profanity and scenes of teenagers drinking and smoking. Girls are sexually harassed. There is some talk about smoking marijuana.
WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.
Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.
USING THE OUTSIDERS IN THE CLASSROOM
Have students read and memorize Robert Frost's short poem Nothing Gold Can Stay. Tell them that Frost noticed that the first growth of plants after the harsh New England winter is often golden in color but quickly turns to green. Have students analyze the poem using techniques with which they may be familiar such as "say, mean, matter."
Talk to the class about police assisted suicide, also known as "suicide by cop." This occurs when a person intentionally provokes a law enforcement officer into killing him or her. Killing people in the line of duty is stressful for most police officers. When the person killed manipulates the police officer into becoming an agent of suicide, there is additional stress on the officer. [For more on this phenomenon, see Suicide by Cop: Victims on Both Sides of the Badge; Police Use of Deadly Force: Victim Precipitated Homicide; and Suicide by Cop: There's almost always police stress as a result.]
1. This story has several important themes. Identify two major themes of the story. Suggested Response:
A. Cherish the impermanent "gold," that is, value the innocence of youth and its wonder at the beauty of the world.
B. Rigid divisions among people based on class, gang affiliation, or ethnic, or religious groupings are harmful because they interfere with friendships and relationships that would normally develop if people were free to choose their friends, lovers, and associates on their own. The divisions between the Greasers and the Socs, like any imposed divisions between most cliques of kids and most established groups in society, are artificial and based on circumstances of birth and random events of life. Socs, like Greasers, have sorrows, problems, difficulties in coming of age, dreams for the future, etc.
C. Violence is not a good way to solve problems. People get hurt and fighting often leads to unexpected consequences, as when several larger and older Socs are beating Ponyboy but the fight ends with one of them dying after being stabbed by Johnny.
D. Life is better when you have friends and when you are a good friend.
E. Appearance is often different from reality. For example, strength in a human being doesn't come from the outward show like that put on by Dally. It can be found even in those that appear meek, like Johnny. The Greasers are shown to be more genuine people with better friendships than the Socs. Some of the Greasers were, in many ways, innocent children who took on the trappings of tough guys.
F. True strength does not come from denying your feelings and being "tough" so you won't get hurt. (Johnny was stronger than Dally. Dally played tough but was brittle and cracked under the strain of Johnny's death.)
2. A protagonist is considered the most important character in a story. Typically it is the actions of the protagonist that drive the plot. Usually it is the protagonist who changes based on what happens in the story. Who is the protagonist in this story? Suggested Response: There are two protagonists. Ponyboy appears to be the main character because the movie starts and ends with him. In addition, the narrative follows Ponyboy through most of the story. But Ponyboy is almost an observer, and certainly it isn't his actions which drive the plot. While Ponyboy learns from experience, much of it is taught by Johnny, who learns much more. In addition, it is Johnny's actions that drive the plot. He stands up to Dally to protect Cherry, setting up the friendship with the Soc girls that helps motivate the attack in the playground. It is Johnny who kills Bob to protect Ponyboy, and it is Johnny who joins Ponyboy in the burning church to save the children. It is Johnny's death that drives Dally to despair. It is Johnny who teaches Ponyboy the main lesson of the book. Johnny is as much the protagonist, if not more so, than Ponyboy. Therefore, in this story it can be said that there are two protagonists.
3. Both the book and the film are filled with irony. In a well-written story, ironies relate to life-lessons that can be learned from the story. The lessons may be themes of the story, but they may not be important enough to the story to rise to the level of a theme. Name two ironies in The Outsiders which you find to be important, describing the ironies and their related lessons. Suggested Response: Here are several ironies and their associated lessons. Note that students may come up with different lessons from any particular irony. (1) It is ironic that the Socs' and the society that their parents control usually look down on the Greasers as less intelligent and less cultured, but it is Ponyboy who writes about the experience. [Corresponding lesson: class distinctions are artificial and false.] (2) It is ironic that Johnny, the person who is emotionally the strongest, appears to be the weakest. [Corresponding lessons: emotional strength and physical strength are not related or outward shows of strength and toughness can mask internal weakness.] It is ironic that the teacher who is charged with caring for the kids is not the one who saves them from the burning church. Instead it is the juvenile delinquents. [Corresponding lesson: just because someone is in authority doesn't mean that they are the best person to do the job in all situations.] It is ironic that Johnny looks up to Dally for his strength, but in reality it is Johnny who is emotionally stronger than Dally. [Corresponding lesson: emotional strength and physical strength are not related.] It is ironic that Bob, the leader of the Soc gang that outnumbers and is older and larger than Ponyboy and Johnny, is the one who is hurt the most in the fight. [Corresponding lessons: fighting often has unexpected consequences or violence is not a good way to resolve conflicts.]
4. The divisions between these two groups, like the divisions between most cliques of kids and most traditional groups in society, are based on circumstances of birth and accidental events in life. Although the Socs' and the Greasers are quite different, in what areas of life can they find common ground? Suggested Response: Answers will vary and may not be attributed to the film, but imposed by personal experience. Socs', like Greasers, have sorrows, problems, fears, the need for friendship and security, difficulties in coming of age, dreams and desires for the future, etc.
5. What is the message of Robert Frost's poem Nothing Gold Can Stay? How does this relate to the themes of the movie? Suggested Response: The poem describes the progression of a plant from its first golden bloom in Spring to a mature leafy growth. It points out that the "gold," the first bloom, cannot stay. There are at least two ways in which this relates to the story of "The Outsiders." First, this is a coming-of-age movie in which, like the plant, teenagers are growing up. The poem celebrates this as inevitable, telling us that nothing as beautiful, young, and tender as the first growth can stay. But there is a second meaning to "The Outsiders" which culminates in Johnny's instruction to Ponyboy to "stay gold." The term "gold" in this sense means youth, including the innocence, the freshness, the goodness that comes with the first blush of life, and staying true to yourself. Johnny is telling Ponyboy and the reader to keep as much of the "gold" as possible.
For 50 additional discussion questions on the topics of theme, cinematic-literary devices, and character development, see The Outsiders Supplemental Materials.
Assignments and Assessments: Any of the discussion questions in this Learning Guide and in the Supplemental Materials can be used as essay prompts. Additional assignments are:
1. Were you to write a story or a screenplay about the differences between groups in your school, you would probably not use greaser-types and wealthy young socialites, each of whom utilize cars, hair fashion, and clothing as symbols of their status. Write informally about how you would divide your world into two groups or possibly more, in an effort to illustrate the artificial divisions that can occur between people. Be sure to make clear the differences among the groups you define and to explain the symbols by which their identities can be known.
2. For homework, or an in-class assignment, have students write an alternative ending to the movie describing what happened to Ponyboy and his family over the next five years. A good submission will include whether Ponyboy went to college, what Darry did after both Ponyboy and Sodapop reached 18, and what happened to Sodapop. A good submission will also bring in other characters like Cherry, Randy, and Two-Bit.
3. Write the last five minutes of the story, from the time that Johnny dies until the end, from the viewpoint of another character such as Cherry, Randy, Two-Bit, Darry, Sodapop, Dally's Ghost, or Johnny's Ghost. In your narrative describe action (including dialogue), reveal thoughts (including internal monologues), describe observations by the characters, use descriptive language (including images of people, places and things), and compare one thing to another.
Note to Teachers as to assignments 2 and 3. To prepare for these assignments, consider having students complete TWM's Exercise in "Showing Rather than Telling" When Writing a Narrative. Also check out TWM's Narrative Writing Lesson Plan. You can also split the class into groups and have them share their work with each other. Pick the most creative and interesting ones to read to the class.Click here for a list of about 30 projects for the book, most of which can be easily adapted to the movie by Michaela Muller at Help4Teachers.com.
See also Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more . . . Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.
Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.
Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.
Parenting Points Encourage children to read the book before watching the movie. The novel is a staple in American schools and the movie is a reasonably faithful adaptation. If your child is reading the book for a class, find out if there will be a screening of the movie. If not, you can let your child watch the movie once he or she has completed the novel.
Make a negative comment about the children smoking. Before reading the book or seeing the movie, read Robert Frost's poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay, with your child. Explain that often the first shoots of plants, especially in New England, are golden in color. Then they turn to green. If possible, memorize the poem with your child. It is short and rewarding.
Also, you might show similar movies like West Side Story. Talk about how they are similar and how they are different.
Does Johnny fit the archetype of a child savior? See Questions 19 & 20.