The need to belong is a fundamental need within all of humanity, and has played a key role in society since the beginning of time. The novel by S. E Hinton, ‘The Outsiders’ conveys this need and the yearning to feel social acceptance within us all. ‘The Outsiders’ comments on this inherent part of humanity through its realistic portrayal of teenage gang life, centering on the dependency of the gang members to feel a sense of inclusion and support from their gang. Insert The Outsiders plot line ‘The Outsiders’ conveys that the need to belong is apparent within everyone through the universality of the needs and views of the gang members.
This conveys that finding a place to belong, as the characters do within their own gangs, is a basic aspect of man. These concepts are explored through the archetypal structure of the gangs represented within ‘The Outsiders’ that the audience is able to relate to, with the gangs clear hierarchy and their fierce loyalty and dependency present between the gang members. The novel depicts Ponyboy’s awakening to the true similarities between the rival gangs, and that although they brand themselves as polar opposites, both gangs at the heart are the same.
It is slowly revealed that both gangs exist in order to give the teenagers a place to deal with society’s expectations and to feel a sense of inclusion, needs that the whole of society can relate to. The rivalry between the gang also signifies the universality of the gangs, as it is common throughout society for groups to bond themselves through a sense of ‘us versus them’, fulfilling the need within humanity for inclusion and camaraderie. There is also a strong tribal element within the gangs, as both gangs are male centered, territorial and resort to violence.
This conveys the inherent need within humanity to belong, as tribes have formed since the beginning of time as an answer to this need. The tribal nature of the gangs also conveys the gang member’s reliance on the gang and the support it offers them, as throughout history rejection from the tribe leads to death. The gangs instinctually resorting to violence also comments on the tribal nature of the gang, as they conform to primitive behavior of uniting against others. Hinton’s employment of point of view conveys to the audience Ponyboy’s personal opinions and discoveries about the true nature of the gangs.
Through Ponyboy realizing the similarities between the gangs and questioning the violent nature of the gangs, the audience gains a greater understanding of the universality of belonging within a group and the inherent need to feel accepted within all of humanity. Although there is a universal element present in the gang life, there are also significant differences between the two rival gangs. These differences capture the importance of belonging as it focuses on the greaser’s loyalty, love and dependency within the gang that the SOCS don’t have.
The Greasers’ need to belong, unlike the SOCS, stems from their alienation and exclusion from mainstream society. As the title conveys, they are ‘outsiders’, so the unity within the gang is much stronger as they have nowhere else to go. The sense of security created by the gang strengthens the relationships and loyalty between the gang members, making them more like a family then a group of friends. This is presented throughout the book, as the different greasers convey their allegiance to the gang and their willingness to put themselves on the line in order to protect a fellow gang member. When you’re a gang, you stick up for the members. If you don’t stick up for them, stick together, it isn’t a gang anymore. ’ Hilton’s employment of vernacular language and symbolism conveys the greaser’s loyalty to their gang as they mark themselves apart from the rest of society through their appearance and slang. The greasers take a special pride in their long hair, a uniform for the gang of outcasts. The Outsiders conveys that more than anything, humanity feels a need to belong, through the range of characters and their different needs and connection to their gang.
Hilton’s employment of characterization captures the drive behind man to belong, and what it can compel someone to do. Dally and Johnny are key examples of this, as their dependency on the gang is due to them not having a supportive family or another place to turn to. This is contrasted with the character of Darry, a more peripheral member of the gang who, due to his stable job and his history of athletic achievements, doesn’t depend on the gang for self fulfillment and a life purpose. The Outsiders leads the audience to question the significance of belonging through the allegiance of the gang contrasted with biological bonds of family.
Throughout the entire novel, Ponyboy struggles to find his place within the gang and within his family unit, as he fights with his brothers and feels alienated and unwanted. As Ponyboy tries to find his place within life, he turns away from his brothers and towards the support of the ‘greaser family’. Ponyboy’s journey is compared with Johnny, who is pushed away by his parents and looks to the greaser gang for family support and comfort. As Ponyboy gains an insight into Johnny’s life he in turn learns to appreciate his brothers and the sense of belonging they offer. It ain’t the same thing as having your own folks care about you” Johnny said simply. The need to belong is also explored in the Outsiders through the breaking up of the gang following the dramatic events that occur. Throughout the novel, the gang slowly collapses into a state of chaos, revealing to the audience the gang member’s dependency on the gang for their self identity and a reason for living. The gang is conveyed to have a set structure at the beginning of the novel, each member having their own role within the gang.
While the three brothers are the foundation of the gang, as they offer safety and hospitality to the other gang members, it is Johnny who is the heart of the gang, as the gang is tied together through their need to protect and love Johnny. As the bonds between the brothers begin to crumble, the fractures of the gang become apparent. It is the death of Johnny that leads to the gang collapsing and Dally’s suicide.
This is conveyed through emotive language at the effect Johnny’s death plays on each character, “Soda looked like he was going to cry, Two-Bit’s eyes were closed and his teeth were clenched… My heart was pounding in slow thumps. Dally’s suicide depicts his need of the gang, as he loses his will to live following Johnny’s death and the disbanding of the gang. Ponyboy enters a state of discord following the death of his friends that eventually allows him to move onto a state of reflection and growth as he realizes the significance of his belonging within his family and the importance of caring for the needs of his family and the gang in order to build a sense of solidarity and belonging. Insert Conclusion