Postcard For Reader + young adult literature: the class

Young Adult Literature: The Class (Day 7)

"Being jumped and nearly stabbed... all in a [normal] day for Ponyboy."

Spoilers ahead for S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders.

The first thing I learned in class: despite knowing the Socs are pronounced like the first half of the word "social," it is possible to slip up and pronounce it like "sock." It is also awfully embarrassing when you do so, so if you do, make sure the point you were trying to make is much more impressive than when you slip up.

And yes, that was the mistake I made in my first comment in class. ... whoops.

Class really kicked off with looking at the opening clip of the Outsiders movie - yes, yes, the full movie's on YouTube - and then accidentally ending up in a heated ten minute debate about books v. e-books. (Both have their benefits, but yes, us bibliomaniacs like touching real paper.)

But once we got back on track, we wanted to talk about something important regarding The Outsiders: why so canonical?

To figure that out, we took a look at the opening paragraph:

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home. I was wishing I looked like Paul Newman - he looks touch and I don't - but I guess my own looks aren't so bad. I have light-brown, almost-red hair and greenish-gray eyes. I wish they were more gray, because I hate most guys that have green eyes, but I have to be content with what I have. My hair is longer than a lot of boys wear theirs, squared off in back and long at the front and sides, but I am a greaser and most of my neighborhood rarely bothers to get a haircut. Besides, I look better with long hair.

We took a few minutes to dissect his character: Ponyboy comes across quite humble, or at least he tries to be. He supplements whatever he sees as negative with knowledge that he can't change it (though his vanity does come across later when they're forced to cut his hair).

He also comes across as more of a story-telling voice. He seems to have a "deeper," more introspective insight into the world around him. Part of that power of observation is instilled in him - if he isn't aware of what's around him, the Socs might appear and kick his ass. He's more aware of the world in a way that, say, Angie from Seventeenth Summer isn't. (Ponyboy is much closer to Holden from Catcher in the Rye in terms of young adult canonical literature than he is to Angie. Both boys us the pastoral trope and both boys connect to poems.)

"Angie has what you guys might call 'first world problems.' Ponyboy actually has to worry about survival from day to day!

Not only is there a strong character voice, but "[t]his story borrows some tropes, some techniques, that have been around much longer than Hinton has." We discussed the pastoral trope in the last post - Holden is obsessed with it in Catcher in the Rye, and Ponybody and Johnny actually go out and are 'reborn' as heroes in the country side - but Hinton touches on many more.

There is, of course, the adventure/quest narrative, which traces back to Odysseus and medieval romances. There's no denying that The Outsiders follows an adventure/quest of some sort.

Then, of course, there's the "narrative of eternal emnity." You know those stories: where two groups of people are eternally at odds forever, despite having more in common then they would originally think.

There's also the ideology of the Byronic hero. The Byronic hero is, in quick terms, your traditional bad boy. Now, our professor made a giant slide show about this and the history of the Byronic hero and Byron himself, but since I can't pull all of the slides for you guys, here are the most important points. (Also Batman.)

In the book, Cherry sees Dallas as a Byronic hero. I don't think Ponyboy is one - he's too kind for that - but it could be argued.

And last but not least, Hinton uses the bilsdungroman, or the coming-of-age novel. (Coincidence that this is one of the most commonly used tropes in young adult literature? I think not!)

The talk of the bilsdungroman and the adventure/quest narrative kicked off a discussion about the lack of parents in some young adult literature. Angie has parents in Seventeenth Summer, and they acted as a safety net. If she messed up, they'd be there to help.

But in Catcher in the Rye, Holden's parents are absent for most of the novel, and in The Outsiders, Ponyboy's parents are dead. We think it has to do with the gradual shift of child to adult. If parents are present in the literature, there's a safety net; the stakes aren't as high in the social sphere. You're still coddled - it's only after you leave your parents that you become an adult. It's a gradual shift. Meanwhile, without parents, you're all BAM! suddenly stuck in adult situations, but you still have to grow. It makes things different.

Don't worry, we're not done with The Outsiders yet - we still have to talk about violence in the novel and the connection that Ponyboy has to other people!

Question(s) for the comments:
We also looked briefly at this MTV article on how the Harry Potter movies were snubbed for an Oscar - and the hope that The Hunger Games won't be. What do you think?

What do you think about the theory of parents in ya novels? Do parents, in some ways, hold the story back by providing a safety net? Or is it more of a reflection on how life actually is?

Did you miss a class?
(Syllabus)
(Day 1)
(Day 2)
(Day 3)
(Day 4)
(Day 5)
(Day 6)

contemporary, and more:

Young Adult Literature: The Class (Day 7) + young adult literature: the class