Adaptations Day - The Outsiders

Steve Taylor-Bryant remembers the book, the film, and the people that basically made him who he is today. The Outsiders, adapted from S.E. Hinton's story...

A lot went against me as a child in education. I grew up and went to school a few years before dyslexia was a recognised condition so there were many years of struggle that put me behind those kids that took to reading and writing easily, don’t believe me? Ask our editor who has to make these articles legible for you good folk to read. I was also, due to my date of birth, almost a complete school year away from where I should have been. My mid-August birth meant I left school as a 15 year old, still some months from the 16 of my friends, and I honestly believe that had I just come into the year below's catchment I would have left with better grades than I got. I also, due to being the child of a man in the British Forces, went to 3 primary schools and 3 secondary schools, so found fitting in, and garnering relationships with both children and faculty difficult. The teachers never got to see how my charm and natural wit would get me through life, instead concentrating on the fact I couldn’t read proper innit. Except one. Miss Pierce, the English teacher through my GCSE’s that recognised I had issues, recognised it was probably too late to have any massive impact on my education, but made sure I was as well equipped for my studies as could be. If the literature we all had to read was beyond me then she would find a way to make the projects accessible. Luckily for me Class of 1991’s English Literature coursework was on S.E. Hinton’s marvellous The Outsiders. Luckily? Yes indeedy (that’s a word) as Francis Ford Coppola had made a film, I had heard of its stars and so homework all of a sudden stopped being a chore.

For those who don’t remember or didn’t study The Outsiders (I’m led to believe by an American friend of mine that it is staple in the education system over there, albeit for kids slightly younger than I was when I studied it) S. E. Hinton’s tale is thus…

The Outsiders is about two weeks in the life of a 14-year-old boy. The novel tells the story of Ponyboy Curtis and his struggles with right and wrong in a society in which he believes that he is an outsider.

Ponyboy and his two brothers — Darrel (Darry), who is 20, and Sodapop, who is 16 — have recently lost their parents in a car accident. Pony and Soda are allowed to stay under Darry's guardianship as long as they all behave themselves. The boys are greasers, the young men on the East Side, the poor side of town. The greasers' rivals are the Socs, short for Socials, who are the "West-side rich kids."

The story opens with Ponyboy walking home alone from a movie when he is stopped by a gang of Socs who beat him up, injuring him. However, some of his own gang happen upon the scene and run the Socs off. This incident sets the tone for the rest of the story, because a fight between these two groups needs no provocation.

The next night Pony and two other gang members, Dallas Winston (Dally) and Johnny Cade, go to a drive-in movie. There they meet Sherri (Cherry) Valance and her friend Marcia, who have left their Soc boyfriends at the drive-in because the boys were drinking. Dally leaves after giving the girls a hard time, but another greaser, Two-Bit Mathews, joins them and the boys offer to walk the girls home after the movie. Along the way, the girls' boyfriends reappear and threaten to fight the greasers but Cherry stops the fight and the girls leave with their boyfriends.

Pony and Johnny go to a vacant lot to hang out before heading home. They fall asleep, and when Johnny wakes Pony up it's 2 a.m. Pony runs home, because the time is way past his curfew, and Darry is waiting up. Darry is furious with Pony and, in the heat of the moment, he hits him. Pony runs out of the house and returns to the lot to find Johnny. Pony wants to run away, but instead they go to the park to cool off before heading back home.

At the park, Cherry's and Marcia's boyfriends reappear and this time there is nobody around to stop the fight...

The gang element of the story had me instantly hooked, I genuinely felt like I was on the outside most of my childhood anyway so the thought of a story that may hold some significance for me was exciting. I ran home with my borrowed VHS copy of Coppola’s film and instantly hit play. Astonishing isn’t quite the word but I cannot find the correct terminology for the range of feelings and emotions I had after the closing credits rolled that first time. I had just watched what I believed then to be a perfect film. Whilst by 1990 and into 1991 I was familiar with the work of the cast, I could really get behind how much of a massive impact this film had been in launching their careers. I too was impacted. I hadn’t spent a lot of time with coming of age stories, preferring action adventure films and not being the world’s biggest reader anyway, so watching a film from the perspective a child not that dissimilar in age to myself was a fascinating experience and gave me insights that I now pick up in books and films quite quickly that I don't think I’d have got if I hadn’t been so swept along by the story in The Outsiders. I wanted to analyse this film, I wanted to be express my opinion in words, I wanted the world to know what Coppola, the cast and Hinton had created and how much of a boost it had been to my self esteem to finally find a project that made me forget I struggled with writing and just made me put words on a page.

In these articles you are supposed to say why you enjoyed the adaptation, how it differed from the source material, and all that gubbins (another real word), but I can’t do that. Whilst I eventually overcame many difficulties with my reading, and in later life managed to improve my educational stature, I never did finish the book. My entire GCSE was based on the film. I got a D by the way, and you have never met a child so happy to receive that grade as I was. When you consider how bad I was at the start of that two year exam period, and how many F’s or Ungraded’s I was predicted, honestly for me that D was the equivalent of any A* my children will get. The film is a must watch for so many reasons. The cast in their early roles, the story, the cinematography, the soundtrack, pick your reason, but you’ll never have the respect I have for it, you’ll never experience any chance you had of a better life balancing on the edge of a film about teenage boys fighting. So there is many thanks I owe for the man I have become. My mother, who tirelessly fought the education system to get me tested, Miss Pierce without whom I doubt I’d be able to write let alone actually be a writer, Francis Ford Coppola and the cast for producing an hour and a half’s worth of magic that inspired a fourteen year old boy to greater things. But my main thanks goes to Susan Eloise Hinton for hiding her name behind initials, for being a seventeen year old girl with a story to tell, for sitting behind a typewriter and producing the words that inspired the film adaptation that inspired me to get a better life. And a thank you for Rumble Fish. I may never have finished my dog eared copy of The Outsiders (which if you’re reading this I promise I will do it this year) but I did complete Rumble Fish and that novel is stunning, but maybe we’ll talk about that another time.

Image - IMDb.

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