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The Outsiders Essay, Research Paper

“The Outsiders”

Francis Ford Coppola’s film “The Outsiders” is a 1980’s melodrama, based on teenage behavior in the 1950’s. The film is about two groups of teenagers who attend the same high school and live in the same town, but lead radically different lives. One group, known as The South-Side Socials (more casually called “socs”), is the more privileged group. The second group, The Greasers, are the less privileged kids, who just so happen to live on the wrong side of town. These two groups have had rivalry against each other for many years, but on one particular night, this rivalry turns deadly as one of the greasers, Johnny, stabs and kills a soc, Bob, in defense of his friend, Pony boy Curtis. The rivalry becomes more severe on both sides after the murder; the socs’ trying to avenge the death of their friend; the greasers trying to get the town to understand that the socs’ are at fault also. Coppola’s film is a vivid depiction of how social groups can define our behavior, and how deviance and crime are viewed in relation to our social group.

In the text “Sociology in our Times: Second Edition”, A social group is defined as a collection of two or more people who interact frequently with one another, share a sense of belonging and have a feeling of interdependence. It is obvious that both the socs’ and the greasers care deeply for each member of the respective group. Towards the end of the film, as Johnny is being hospitalized for severe burns and is near death, Pony Boy tells him that he doesn’t think that he could get along with out him. These boys have formed such strong social bonds with one another that even the thought of losing one of their group causes a severe emotional reaction. An “In-group” is best defined as a group to which a person belongs with and which the person feels a sense of identity. Conversely, an “out-group” is a group in which that same person does not belong and toward which the person may feel a sense of competitiveness or hostility. In “The Outsiders,” each group clearly views the opposing group as its out-group. It was considered a more in this teenage world for a member of one group to fraternize with one from another. These feelings of group superiority, or ethnocentrism, seem to be unshakable from parties in each faction, until the death of Bob occurs. After this earth-shattering event, members of both the greasers and the socs’ start to question their behaviors. They start to come to the realization that fighting is not going to solve anything; however, at the same time they realize that no matter what “a soc will still be a soc, and a greaser will still be a greaser.”

Conformity is the process of maintaining or changing ones behavior to comply with the norms established by society or a group. Pressure to conform is a powerful thing, as demonstrated in Solomon Asch’s research (1955, 1956). In Asch’s experiment, his subjects were willing to contradict their own best judgment if the rest of the group disagreed with them. In discussing the experiment afterwards, most of the subjects who gave incorrect responses indicated that they had known the answers were wrong but decided to go along with the group in order to avoid ridicule or ostracism. This idea is prevalent in “The Outsiders” when a popular soc girl, Sherri Valence, who is known as “Cherry” because of her red hair, is seated next to Pony Boy and Johnny at the drive in theatre. Cherry and her friend, Marcia, start talking to Pony and Johnny, and start to realize that they are nice boys, at one point in the evening Cherry refers to Pony as “dreamy”. As the group is walking home from the drive in, some soc boys drive up next to Cherry, Marcia, Pony, Johnny, and 2bit and a fight begins to ensue amongst the boys. Cherry, who hates fighting, agrees to go with the soc boys in order to prevent any one getting hurt. As she is leaving the company of Pony, she pulls him aside and says

“If I see you in school and I don’t say ‘Hi’, please don’t take it personal… I mean, you’re a real nice boy and everything….”

Here it is clear, that despite Cherry’s fondness for Pony boy, she will succumb to the pressures of her social group by not talking to Pony in school. There are many instances like these involving Cherry and Pony boy through out the film. It is sad to think that two people who have feelings for one another should deny those feelings solely to avoid the ostracism of their peers. Another such instance is during the final “rumble” in the vacant lot when Derry confronts an old friend, Paul, some one whom he used to “pal around with, play ball with.” This former friend, who now belongs to the socs’ walks up to Derry and says, “Long time no see… I’ll take you” and the proceeds to punch him in the face. It is hard to believe that two people who used to be close friends are now at odds with each other because they now live on opposite sides of town.

Everyone has his or her different ideas as to what “deviance” is. The text defines deviance as any behavior, belief, or condition that violates cultural norms. This definition, however, can pose questions since individuals considered to be deviant by one group, are seen as conformists by another. This idea is prominent in our every day society, as it is in “The Outsiders.” The community sees the greasers as deviant since they dress differently, style their hair differently, and so on. From the greasers point of view, styling their hair a certain way, and dressing as they do makes them feel like part of a whole. This conformity to a certain appearance helps them to feel as though they belong in a town that is constantly trying to make them feel that they don’t. The Functionalist Perspective sees deviance as necessary in society for three reasons. It clarifies rules, unites groups, and promotes social change. These three ideals are represented in the film as well. The greasers’ so-called deviant behavior helps to unite the socs’ together by banding against the greasers; on the same token, the greasers are banded together in their oppositions to the socs. Social change begins to occur after Bobs death, when people from both sides start to see the error in their past ways. While Johnny is in the hospital, near death, Pony and Dallas come to give him the good news that the greasers beat the socs. Johnny is less than ecstatic about this victory, and his dying words are “It’s useless, fighting ain’t no good….” In a conversation between Pony and Cherry prior to the rumble, Pony makes Cherry see that they are really no different from one another by asking this question

“Can you see the sunset from the south side pretty good?”

Cherry replies “Yeah…”

Pony: “We can see it form the north side too.”

Cherry: “Thank you.”

It is clear that social change is beginning to take place, as a result of the greasers’ deviance. Another sociological aspect in the film is the Labeling Theory. This theory states that deviants are those people who are successfully labeled as such by others. One could argue that the socs’ are just as deviant as the greasers, but since the socs’ come from upper class families, they are not labeled as “troublemakers” by the local police force. Every time we see the socs’ in the film, they are drinking, or already drunk. At not one instance in the film are the greasers under the influence of any substance. Yet, it is made clear that if the police ever picks up Pony Boy, Soda Pop, or Dallas, they will be sent immediately to a boys home. This unfair advantage that the socs’ have over the greasers’ is a perfect example of the ill effects that labeling can cause.

In conclusion, Francis Ford Coppola’s film “The Outsiders,” with its brilliant cast of characters, masterfully illustrates the perils that con come from competition between groups. It illuminates the hardships that In-groups, out groups, Ethnocentrism, and conformity can cause. It shows us that human behavior, mainly deviance, is the result of the point of view you are approaching it from.


Kendall, D. Sociology in our times second edition. Wadsworth publishing; 1999.

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