12 Fascinating Facts About S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders

istock (blank book) / dell (cover)
istock (blank book) / dell (cover)

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton’s 1967 coming-of-age novel, is a staple for young readers. Even if you’ve already delved into Ponyboy’s tumultuous adolescence, you can probably still learn something about the young adult classic.

1. S. E. HINTON WROTE THE OUTSIDERS WHILE SHE WAS STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL.

Susan Eloise Hinton was only 15 when she began writing the novel and was just 17 when it was first published. Hinton felt compelled to write after she became frustrated with the lack of relatable pop culture being produced for teenagers at the time. "I'd wanted to read books that showed teenagers outside the life of ‘Mary Jane went to the prom,’" Hinton explained a 1981 interview with Seventeen. "When I couldn't find any, I decided to write one myself. I created a world with no adult authority figures, where kids lived by their own rules.”

2. RIVAL GANGS AT HINTON’S OWN HIGH SCHOOL INSPIRED THE SOCS AND THE GREASERS.

The tense divide between the upper class “Socs” (pronounced “soashes,” as in “social”) and the lower class “Greasers” at Hinton's high school was so bitter that the gangs had to enter through separate doors. Although Hinton was neither a greaser nor a Soc, the book is written from the point of view of the greaser Ponyboy in an effort to humanize the gang. However, Hinton also refrains from vilifying the Socs, a choice that reflected her belief that things are “rough all over.”

3. HINTON DIDN’T PLAN TO PUBLISH THE NOVEL.

Hinton originally wrote The Outsiders primarily for herself, but the mother of one of her friends read a draft and thought that the book deserved a wider audience. The friend’s mother contacted an agent in New York, and soon Viking Press signed Hinton for a $1000 advance.

4. HINTON USED HER INITIALS TO AVOID UNFAIR GENDER BIAS.

Viking suggested that Hinton use her initials instead of her full name due to concerns that readers and reviewers alike would automatically dismiss a book about teenage boys written by a teenage girl. The strategy worked, and as Hinton explains on her website, “I found I liked the privacy of having a ‘public’ name and a private one, so it has worked out fine."

5. THERE WAS A REASON HINTON WROTE FOR BOYS.

What drove Hinton to write from a male point of view in the first place? As she explains on her website, the initial choice reflected her own sensibility, but it was also strategic. “I started using male characters just because it was easiest. [I] was a tomboy, most of my close friends were boys, and I figured nobody would believe a girl would know anything about my subject matter. I have kept on using male characters because (1) boys have fewer books written for them, (2) girls will read boys' books, boys usually won't read girls', and (3) it is still the easiest for me.”

6. HINTON’S FIRST ROYALTY CHECK WAS FOR JUST $10.

Although The Outsiders would eventually become a huge success, it didn’t fly out of the gate. The book nearly went out of print before teachers and librarians recognized how much it resonated with young readers. To date, the book has sold more than 14 million copies.

7. THE OUTSIDERS HELPED CHANGE THE WAY SCHOOLS TAUGHT LITERATURE.

The emergence of an authentic, relatable novel helped teachers reach students who had grown bored with the use of traditional textbooks in English classes. “I remember going to American Library Association conferences and they were clamoring for something different. We realized there was a real market for books such as The Outsiders," Hinton’s longtime friend Ron Beuhl told USA Today in 2007.

8. FOLLOWING UP ON SUCH A HIT WAS HARD.

The success of The Outsiders put a lot of pressure on Hinton, and the stress initially inhibited her progress on a follow-up book. To combat this writer’s block, her then-boyfriend (and eventual husband) suggested that Hinton write just two pages a day. If she could show him that, he would take her out on a date that evening. It must have worked, because her next novel, That Was Then, This is Now, was released in 1971.

9. HINTON’S FANS CONVINCED FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA TO FILM THE NOVEL.

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 big screen adaptation helped spark the “Brat Pack” genre of the 1980s and jumpstarted the careers of “up-and-comers” like C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, and Diane Lane. But without Hinton’s passionate fans, the director might not have found the project at all. Coppola started considering filming The Outsiders after California high school students sent him a petition nominating him as the perfect director to adapt their favorite novel.

A meeting with Hinton sealed the deal for Coppola. ''When I met Susie it was confirmed to me that she was not just a young people's novelist, but a real American novelist,” the director said in a 1983 interview.

10. HINTON MAKES A CAMEO IN THE FILM.

Although Hinton did not write the screenplay, she remained closely involved in the production by serving as a location scout and even making a small cameo as a nurse. Coppola was so taken with Hinton’s charming storytelling that during filming of The Outsiders he and Hinton collaborated on an adapted screenplay for one of her other books, Rumble Fish. In the aforementioned 1983 interview, Coppola praised the author’s involvement: “Susie was a permanent member of the company. My experience with her made me realize that the notion of having a writer on the set makes a lot of sense.''

11. IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY CHALLENGED BOOKS OF THE 20TH CENTURY.

Controversial at the time of its publication for its frank portrayal of gang violence, delinquency, underage drinking and smoking, and strong language, the book continues to be challenged. It was ranked #38 on the American Library Association’s “Top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of the 90s,” and has even been banned in some schools. Thankfully, the book also has become a part of many schools’ curricula, ensuring that students will be staying gold with Ponyboy for years to come.

12. HINTON EXPLAINED ON TWITTER WHY JOHNNY AND DALLY HAD TO DIE.

The novel's climax centers on the tragic deaths of Johnny and Dally, two sympathetic Greasers caught up in the gang drama. When asked by a fan on Twitter why they had to die, Hinton showed no mercy.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Dorothy Parker

Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images
Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images

As a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table—a circle of writers that also included Harpo Marx and Robert Benchley—Dorothy Parker was renowned for her scathing wit. Here are 10 fascinating facts about the legendary wordsmith.

1. Dorothy Parker was born in New Jersey.

Dorothy Parker was born at her parents' beach cottage in Long Branch, New Jersey on August 22, 1893. She liked to say they rushed back to Manhattan after Labor Day so she could be a "true" New Yorker.

2. Dorothy Parker's mother died when she was just a child.

Parker's mother died when Dorothy was just four years old. Her father remarried two years later, but Dorothy was not a fan of her stepmother and refused to call her anything but "the housekeeper." Ouch.

3. Dorothy Parker married the same man twice.

Parker and Alan Campbell were great writing partners, but were perhaps no more than that; she often (affectionately) described him as "queer as a billy goat."

4. Dorothy Parker could be sentimental when a job called for it.

You know Parker came up with plenty of sarcastic quips and biting observations, but she also wrote some rather treacly stuff: She was an uncredited screenwriter for It's a Wonderful Life and wrote lyrics for the Bing Crosby song "I Wished on the Moon."

5. Dorothy Parker's uncle was on the Titanic.

Parker's uncle, Martin Rothschild, died in the great Titanic disaster of 1912.

6. Dorothy Parker reviewed books for The New Yorker.

Parker wrote book reviews for The New Yorker under the pseudonym "Constant Reader." She hated Winnie the Pooh and wrote of The House on Pooh Corner, "Tonstant Weader Fwowed up."

7. Dorothy Parker was tiny.

Parker might have been an enormous presence, but she was only 4'11".

8. Dorothy Parker was a staunch civil rights activist.

When Parker died in 1967, she left her entire estate to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Foundation, and then to the NAACP when King was assassinated.

9. Dorothy Parker's ashes went unclaimed for years.

While she left her money to the causes she cared about, Parker left her ashes to playwright Lillian Hellman, who never bothered to collect them. They went unclaimed for years and were passed around rather unceremoniously, spending about 17 years in her lawyer's filing cabinet. The NAACP finally claimed what was left of Ms. Parker and erected a memorial garden in her honor. You can visit her there and read what she suggested for her own epitaph: "Excuse my dust."

10. There is no shortage of great Dorothy Parker quotes.

But as a writer, I think this one might be my favorite: "I'd like to have money. And I'd like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that's too adorable, I'd rather have money."

9 Facts About The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On its surface, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a straightforward story about a boy and a runaway slave floating down the Mississippi River. But underneath, the book—which was published in the U.S. on February 18, 1885—is a subversive confrontation of slavery and racism. It remains one of the most loved, and most banned, books in American history.

1. Huckleberry Finn first appears in Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a sequel to Tom Sawyer, Twain’s novel about his childhood in Hannibal, Missouri. Huck is the “juvenile pariah of the village” and “son of the town drunkard,” Pap Finn. He wears cast-off adult clothes and sleeps in doorways and empty barrels. Despite this, the other children “wished they dared to be like him.” Huck also appears in Tom Sawyer, Detective, and Tom Sawyer Abroad.

2. Huckleberry Finn may be based on Mark Twain's childhood friend.

Twain once said that Huck is based on Tom Blankenship, a childhood friend whose father, Woodson Blankenship, was a poor drunkard and the likely model for Pap Finn. “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was,” Twain wrote in Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1: The Complete and Authoritative Edition. “He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had." However, Twain may be exaggerating here. In 1885, when the Minneapolis Tribune asked who Huck was based on, Twain said it was no single person: “I could not point you out the youngster all in a lump; but still his story is what I call a true story.”

3. It took Mark Twain seven years to write the book.

Huckleberry Finn was written in two short bursts. The first was in 1876, when Twain wrote 400 pages that he told his friend he liked “only tolerably well, as far as I have got, and may possibly pigeonhole or burn” the manuscript. He stopped working on it for several years to write The Prince and the Pauper and Life on the Mississippi. In 1882, Twain took a steamboat ride on the Mississippi from New Orleans to Minnesota, with a stop in Hannibal, Missouri. It must have inspired him, because he dove into finishing Huckleberry Finn.

“I have written eight or nine hundred manuscript pages in such a brief space of time that I mustn’t name the number of days,” Twain wrote in August 1883. “I shouldn’t believe it myself, and of course couldn’t expect you to.” The book was published in 1884.

4. Like Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain’s view on slavery changed.

Huck, who grows up in the South before the Civil War, not only accepts slavery, but believes that helping Jim run away is a sin. The moral climax of the novel is when Huck debates whether to send Jim’s owner a letter detailing Jim’s whereabouts. Finally, Huck says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell,” and tears the letter up.

As a child, Twain didn’t question the institution of slavery. Not only was Missouri a slave state, but his uncle owned 20 slaves. In Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1, Twain wrote, “I vividly remember seeing a dozen black men and women chained to one another, once, and lying in a group on the pavement, awaiting shipment to the Southern slave market. Those were the saddest faces I have ever seen.” At some point, Twain’s attitudes changed and he married into an abolitionist family. His father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, was a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad and helped Frederick Douglass escape from slavery.

5. Emmeline Grangerford is a parody of a Victorian poetaster.

Huckleberry Finn parodies adventure novels, politics, religion, the Hatfields and the McCoys, and even Hamlet’s soliloquy. But most memorable may be the character of Emmeline Grangerford, the 15-year-old poet. Emmeline is a parody of Julia A. Moore, the “Sweet Singer of Michigan,” who wrote bad poetry about death. So does Emmeline, according to Huck: “Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her ‘tribute’ before he was cold. She called them tributes.” Along with bad poetry, Emmeline paints “crayons” of dramatic subjects, such as a girl “crying into a handkerchief” over a dead bird with the caption, "I Shall Never Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas."

6. Many consider Huckleberry Finn the first American novel.

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn ,” Ernest Hemingway wrote in Green Hills Of Africa. “There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since." While this statement ignores great works like Moby-Dick and The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn was notable because it was the first novel to be written in the American vernacular. Huck speaks in dialect, using phrases like “it ain’t no matter” or "it warn’t no time to be sentimentering.” Since most writers of the time were still imitating European literature, writing the way Americans actually talked seemed revolutionary. It was language that was clear, crisp, and vivid, and it changed how Americans wrote.

7. Many people consider the end of the book to be a bit of a cop-out.

A major criticism of Huckleberry Finn is that the book begins to fail when Tom Sawyer enters the novel. Up until that point, Huck and Jim have developed a friendship bound by their mutual plight as runaways. We believe Huck cares about Jim and has learned to see his humanity. But when Tom Sawyer comes into the novel, Huck changes. He becomes passive and doesn’t even seem to care when Jim is captured. To make matters worse, it turns out that Jim’s owner has already set him free, and that Huck’s abusive dad is dead. Essentially, Huck and Jim have been running away from nothing. Many critics, including American novelist Jane Smiley, believe that by slapping on a happy ending, Twain was ignoring the complex questions his book raises.

8. The book is frequently banned.

Huckleberry Finn was first banned in Concord, Massachusetts in 1885 (“trash and suitable only for the slums”) and continues to be one of the most-challenged books. The objections are usually over the n-word, which occurs over 200 times in the book. Others say that the portrayal of African Americans is stereotypical, racially insensitive, or racist. In 2011, Stephen Railton, a professor at the University of Virginia, published a version of the book that replaced that offending word with slave. Soon after appeared The Hipster Huckleberry Finn, where the word was replaced with hipster. The book's description says, “the adventures of Huckleberry Finn are now neither offensive nor uncool.”

9. Twain had some thoughts about the book's censorship.

In 1905, the Brooklyn Public Library removed Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer from the shelves because, as a librarian wrote to Twain, Huck is “a deceitful boy who said 'sweat' when he should have said 'perspiration.'" Here’s Twain’s reply :

DEAR SIR: I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean; I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady—she will tell you so. Most honestly do I wish I could say a softening word or two in defense of Huck's character, since you wish it, but really in my opinion it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan, and the rest of the sacred brotherhood. If there is an unexpurgated Bible in the Children's Department, won't you please help that young woman remove Huck and Tom from that questionable companionship?

Sincerely yours, S. L. Clemens

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

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