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Three Examples of Figurative Language in 'The Outsiders'


S.E. Hinton uses figurative language in "The Outsiders" to reveal complex issues about socioeconomics and stereotypes that plagued American youth in the 1950s. Those from the wrong side of the tracks were often seen as poor troublemakers unworthy of respect, while those on the good side faced insecurity issues. Hinton relies on figurative language to help readers understand what the characters in this coming-of-age novel faced. "The Outsiders" forces readers to dig deeper -- words mean more than they appear to say.

"Stay Gold, Ponyboy"

One of the most famous lines from "The Outsiders" is "Stay gold, Ponyboy." These were Johnny's last words to Ponyboy before Johnny died in a hospital as a result of horrible burns from a fire. The figurative language in this one line has so many deeper meanings. Ponyboy dyed his hair blond so he wouldn't be easily identified by police who were looking for him as an accomplice to murder. "Stay gold" refers to keeping his hair blond. While they were hiding together, watching the sunset, Ponyboy read to Johnny a Robert Frost poem titled "Nothing Gold Stays." Johnny says "stay gold" to remind Ponyboy to live up to his potential as a writer and to get out of his lower class neighborhood that's on the bad side of town. "Stay gold" also reveals Johnny's hopes that Ponyboy will remember the beauty and innocence of youth, even though the teen years are difficult and troubling. "Stay gold, Ponyboy" is Johnny's reassurance that everything is going to turn out OK for his friend.

"We Saw the Same Sunset"

Ponyboy says, "We saw the same sunset," as he narrates the first part of Chapter 3. Hinton uses figurative language in this line to express more than Ponyboy's fascination with real sunsets. The words reveal a deeper understanding of social status and stereotypes. Ponyboy -- a Greaser -- and Cherry -- a Soc -- have an intimate conversation as they watch the sunset. They realize that even though they have different backgrounds and come from separate neighborhoods, the sunset connects them emotionally. They both see the same sunset regardless of what clothes they wear or how wealthy they are. Ponyboy and Cherry agree that feuding between the Greasers and Socs hurts both sides, and the long-running conflicts won't end well.

"No Jazz Before the Rumble"

Hinton uses figurative language when she writes, "No jazz before the rumble." Ponyboy and his wisecracking friend Two-Bit run into some Socs at a popular teen hangout called the Tasty Freeze. The Greasers and Socs have agreed to fight that night, so Two-Bit says, "No jazz before the rumble." Two-Bit doesn't want to interact with the Socs before the big fight or get into a small scuffle at the restaurant. Because the jazz age of the 1920s is closely linked to tension and violence between blacks and whites -- two groups from very different backgrounds -- the "no jazz" phrase provides a strong figurative parallel to the struggle Greasers and Socs face in Hinton's novel. "No jazz before the rumble" means no trouble before the fight.

Purpose: Visualization

These three figurative examples in Hinton's masterpiece serve a common purpose. They are exaggerations that make the cultural and socioeconomic differences feel incredibly real. Figurative language encourages readers to sympathize and identify with the characters -- teenagers who must face situations and emotions beyond their age. The language evokes intense feelings and provides visual cues of how deep the divide between the Greasers and Socs runs. It's through imagery and word pictures that readers understand why Hinton had to use something as drastic as death to help these two groups find hope, peace and reconciliation.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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