Inside the Outsiders

By G. P. Avants 

I am reading the book, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton for the first time as an adult. How did I miss this wonderful story the whole time I was a high school student? Coming from a broken home I would have really related to the struggles that Ponyboy, Johnny and the whole East side greaser gang experienced. (I now know the reference that I heard in the movie Walter Mitty when a fisher man told Walter to, “Stay golden, Pony boy!” 

Ponyboy Curtis is not your typical hoodlum. He is called a greaser because of his hair, his dress, and his lifestyle, but that’s really where the gang life ends. He is an artist, very connected with friends and family, a good student and an avid reader. How he connects with different people in the gang such as Johnny Cade is key to his character. There are bonds of friendship that comes from being part of club, gang, community, or even going through a shared experience. We see through his eyes even how to relate to the opposite sex, even when girls like Cherry Valance are part of the Socs, the rival rich kid gang. They have more in common, by not fitting the mold that each polarized group embodies.  Ask them both about watching sunsets and you might get a smile out of them both.

But Ponyboy’s family is the focus of this blog. You see a few years earlier, both his mom and dad died. I am still in Chapter 9 as I am writing this so I am not sure how they died. Maybe that will be explained later. However his older brother Darrel or Darry and his middle brother, Soda Pop (that isn’t a nickname) have assumed the role as his parents.  Darry is tough on his brother Ponyboy. As a young twenty something, has taken on the role as dad. That created a strain on their relationship until Ponyboy understood that Darry loved and was concerned about his brother. That is why he set boundaries, demanded a bed time, and got in his business on a regular basis. Soda on the other hand, understood the emotional needs of Ponyboy. He was more sensitive to his nightmares, worries, and fears. Soda was the listening ear, the tender words, the giver of hugs and affection. In their home Ponyboy got the love of a father and mother through two brothers who both adapted to fill those needful roles at just the right time. 

What’s funny is that these are all rough and tough gang members. However, they are real people, too. They understand how a family works even when some of the pieces appear broken or missing. I have said this before that people are two-dimensional simple and predictable cookie cutter machines. They are rather three-dimensional complicated and unique people, who unlike machines, run better when they are broken. 

They adapt to their situations no matter where they are in the world or what situation they have found themselves placed. 

Is that how God designed people to be? I am not a believer in evolution, which states men, animals and plants, change from one form to another. However, I do believe in the idea of adaptation. That is the idea that we are designed with bodies that change to allow us to survive in certain climates and conditions. Because of situations that arise even in a family people have to assume roles that they were not made for. It may be for a short time or for an extended period, but they fill a place that needs an occupant. I can see this is hard homes where compassion is needed. There is one who takes that role and meets that need in order to keep that family from being incomplete. When that role is finished or the situation changes, that person adapts to the role that they are called to next or maybe the one designed for them. In an imperfect and fallen world lots of people are moved into roles that someone else has vacated due to divorce, death, or just plain neglect. 

I might be going out on a limb, but that is where some creative people who care deeply for the welfare of others might be labeled for a role they assume in the adaptation process. A daughter might have to assume the role of support when father or brother are absent. A son might have to be the compassionate one when the mother who has passed or is ill can’t care for the family as they once did. Young people who are still at home might have learned adaptation skills that will change when they assume the roles that they will eventually take on in their own homes. Some of those adaptation skills change and others wonderfully complement others skills in the unique new family they will still into. 

My  mom and dad broke up when I was fourteen. Without my dad always present I learned how to be more kind to my siblings. You could say that I totally understood the quiet compassion of Soda Pop. I did battle emotionally because people did try and slap a label on me. However, I knew who I was and that guys do have emotions that many never learned how to use until later in their lives. Here’s what I think is cool. The Lord knew that I would be part of a blended family. I married a lady who had two young boys. They came from a very dysfunctional family where a lot of anger, emotional damage, and verbal abuse was common. I think the Lord knew the patience, kindness, and compassion I had learned really helped to heal many of the hurts my new family had experienced. Even though it has taken years to see the boys come out under that dark cloud of hurt, they are seeing how God designed relationships as they too have begun their own. It’s all about being compliant to the right One in your life and let Him move, adjust, and prepare you for whatever you will face in life. That way you really will stay golden in all the places of your life. 


  1. How wonderful that you can now see your own difficult circumstances as a blessing, because you were able to use your experience to help your sons. In the alchemy of grace, he takes dross and makes gold. Insightful post, Gary!

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