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Why Juveniles Commit Crimes in The Outsiders

Updated on January 31, 2015
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton | Source

The Outsiders

Everybody has heard of The Outsiders. Whether you were forced to read it in school or saw the popular 1983 film, the rivalry between Socs and Greasers has lasted for ages. However, The Outsiders isn't just a fun book. It contains darker themes, and it explores why teens might commit serious crimes, some of which are listed below.

Dally Winston, from the 1983 The Outsiders film.
Dally Winston, from the 1983 The Outsiders film. | Source

Dally Winston

In The Outsiders, Ponyboy's life is filled with lawbreakers and felons. While most of them are good people, it is undeniable that they have all committed serious crimes for various reasons. One example of this is found in Dallas Winston. Dally was from the rough streets of New York, and he was first arrested at the age of ten. In the book, Dally states that he doesn't care about his parents; this hints that he probably had trouble at home, providing the impetus for his first breaking of the law. That experience at a tender age hardened him, and he stopped caring about arrests and trouble afterwards. After sinking into the lawless world of convicts, Dally also needed to seem tough in order to maintain his reputation. A soft, kind person would not survive in the street environment. Each law broken meant higher esteem, and higher esteem meant a better chance of survival.

Johnny Cade, played by Ralph Macchio.
Johnny Cade, played by Ralph Macchio. | Source

Johnny Cade

Just like how Dally became a hoodlum for survival, Johnny's crime also had to do with his will to live. Much like Dally, Johnny grew up in a troubled household. His father beat him, and his mother would yell at him. While this treatment numbed Dally, Johnny became fearful and nervous. This skittishness was increased by his beating from the Socs. When his attackers found him again and set about drowning his friend, Johnny acted for survival. He scared off the assailant by killing the person he feared most: Bob.

Bob Sheldon

Bob, before his death, was another example of the crimes that teens commit. His parents never taught him the regulations of life; instead, he was left free to go on a lawbreaking rampage around the city, mugging and jumping Greasers. Rather than punish their son for his recalcitrant behavior, they believed that it was their own fault. If Bob's family had held a tighter leash on his actions, he may have lived a long, respectful life. Instead, the beatings he handed out came back around and left him lying lifeless on cold ground.

Shared Vices

While not all Socs and Greasers come to an end like to Bob's, they do have at least one vice in common: both social groups have a tendency towards cigarettes and alcohol. Throughout the novel, Ponyboy repeatedly mentions that he would like a cigarette, despite his youth. Many of his friends, such as Two-Bit, also talk about their plans to become drunk for the night. In the case of the Socs, Bob and Randy were both drunk in the hours leading to Bob's murder. In an intoxicated state, the boys would not be capable of rational thoughts. This would inevitably lead to drunken fights and petty, unplanned crimes.

Many juveniles grow up in circumstances similar to those found in The Outsiders.
Many juveniles grow up in circumstances similar to those found in The Outsiders. | Source

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The Outsiders in the Real World

Criminal impulses are not limited to books. Many real life statistics, pulled from ACS Distance Education, concur with the motivations above. The website says that 64% of serious offenders were involved with delinquent friends or acquaintances. Of persistent offenders, 47% had poor parental supervision. These facts could be compared to the Greasers, where the majority of the people are some kind of thug, hoodlum, or convict. Also, Socs like Bob would fall under the poor parental supervision category.

A child's position in their family is a contributing factor to their criminal tendencies as well, according to Joseph A. Wickliffe. It is their family that “exerts the most influence on a human being. Any severe disturbance in one or both parents can produce a devastating negative impact on a juvenile” (Joseph A Wickliffe, 1). Children who grow up in broken homes, where at least one parent has a disturbance in their life, have a higher chance of becoming juvenile delinquents. Dally is a fine specimen of this situation's results. He became hard and bitter in order to protect himself from the hurt of his family and the world.

In addition to family situations, Novelguide shows that poverty also has a heavy impact on a teen's possible crime future. Most Greasers are poor, and that must turn them resentful and vitriolic. In the book, Ponyboy has a segment where he bemoans the unfairness of life. One of his complaints is that poverty falls on his loved ones, forcing them to give up their dreams of education and a better career. A teen could easily become caustic in a position this hard, and they would most likely lead a life of crime.

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Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders,. New York: Viking, 1967. Print.

"Reasons for Juvenile Crime." Novelguide. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

"Why Do Youths Commit Crime, Teenage Crime Risk Factors." Why Do Youths Commit Crime, Teenage Crime Risk Factors. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

Wickliffe, Joseph A. "00.02.07: Why Juveniles Commit Crimes." 00.02.07: Why Juveniles Commit Crimes. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.


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