Susan Eloise Hinton was born in the 1950s in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a place that she describes as “a pleasant place to live if you don’t want to do anything.” She began The Outsiders at the age of fifteen, inspired by her frustration with the social divisions in her high school and the lack of realistic fiction for high school readers. The Outsiders, first published in 1967, tells the story of class conflict between the greasers, a group of low-class youths, and the Socs (short for Socials), a group of privileged rich kids who live on the wealthy West Side of town. The novel broke ground in the genre of Young Adult fiction, transcending established boundaries in its portrayal of violence, class conflict, and prejudice.
Hinton’s publishers decided that Hinton should publish her novel under the name S. E. Hinton in order to cloak her gender. They worried that readers would not respect The Outsiders, which features male protagonists and violent situations, if they knew a female wrote it. Hinton has said that she does not mind using an authorial name that is gender neutral.
The language and details of the novel root the story in the sixties. Characters call fights “rumbles,” and people listen to the Beatles and Elvis Presley. The novel is set in the Southwest, as evidenced by the fact that many greasers ride in local rodeos. Despite its location in a specific time and place, however, the novel is remarkable for its ability to transcend location. The Outsiders examines the universal urge to form factions, compete, and unite for survival. With only a few minor cosmetic changes, the novel could easily take place in a contemporary setting. This fact has given it universal appeal for the last few decades.
Hinton attempts to humanize the greasers, the outsiders of the story’s title, by showing that their exterior toughness masks vulnerability and emotion. She makes both the greasers and the Socs sympathetic and refuses to cast blame on one group over the other. As one character tells another, “Things are rough all over.”
After the publication of her first novel, Hinton felt pressure to turn out a successful sophomore effort. She had difficulty writing under this stress, and her boyfriend (who later become her husband) nudged her along by taking her out only if she had completed two pages per day. Hinton successfully finished her second novel, titled That Was Then, This is Now, published in 1971. In all, she has written eight novels for young adults. The Outsiders is Hinton’s best-selling novel. A film version of the novel, starring C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, and Ralph Macchio, was released in 1983.