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.

11 Masks That Will Keep You Safe and Stylish

Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods
Design Safe/Designer Face Covers/Its All Goods

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10 Fascinating Facts About Herman Melville

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born in New York City to a wealthy and socially connected family, Herman Melville (1819-1891) chose a life as exciting as that of his Moby-Dick narrator Ishmael. He spent years at sea on whaling ships and traveled to far-flung places, but also struggled to make it as a novelist while supporting a large extended family. To celebrate his birthday on August 1, we’re diving into Melville’s adventures and fishing for some surprising facts.

1. Herman Melville's mother changed the spelling of their last name.

Despite his family’s wealth and pedigree—his mother Maria Gansevoort descended from one of the first Dutch families in New York, and his father Allan Melvill came from old Boston stock—young Herman had an unstable, unhappy childhood. Allan declared bankruptcy in 1830 and died two years later, leaving Maria with eight children under the age of 17 and a pile of debt from loans and Allan’s unsuccessful businesses. Soon afterward, Maria added an "e" to their surname—perhaps to hide from collection agencies, although scholars are not sure exactly why. "It always seemed to me an unlikely way to avoid creditors in the early 19th century," Will Garrison, executive director of the Berkshire Historical Society, tells Mental Floss.

2. Herman Melville struggled to find employment.

Thanks to a national financial crisis in 1837, Melville had difficulty finding a permanent job, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He served as a bank clerk, teacher, land surveyor, and crew member on a packet ship before signing on, in 1841, to the whaler Acushnet of New Bedford, Massachusetts, then the whaling capital of the world. He served aboard a few different whalers and rose to the role of harpooner. His adventures at sea planted the seeds for Melville’s interrogation of man, morality, and nature in Moby-Dick. In that novel, Melville (in the voice of Ishmael) says, "A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."

3. Herman Melville jumped ship in the middle of a three-year voyage. 

Melville and the Acushnet’s captain didn’t get along, so when the ship reached the Marquesas Islands, Melville and a friend, Richard Tobias Greene, hid in the forests until the ship departed. They spent a month living with the Pacific Islanders. Melville was impressed with their sophistication and peacefulness; most Europeans believed that Polynesians were cannibals. He also found reason to criticize European attempts to "civilize" the islanders by converting them to Christianity. Melville drew on his South Pacific experiences in his first two novels, which became runaway bestsellers: Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847).

4. Herman Melville was inspired by a mountain.

Herman Melville's home, Arrowhead, in Pittsfield, MassachusettsDaderot/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Melville moved to Arrowhead, his charming mustard-colored home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with his wife Elizabeth and their son in 1850, after he achieved fame as a popular adventure novelist. In the upstairs study, he set up his writing desk so he could look out the north-facing window, which perfectly framed the summit of Mount Greylock, Massachusetts’s tallest mountain. Gazing at the peak on a sunny day, Melville was struck by how much the horizontal apex looked "like a sperm whale rising in the distance." He arranged his desk so he would see the summit when he happened to glance up from his work. In that room, in early 1851, Melville completed his manuscript of Moby-Dick.

5. Herman Melville fictionalized an actual whaling disaster.

While on the Acushnet, Melville had learned about an infamous shipwreck from the son of one of its survivors. In November 1820, a massive sperm whale had attacked and sunk the whaleship Essex of Nantucket in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Its crew, stranded in three small boats with little food or water, chose to drift more than 4000 miles to South America instead of 1200 miles to the Marquesas Islands—where Melville had enjoyed his idyll—because they thought they’d be eaten by the natives. Ironically, some of the castaways ended up eating their dead shipmates to survive.

Melville used the disaster to form the climax of Moby-Dick, in which the Pequod of Nantucket is destroyed by the white whale. Melville visited Nantucket for the first time only after the novel was published. He personally interviewed the Essex’s captain, George Pollard, who had survived the terrible ordeal and become the town’s night watchman. Later, Melville wrote, "To the islanders he was a nobody—to me, the most impressive man, tho’ wholly unassuming, even humble—that I ever encountered."

6. Moby-Dick was a flop.

Readers who were expecting another rip-roarin’ adventure like his earlier novels Typee or Redburn were sorely disappointed when Melville’s masterpiece was published in November 1851. The British edition of Moby-Dick, or The Whale received some positive reviews in London newspapers, but American reviewers were shocked at its obscure literary symbolism and complexity. “There is no method in his madness; and we must needs pronounce the chief feature of the volume [the character of Captain Ahab] a perfect failure, and the work itself inartistic,” wrote the New York Albion. The reviewer added that the novel's style was like "having oil, mustard, vinegar, and pepper served up as a dish, in place of being scientifically administered sauce-wise."

7. Herman Melville was very fond of his chimney.

Arrowhead became the locus of Melville’s family life and work. Eventually, he and Lizzie, their two sons and two daughters, his mother Maria, and his sisters Augusta, Helen, and Fanny all lived in the cozy farmhouse. For a couple of years, Nathaniel Hawthorne was such a frequent guest that he had his own small bedroom off Melville’s study. After Moby-Dick, Melville wrote the novels Pierre and The Confidence-Man, his collection of works called The Piazza Tales, short stories including “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and many other pieces there. Melville grew very attached to the house, especially to the massive central chimney, which he immortalized in his 1856 short story “I and My Chimney.” Yet his financial struggles after Moby-Dick failed to find an audience led Melville to sell Arrowhead to his brother Allan in 1863. As an homage, Allan painted a few lines from “I and My Chimney” on the chimney's stonework, which are still visible today.

8. Herman Melville finally got a day job.

Melville’s chronic money woes prompted a return to New York City, into a brick townhouse at 104 East 26th Street in Manhattan, where the family benefited from being back in the bustle of civilization. Melville finally found regular employment as a district inspector for the U.S. Customs Service and maintained an office at 470 West Street. At the same time, he mostly abandoned writing short stories and novels in favor of poetry. In between inspections he wrote Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, based on his visit to the Middle East in 1857. Because of its length—at more than 18,000 lines, it's the longest poem in American literature—and unconventional approach to its subject, Melville once called it "eminently adapted for unpopularity."

9. Herman Melville's last major work was discovered by accident.

The centennial of Melville’s birth renewed interest in his novels and poems, most of which were long out of print by then. Raymond Weaver, a literature professor at Columbia University working on the first major biography of Melville, collaborated with Eleanor Melville Metcalf, Melville’s granddaughter and literary executor, who gave him access to the author’s papers. In 1919, while poking through letters and notes, Weaver discovered the unfinished manuscript of Billy Budd in a tin breadbox. Melville had started to write the short story about a tragic sailor in 1888 but, by his death in 1891, had not completed it. Weaver edited and published the story in 1924, but initially considered the tale "not distinguished." Other scholars asserted that Billy Budd was Melville’s final masterpiece.

10. You can see Herman Melville's personal collection of knick-knacks.

Just a short drive from Arrowhead, the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield holds the world’s largest collection of Melvilliana in its Melville Memorial Room. Along with first editions of Melville’s work and a full library of books about him, there are priceless objects owned by or associated with the author. Fans can geek out over the earliest known portrait of Melville, painted in 1848; carved wooden canoe paddles that he collected in Polynesia; his walking stick; his favorite inkstand, quills, and other desktop tchotchkes; a collection of scrimshaw, maps, and prints; and Elizabeth Melville’s writing desk. There's a section of the first successful transatlantic cable, which Melville valued as a prized souvenir, and even the actual breadbox in which Billy Budd had been hiding.