Guest post by Patrice Persad:

Fraternal fellowship, especially when it is displayed, among the Curtis brothers in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders is why the novel is one of my favorites. Of course, in Outsiders fanfiction, many stories feature the fraternal bond—if not among the Curtis brothers then among the greaser gang. Consequently, there are the other pieces—the “sister fics” (where one of the boys who are only children suddenly have a sister or where the Curtis brothers become the Curtis siblings) and fanfiction in which lesser known female characters in canon are magnified and become the protagonists; one could compare the latter fics to Stoppard’s Rosencranz and Guilderstein Are Dead. Fanfiction is where a writer can construct tunnels from and build secret passageways in the creator’s infrastructure; it is where canon’s reality is reengineered in the fanfiction writer’s words. However, with Outsiders fanfiction that trains specifically on female characters, the presence of fraternal fellowship, like in canon, still eclipses the kinship among females and the overall female influence.

I have come to conclude that in canon female characters are:
1) dead (Mrs. Curtis).

2) serve mostly as potential partners in a non-platonic relationship (Sandy, Cherry Valance, and Angela Shepard).

3) supposedly so minor to the plot that they are mentioned in passing (Keith ‘Two-Bit” Mathews’ mother and sister).

Females in the novel are the true outsiders. I understand that the novel is set during the 1960s when females did not have as many opportunities now. (But, then, was not the 1960s the time of the second wave of feminism?) We hardly see the sisterly bond among female greasers and socs because the book is clearly not focused or does not intend to focus on them; it chronicles certain events from Ponyboy’s life. (After all, at his age, the reader learns than he is not into girls.) The most important sustenance he is given is that from fraternal fellowships among his blood brothers and adoptive brethren—particularly in the loss of a maternal figure, Mrs. Curtis, and a paternal figure, Mr. Curtis.

In fanon, even though original female characters (OFCs), which are female characters fabricated by the fanfiction writer, or even though those female figures in the canonical background are placed in the foreground, they still come off as outsiders. Fanon, even if the sister fics can be labeled as alternate universe (AU) pieces, reflects canon in this aspect.

Several scenarios in fanon follow:

1) the sister or twin sister (who may be named Nutmeg, Orange Blossom, or Licorice as in the tradition of the younger Curtis’ unique names) is a non-platonic interest for a canon character.

2) as a narrator, the female sibling/friend/acquaintance merely accompanies the boys on adventures instead of being a dynamic actor (i.e, a tag along).

3) the female is used as leverage against a gang member.

I suppose Cherry Valence is the only saving grace for females in canon. However, in fanon, she reverts to being a romantic interest for one of the boys (Ponyboy or the resurrected Dallas Winston). It is as if these characters are in the spotlight, but they are stagnant—frozen in function or purpose to just act for themselves.

I cannot help but describe the female’s role in both fanon and canon by referring to Rembrandt van Rijn’s painting Night Watch. There is a canon Outsiders character who Ponyboy briefly thinks about: a girl who he thought looked good in yellow. Now, in the painting, there is a girl who is illuminated in bright light. She looks straight at the viewer, and she is dressed in garments—an ornate dress—of a light hue, which could possibly be yellow. Even though she is highlighted by a light source, the viewer—well, I—cannot help but shift his—my—eyes to the surrounding sixteen male officers of the militia group—particularly on the captain and lieutenant who are in the foreground. Most of the officers are in the shadows or dark, but the viewer finds his attention drawn to them.

I apologize for throwing in a bit of seventeenth century art with my musings, but I do have a point. In Night Watch, there is only one female figure. In fanon, an OFC or canon female is disconnected from other females. She is surrounded by mostly male characters in which the fraternal bond is featured, so there is hardly any development for the female bonding, sorority, along with little emphasis on non-platonic relationships with the other male greasers.

I hope that I do not sound like I am belting out Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox’s Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves, but, if Outsiders female characters in fanon and canon are certainly doing something for themselves, they are not fully acknowledged in the male-dominated world of The Outsiders. And, if these females are not, then how can the fanfiction reader come to care about them as much as he does for the Curtis brothers and the rest of the gang?

[META] Outsiders in Hisland
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4 thoughts on “[META] Outsiders in Hisland

  • 16/09/2011 at 14:39

    “How can the fanfiction reader come to care about them as much as he does for the Curtis brothers and the rest of the game?” (Emphasis mine.)

    As much as he does? Male as the default, as well as male pronouns used to mean both genders, erases women and people who don’t fit the gender binary.

    This is a great start at discussing a pervasive problem in fandom-in-general, not just Outsiders fandom. I’m a little frustrated, though, because it seems like you don’t know of ways to resolve the problem in fandom, and it seems like the people who have tried to in Outsiders fandom haven’t done so to your satisfaction.

    There are people in other fandoms – often women, though not always – who are aware of the dominance of men in books and other media sources and who have spent a considerable amount of time and effort to develop fanworks that put the women front and center, in the primary, active role. It would be nice to see the efforts of people like myself and many of my friends acknowledged, not considered “not good enough.”

    (Also: “Females.” I usually see women being referred to as “females” by people who don’t like women very much. Which I’m assuming is not the case with you, as you just wrote about the lack of representation of women as a problem. “Female character” is okay, but “females” is generally…not on.)

    • 16/09/2011 at 21:03

      Thank you for your interest in my essay and your constructive criticisms. I have tried to address all of your comments to the best of my ability and knowledge.

      1) I did not know my usage of the term “females” would be considered offensive. Usage of “female characters” in lieu of wherever “females” is written seemed a bit redundant, or repetitious with “female characters” appearing in almost every other sentence, to me, but, honestly, I suppose my incorporation of “females” stems from a scientific background in which for the human species there are the biological terms “male” and ‘female” as indicators of sex or assignment of sex. (Notice that I did not type “gender.”) Since Outsiders female characters are of differing ages, I did not want to use “girls,” “women,” or “young ladies” as a collective term for these characters, so, thus, “females” was selected.

      2) Not all Outsiders fanfiction and fanfiction writers represent female characters as I have listed. I do acknowledge that writers can create and have created OFCs of strength and substantial character development. It is just that a majority of “sister fics,” fics with OFCs, and those with female characters from canon—not every fic—that I have read failed to highlight sorority among females characters or the female character in a leadership role. If you have written any fanfiction in which female characters play a significant role as dynamic actors in the midst of the male dominated Outsiders domain, then I would be happy if you could share the links to such written stories. I did not mean to insinuate lack of acknowledgment with inadequacy. I refrained from listing and describing specific fics because I would have needed to secure permission from such authors to do so. This is a downfall on my part.

      3) It is true that my intent was to just focus on one of my observations of fanon in this essay. If I were writing a series of essays on this topic, then I would definitely offer solutions and cite a multitude of fanfiction pieces upon gaining consent from writers.

      4) I am aware of my use of “his” or “he” as a default for the general reader. It was a struggle to use masculine pronouns, especially in my description of Night Watch, to represent the reader/viewer whose identity is unknown as the masculine forms do not apply to me personally. I guess I left it in to illustrate the patriarchal marks, or shadows of machismo, that language (not just the English language but of conventions in other languages as well) can leave on the writer and how it can potentially influence the writer to unconsciously deemphasize the female individual on the whole in reality and fanon.

  • 17/09/2011 at 22:27

    “The Outsiders” has always had a special place in my heart, as it’s set in my hometown and was written by an author (who is a woman, actually) also from my hometown!

    I don’t know why it never occurred to me to look for fan fiction for this canon, but of course it would have to exist! Wow. You’ve intrigued me.

    I can certainly see where fan writers who were interested in putting female characters at front and center in the mid sixties, male-gang dominated world of the “The Outsiders” would have to be writing very tangentially to canon — the world of the book is totally focused on the white boys (as much or more than Lord of the Rings, come to think of it….), and so whatever emphasis the female characters, original or canon, would have would have to be bestowed on them by fan writers and not by hewing to canon. As you say. And I don’t remember any characters of color at all in this book, but my memory may be faulty. I read it way before I was aware of social justice issues in fiction or fan fiction.

    I did read the book numerous times as a young person, and have only good memories of Cherry, but you’ve made me want to seek out the fan fiction. And see what it’s like.

    But I’ve never thought about “The Outsiders” in this context before — a fan fiction context. The book was so overwhelmingly about the male characters, that I guess my instinct would be to search out a different canon entirely in order to find a foregrounded, active, protagonist who was female. Is that a copout? Perhaps.

    Thanks for making me think about this beloved book in a new way.

    • 18/09/2011 at 18:03

      I really appreciate your comments, and I am glad that my piece offered some enlightenment for you!

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