In order for students to understand S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders completely, they must understand the music of the time and how it relates to the novel’s main characters. In the novel, different groups of characters emerge and Hinton distinguishes these groups by associating them with musicians of the time. She realtes The Beatles to the Socs, Elvis Presley to the Greasers, and Hank Williams, Sr. to a rougher subculture of Greasers. Unfortunately, many students are not familiar enough with these early popular music artists to grasp Hinton’s use of them in her novel. Therefore, in this lesson, students will gain an understanding of these and other musicians and how they relate to the novel’s themes of forbidden love, friendship, and social ostracism.
Students will be able to:
- Recognize themes in The Outsiders and popular music.
- Recognize social ostracism in their own lives.
- Recognize different genres of popular music.
This lesson is designed for middle school students (seventh and eighth grade) reading S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders. However, it could be used with younger or older students reading a similar text.
In order to promote healthy class discussion, this lesson should be completed in roughly three fifty-minute class periods.
The lyrics and recordings of selected recordings; copies of S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders; a modified version of Paul Friedlander’s Rock Window*
For this lesson to be most effective, students should have read nearly half of the novel. At that point, they will be able to recognize the themes of forbidden love, friendship, and social ostracism. Biographical information from the Rock and Roll HaIl of Fame website (http://www.rockhall.com) should be shared on Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Hank Williams, Sr., Bob Dylan, and The Who. Also, the phrase “social ostracism” should be defined and discussed with students.
- “Heartbreak Hotel”: Discuss this song using the modified Rock Window. Discuss how this song relates to the theme of forbidden love in The Outsiders, specifically concerning Cherry and Ponyboy. Discuss why the Greasers might relate to Elvis Presley.
- “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”: Discuss this song using the modified Rock Window. Discuss how this song might relate to the theme of forbidden love in The Outsiders, specifically concerning Cherry and Ponyboy. Discuss why the Socs might relate to The Beatles.
- “I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry”: Discuss this song using the modified Rock Window. Discuss how this song might relate to the theme of social ostracism in The Outsiders, specifically concerning the Greasers. Discuss why the Greasers might relate to Hank Williams, Sr.
- “Two of Us”: Discuss this song using the modified Rock Window. Discuss how this song might relate to the theme of friendship in The Outsiders, specifically concerning Ponyboy and Johnny.
- “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”: Discuss this song using the modified Rock Window. Discuss this song in relation to The Outsiders. Would the Socs or the Greasers relate to this song?
- “My Generation”: Discuss this song using the modified Rock Window. Discuss this song in relation to The Outsiders. Would the Socs or the Greasers relate to this song?
In small groups, students are to select three modern songs. One of these three songs must relate to the theme of forbidden love, another to the theme of social ostracism, and a third to the theme of friendship. Lyrics to these songs are to be submitted with an essay explaining how the songs relate to the themes and to The Outsiders. If class time is available, students could present their songs and rationale to the class.
“Heartbreak Hotel” recorded by Elvis Presley (Elvis Presley the Number One Hits, RCA, 1987) written by Axton, Durden, and Presley, Sony/ATV Songs LLC (Tree).
“You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” recorded by The Beatles (Help!, Capitol,1965). Written by Lennon and McCartney, EMI UNART Catalog, Inc.; Sony/ATV Songs LLC (Maclen SP).
“I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry” recorded by Hank Williams, Sr. (20 of Hank Williams Greatest Hits, Mercury, 1997). Written by Hank Williams, Acuff Rose Music, Inc./ Hiriam Music.
“Two of Us” recorded by The Beatles (Let It Be, Capitol, 1970) written by Lennon and McCartney, Sony/ATV Songs LLC (Maclen SP).
“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” recorded by Bob Dylan (The Freewheelin’, Columbia, 1963) written by Dylan.
“My Generation” recorded by The Who (Who’s Better, Who’s Best, MCA, 1988) written by Peter Townshend and Dennis Blandfo, Devon Music Inc., Fabulous Music Ltd., Westminster Music Ltd.
Rock and Roll: A Social History by Paul Friedlander
Rock and Roll: An Unruly History by Robert Palmer
Grand Rapids, MI
Modified Rock Window
a. Ensemble: What instruments are present?
b. Rhythmic Emphasis: What is the dominant beat? What instrument or instruments carry this beat?
c. Vocal Style: What words would you use to describe the vocal delivery?
d. Instrumental Solo: Is there an instrumental solo? If so, what instrument?
a. What are the song’s major themes? Does it tell a story?
b. Is there an explicit or underlying political or cultural message?
III ARTIST’S HISTORY
What are the important elements of the artist’s personal history and career that enhance your understanding of the music?
IV SOCIETAL CONTEXT
How did the surrounding political and cultural climates influence the artists and their work?
Which elements of the artist’s live performances and public actions or behavior provide us with a clearer understanding of the music itself?
**A “rock window” is a concept for analyzing popular music in context. To engage your students in looking at popular music through a rock window, have your students describe the following for one song or performance: song title, date recorded/performed, artist(s), background of artist, topic of lyrics, formal/stylistic musical characteristics, formal/stylistic characteristics of lyrics, central message of the song lyrics, historical context at time of recording/performance, connection of song to issues at time of recording/performance. It may be useful to create a chart or worksheet to assist students in examining the song and its contexts in a step-by-step fashion.