Sunday, 7 February 2010

Oklahoma - The Outsiders

I've probably spent far too long on Oklahoma but, it's my starting point for the US and, in terms of the wealth of information that is easily accessible, books, music, news, radio - I have a lot more options compared to smaller cultures like Kiribati or Lesotho. Plus, everything is accessible to me in English.

I've often thought it would be a good idea to set up a publishing company that would translate books from English into smaller languages (like i-Kiribati and Sesotho) and vice versa. Living in Uzbekistan, although a lot of foreign books had a Russian edition, there was a dearth of new novels being published in Uzbek or Tajik. I think there is a danger of creating a cultural elite in the world, for those who speak world languages. It also undermines lesser-spoken languages to have such intense competition from the major world languages.

English readers also lose out in return - in each of the countries I've mentioned, you'd be hard pushed to get your hands on any recent novels from their most famous writers. Before you say it, I think it's patronising to assume that people in the Third World don't have time to read. Also, being a well-known writer should never be a perk of growing up in the West.

Anyway, back to Oklahoma. I've read so many American novels in the past that you would think it would be difficult to find something new to read. But, of course, this isn't the case, there are still so many books out there, like S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, that remain undiscovered by anyone outside that specific context (either in time or geographical).

Published in 1967, when Hinton was just seventeen, it tells the story of gang warfare in Tulsa, between the (working class) Greasers and the (middle class) Socs. What surprised me most about this novel is that it was about the differences in social class and, with my European pre- conceptions of the US, I didn't think this would be as relevant to an American audience, as it is to a European one.

Like many female authors writing about male dominated worlds (JK Rowling is another good example), Hinton masculinised her name by using initials, so male readers wouldn't be put off. The fact that women still feel the need to do this merits a while seperate blog in itself, having said that, I did think the emotional voice coming through the narration of the novel was both young and female. Some of the scenes are a bit too weepy, although overall it's a good story.

You easily emphasise with the main character, Ponyboy, the plot flows quite smoothly and I like the way it ends, coming round in a circle (I'm particularly fond of circular or spiral plots in literature). It reminded me, inevitably, on West Side Story, which pre-dated this book and Grease, which came later, as a musical and then a film, in the 70's. The novel seems to have been a sensation at the time and Hinton was somewhat of a prodigy, I wouldn't be surprised if the musical Grease borrowed some elements of The Outsiders' plot.

SE Hinton still lives in Oklahoma and still writes. You can visit her website at http://www.sehinton.com/


Image credits

The Image of the original(?) book cover for The Outsiders is from http://www.openlibrary.org/

The image of the book covers (of books I have read in reference to Oklahoma) was taken by me. 
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