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Erikson's Theory Of Development In The Outsiders

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1784 words Published: 5th May 2017

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Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is one that is very well known and respected. Erikson was a student of Sigmund Freud in Austria. After Freud died, he continued to research, alongside Ms. Anna Freud, his mentor’s daughter. Initially Erikson though his work was just an extension of Freud’s theory, but it soon showed to be far more extensive, and have many differences. Erikson believed in each stage of life a person will reach a crisis that will either lead to good traits or bad traits. Erikson also felt the Freud had overstated the importance that sexual development plays in psychosocial development.

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Erikson believed that one’s personality develops in a series of stages, eight stages to be exact. The first stage is Trust vs. Mistrust, and occurs during infancy, the first year of life. According to Erikson babies are torn between trusting and mistrusting their parents and caregivers. If their needs are reasonably met, they will develop a sense of trust in the predictability of their surroundings and environment. If there needs are not met, however, they may become suspicious, fearful, and concerned about their security. The second stage is Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. This occurs in the 2nd year of life, toddler, and is caused by the child’s growing interactions with the world around them. Children learn to pick up objects and hold items, manipulate them in different ways, and master bodily excretions. If a child fails at any/all of these tasks they may experience shame and self-doubt. The next stage Initiative vs. Guilt and is about the preschooler at 3-5 years of age. This stage is about learning to initiate tasks, carry out plans, and take on new projects. Parental support in these endeavors can lead to a sense of joy and security. If a child is unable to acquire the new skill of initiative they may have feelings of inadequacy, guilt, even shame. Industry vs. Inferiority take place during the elementary school year, 6-pueberty. Children are constantly encountering new sets of expectations, and need to learn the skills to adapt to the changes. When a child fails to meet the new standards they develop low sense of self confidence, feel inadequate, and even lose faith in their ability to learn. Adolescence is next, from the teens to early 20’s and this stage is Identity vs. Role Confusion. Here childhood is at its end and adulthood begins. This brings about new challenges, and the main one is figuring out one’s self identity. Failure to achieve a sense of self can lead to confusion and despair. Intimacy vs. Isolation happens during early adulthood, 20’s- early 40’s, and is characterized by people learning to become intimate (emotionally and physically) with others. This intimacy is usually in the form of marriage, but can also include long-term partners as well as homosexual couples. To form an intimate relationship both partners must be trusting of each other, capable of initiative, and have a strong sense of whom they are individually. Failing here can lead to a lonely life, isolation, and sadness. In the 40’s through 60’s we encounter Generativity vs. Stagnation. The goal at this stage of life is to stay capable and productive. People who have accomplished their goals in life are more likely to be happy in this stage of life than those who have struggled. Being unable to remain productive in this stage of life causes feelings if dissatisfaction and despair. Late adulthood falls into the eighth stage, Integrity vs. Despair. This is from the 60’s through death. People at this point in their lives must come to terms with impending death. People who have navigated through the stages of development with ease, or at least completely, have an easier time facing death.

The movie The Outsiders tells the story of two groups of young adults; the greasers and the socs. There is a bitter rivalry that stems from economic differences. While there are some differences, these two groups are not as dissimilar as one would think; they do have some things in common. Cherry Valance and Ponyboy Curtis have a love of poetry, sunsets, and music in common, and these commonalities transcend all differences temporarily. This hint at agreement makes for a bright spot in an otherwise rather dreary storyline. The characters in the movie are all unique, and while they all fall into the Identity vs. Role Confusion stage, they all act very differently and have different personalities. Erikson would say this is due to the crisis’s they faced growing up, and the new crisis that they are put in throughout the movie.

Ponyboy Curtis is a 14 year-old boy who is living with his 2 brothers after the death of his parents. Ponyboy is very intelligent and has adequate coping skills dealing with the death of his parents. Due to socio-economic factors, low-income, he has major separation anxiety. Due to the fact that he is a year younger than his peers he also appears slightly immature and unable to take responsibility for his actions. According to Erikson Ponyboy falls right into the Identity vs. Role confusion stage, and this seems to fit perfectly. In the movie after Ponyboy and Johnny kills a Soc, Bob, after Bob holds Ponyboy’s head under a fountain until he loses consciousness. Ponyboy and Johnny are not able to face the consequences for the incident and run to find Dally who instructs them to hide in an abandoned church. Johnny cuts and bleaches Ponyboy’s hair, and Ponyboy has a hard time adjusting to that change. During this time period he is very unsure of himself; he doubts whether he will be able to live in town again, doubts his worth as a person, and doubts that his brothers would still love him. After Johnny and Ponyboy rescue children from a burning church they are able to return to town as heroes. It is at this point Ponyboy seems to grow up and accept his new role and the actions of his past. He talks to the courts about the night of the incident and is told it would be put down as self-defense as Johnny was defending his friend’s life. At home he has a heart-to-heart with his older brother who was worried sick about the events and loss of his little brother, and they clear the air of all thoughts of Darrel not wanting his 2 little brothers living with him. Upon the death of Johnny Ponyboy has a realization about who he is as a person, and the importance of relationships with friends and family, resolving the crisis in the adolescence stage.

Johnny is also from a low socio-economic background, and lives with parents that always fight. He is of average intelligence but has a hard time with reading comprehension, which caused him to be held back a grade. At 16 he also falls into the same stage of Identity vs. Role confusion as Ponyboy. With parents that fight a lot and are alcoholics it seems like he was unable to learn any kind of coping skills and relies a lot on what other people tell him to do. His shyness and a social awkwardness lead to the question of abuse and PTSD; this belief is also substantiated as he has a scar on his check from being beaten by 5 grown men. Johnny also has frequent thoughts of suicide which could be due to depression, feeling unloved by his parents, socially undesirable, seeing himself as “out of place” even amongst friends, and that he internalizes that actions of others. Throughout the film he never really comes to terms with his role in life. He runs to Dallas when he needs to make a decision, probably as he feels uncomfortable making a decision that will affect others as well as himself. One sign of strength in his character is that he decides to turn himself in so the Ponyboy could go back home to his family and friends. When he is in hospital with life-threatening burns and talking to Ponyboy the first time he says he regretted a lot of his past; that he wished he had never helped rescue the children, and that he didn’t want to die even though he didn’t know what to do with his life. Then right before he dies he confesses that saving the children was worth it; that their lives where so much more valuable than his. This shows that he finally accepted his role in life, and that he was coping with his past.

Cherry Valance is a Soc and in the same grade and school as Ponyboy and Johnny. She forms a kind of bond with Ponyboy even though she said she would still have to ignore him at school. When her boyfriend sees her talking to the greasers he gets mad and makes Cherry leave with him. This is the cause of the conflict in the movie and what causes the Socs to attack Ponyboy and Johnny. Cherry is very aware of the class difference, but still feels bad about the events and tries to make amends in any way she could. Cherry ends up spying on the Socs and feeding the information to the Greasers. She also is willing to testify against her social group in defense of Ponyboy and Johnny. She shows signs of already having achieved a sense of self; she knows her place in society, has strong friendships, and also a strong sense of right vs. wrong.

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Dallas is the “older” boy in the movie; he is the role model for the Greasers. Dallas is 17 but seems to be in the young adulthood stage; he already is confident about his role and is trying to work on forming relationships with people. In the beginning of the movie you see him hitting on Cherry and her friend very strongly, and he is so sexually aggressive it borders on rape. This demonstrates the inability to show compassion for other, and compassion, along with friendship/love, trust, and common interests, is key to building stable relationships. He is very calm under stress, and that is evidenced by the fact his friends all turn to him for advice. Dallas does show signs of an anti-social personality; he is available to his friends and cohorts but to everyone else he is hostile and aggressive. Violence is used to gain dominance over other males, and as I stated above he is very sexually aggressive with women. Despite having tis with the Greasers, he doesn’t form new relationships and seems very alone and isolated.

Overall this movie demonstrates very clearly the Adolescent stage of the theory of development that Erikson proposed. All of the characters struggle to find a sense of who they are and what they are doing. We see both the result of finding one’s self as well as what can happen if that crisis is never resolved. We also glimpse the next stage in the form of Dallas, and we can learn how important relationships are in personal development.


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