The Outsiders is a novel written by S. E. Hinton. It is the story of a traumatic time in the lives of three major characters: Ponyboy Curtis, Johnny Cade, and Dallas Winston. They are all members of the lower class gang of “Greasers”, a term created by the upper-class “Socs.” These three boys play a major role in bridging the gap between the two seemingly different groups. Growing up on the poorer side of town, they witness many things, some of which they would not choose to, but they do anyway because of circumstances.
Johnny observes, “Sixteen years on the streets and you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn.” (p. 93) These experiences influence their actions and relationships with each other, and the outside world. Pony, Johnny, and Dally have to grow up and toughen fast, skipping the carefree part of their childhood, which is fast forgotten. Ponyboy grows up on the poorer side of town, but he is fortunate to always have a family to care for him.
His parents died in a car accident, so now Pony lives with his brothers Darrel and Sodapop.
They may live together on the condition that they all behave, and won’t get in trouble with the law. Their home is always open for anyone who needs a safe haven to retreat to, “you take up for your buddies, no matter what they do. When you’re a gang, you stick up for the members. If you don’t stick up for them, stick together, make like brothers, it isn’t a gang anymore.” (p. 22) Later on, Pony will realize the truth of his statement, when his innocent friend Johnny kills a Soc, in Pony’s defense. He notes; “we’re almost as close as brothers; when you grow up in a tight-knit neighborhood like ours you get to know each other real well.” (p. 4-5) Ironically, their neighborhood does not reflect the relationship between them, at all. It is full of crime, violence and waste. The Greasers might experience some negative things, but it brings them closer together. They are sensitive to each other, unlike how they are treated by people outside their gang, which unifies them, persisting during the hard times. Coming from an abusive home, Johnny is forced to fend for himself at a young age.
He joins the Greasers because they are the only family he can depend on. While Johnny needs the Greasers, the Greasers also need Johnny, since being protective of him gives them a sense of purpose. Also, as passive and weary as he seems, Johnny is defiant, “…surely nobody could be beaten like that and live.” (p. 27) He does not give in to anyone who wants to put him down, and “nobody was ever going to beat him like that again.” (p. 28) The Greasers depend on someone persevering to keep them together, which is Johnny’s purpose. After the murder, Johnny and Pony escape to an old, dilapidated church in Windrixville. While returning with Dally, they see that the church is on fire. Johnny and Pony run into the church to rescue some children who are stuck inside, feeling guilty for possibly starting the fire. While inside, Pony notes; Johnny wasn’t behaving at all like his old self. …I [Pony] caught one look at his face; it was red marked from falling embers and sweat streaked, but he grinned at me.
He wasn’t scared either. That was the only time I can think of when I saw him without that defeated, suspicious look in his eyes. He looked like he was having the time of his life. (p. 71) Throughout the novel, Johnny constantly admires heroes. Now his hero-like character is revealed, but unfortunately only exposed at the last moments of his life. However, Johnny’s last moments end by resisting violence, which is ironic, because he and his friends spent their past fighting. After Dally tells Johnny that the Greasers won the rumble, “Johnny didn’t even try to grin at him. ‘Useless… fighting’s no good…’” (p. 113). Although a gentle boy, he has a powerful impact on others with his heroic actions and demand for peace. He learned from those he admired, and then transformed their heroism into his own actions, unaware of how much he influenced others. Dally appears to be the toughest hood in the Greasers. Previously, he had joined a few gangs in New York.
Unlike his friends, he does not put grease in his white-blond hair, which distances him from the rest of the group. Dally’s violent habits make him more dangerous than the other Greasers, and he takes pride in his criminal record. However, he does not want others to be in the same situations he was in; “…don’t you kids get to pickin’ up my bad habits.” (p. 64). Under all his gruffness, Dally really cares about the rest of the gang, making sure they won’t end up in dilemmas such as his own. Finding out that Johnny wanted to turn himself in, Dally gets flustered, and pleads with Johnny by saying, “you get hardened in jail. I don’t want that to happen to you. Like it happened to me…” (p. 69) He especially cares about Johnny because their relationship comes from the feeling of being wanted and needed. Coming from the streets, he loses his innocence, displaying a tough-guy outside. He puts on this cover because he feels it is protecting him from getting hurt.
However, if he doesn’t care about anything or doesn’t let anyone get close to him, he will be even more vulnerable than those that only appear to be vulnerable on the outside, like Johnny seems to be. When Johnny, the only person he ever gets close to, betrays him by dying, he has nothing else to live for. Becoming desperate, he desires death. Pony relates: And even as the policemen’s guns spit fire into the night I knew that was what Dally wanted… Dally Winston wanted to be dead and he always got what he wanted… Two friends of mine had died that night: one a hero, the other a hoodlum. But I remembered… Dally risking his life for us, trying to keep Johnny out of trouble. And now he was a dead juvenile delinquent and there wouldn’t be any editorials in his favor. Dally didn’t die a hero.
He died violent and young and desperate, just like we all knew he’d die someday…But Johnny was right. He died gallant. (p. 117) Under all his masks, disguises, shelters, he was just as weak as the rest of the gang, if not, even weaker. Ironically, the title of the novel is The Outsiders, which is contradictory to the underlying message of the story; what the core of each person is. Those that appeared to be tough on the outside were weak and helpless, while those that seemed defenseless were the ones that persevered, whether physically or emotionally. For example, the Greasers persist through all the reputation and negative guilt that is placed upon them; “Us greasers get it worse than anyone else.” (p. 67).
Although it seems to be this way at the beginning of the story, the Greasers are victorious on the inside, showing the world how capable they are, how profound they can be. In conclusion, the three major characters in The Outsiders: Pony, Johnny, and Dally play a major role in bridging the gap between the two seemingly different groups. Johnny observes, “Sixteen years on the streets and you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn.” (p. 93). These experiences influence their actions and relationships between each other, and the outside world. Pony, Johnny, and Dally have to grow up and toughen fast, skipping the carefree part of their childhood, which is fast forgotten.