Free Study Guide: The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton - Free BookNotes

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The protagonist of a story is the main character who traditionally undergoes some sort of change. Pony Curtis is the teenage narrator and protagonist of the novel. When his parents were killed in a car accident, Darry, his twenty-year-old brother, began to provide for him. He resents Darry’s bullying manner, not realizing that he does so because he loves him and wants him to make something of himself. Pony belongs to an eastside gang of poor teenagers, called the Greasers; their rivals are the Socs, the rich kids living on the west side of town.


The antagonist of a story is the force that provides an obstacle for the protagonist. The antagonist does not always have to be a single character or even a character at all. Pony’s antagonist is his status in life. Poor and from the wrong side of town, he gets no breaks in life, even though he is a good student and studies hard. He joins the Greasers because it is the thing to do if you live on the east side of town. Their rivals are the Socs, a gang of rich, spoiled kids living on the west side of town. The Socs constantly pick fights with the Greasers, and Bob, one of the Socs, attacks Johnny and Pony because they have been friendly with Cherry. Johnny kills Bob in self-defense, and he and Pony go into hiding in a church in Windrixville. When the church catches on fire, Johnny and Pony try to save the children trapped inside. Johnny is serious injured during the rescue and dies a few days later in a hospital. Dally, who was Johnny’s best friend, is completely shattered by his death. Crazy with grief, he robs a store and then threatens the police with an unloaded gun. As a result, he is killed. Now Pony has lost two friends. He falls sick, becomes delirious, tries to deny Johnny’s death, and begins to fail in school.


The climax of a plot is the major turning point that allows the protagonist to resolve the conflict. The climax occurs when Pony reads the letter that Johnny has written to him before his death. Johnny encourages his friend to “stay gold” - to look for the sunsets and good things in life. He tells Pony that if he tries, he will be able to make something worthwhile out of his life. Reading the letter is the turning point in Pony’s life.


The novel ends as a tragic comedy. Even though Bob, Johnny, and Dally have needlessly perished, Pony overcomes his problems, largely due to Johnny’s letter of encouragement. He reconciles with Darry, finally understanding how much his older brother loves and cares for him. He also accepts that he does not have to be an outsider or a Greaser for the rest of his life. In order to seek help and understanding for underprivileged children like himself, Pony’s mission becomes to tell others about the immense obstacles that stand in the way of success for teenagers from the wrong side of town. The novel, therefore, ends on a note of hope and optimism.


Pony Curtis is a member of the Greasers, a gang of poor teenagers with long, oily hair and from the wrong side of town. While returning home from the movies one night, Pony is attacked by the Socs, a gang of rich kids from the west side of town. Pony is afraid that they are going to kill him and starts shouting for help. His brothers (Darry and Soda), along with Steve Randle, Two Bit Matthews, Dally Winston, and Johnny Cade, rush to his rescue. After ascertaining that Pony is relatively unharmed, Darry shouts at him for walking alone and tells him that he should use a bit of common sense.

Darry is Pony’s oldest brother who has provided for him since his parents were killed in a car accident. Darry knows that Pony is smart and wants him to do well in life. As a result, he constantly nags Pony about doing well in school and making good grades. Pony resents his brother’s intrusion in his life and his unemotional ways. In contrast, Pony adores Soda, his middle brother. He is a high school dropout, who works at a gas station with his best friend Steve Randal. Two-Bit Matthews is a member of the Greasers who always tries to have the last word on things. Johnny Cade is another gang member whom everyone tries to protect, because his father constantly tries to beat him up. The toughest character of the Greaser’s gang is Dally, who has been in and out of jail since the age of ten.

Pony, Johnny, and Dally decide to go to the drive-in the next evening. There they meet Cherry and Marcia, friends of the Socs. Dally is rude and obnoxious. When Cherry throws a coke in his face, he stalks off in anger. Pony and Johnny are left to watch the movie with the girls, but they are soon joined by Two Bits. After the movie they decide to walk to Two Bits’ house to pick up his car in order to take the girls home. Along the way, Pony and Cherry find that they have a lot in common; they are both are idealistic dreamers, who love sunsets. Suddenly a blue Mustang pulls up near them. Two members of the Socs, Bob and Randy, emerge from the car to confront them. A fight almost takes place between the boys, but Cherry prevents it by getting into the Mustang.

Two-Bit goes off to play snooker, and Pony and Johnny go to the vacant lot where they often hang out. At about two-thirty in the morning, Pony gets up with a start, for he has fallen asleep in the vacant lot. He rushes home to find Darry awake and frantic with worry. He shouts at Pony, which results in an argument. When Darry slaps his younger brother, Pony rushes out of the house and finds Johnny. As they walk in the park, Bob, Randy, and several other Socs attack them for being with their girls earlier. In the fight that follows, Johnny, in self-defense, kills Bob with his switchblade.

In a panic, Johnny and Pony go to Dally for help. He gives them a loaded gun, money, and directions to reach an abandoned church in Windrixville, where they can hide out. They change their appearance by cutting off their long hair and pass the time by reading Gone with the Wind and discussing life. Once Pony recites one of Robert Frost’s poems, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Johnny understands that “gold” in the poem stands for freshness, innocence, and purity.

On the fifth day of their hiding, Dally comes to visit Pony and Johnny. He takes them out to eat and informs them that the tension between the Socs and the Greasers has increased. A rumble between the two gangs is supposedly to take place the following evening. Dally says that he has started carrying an unloaded gun to serve as a deterrent to any serious trouble. Johnny announces his decision to turn himself in to the police, for he does not want to be on the run for the rest of his life. He believes that he will get a light sentence since he has killed Bob in self-defense. Dally tries to dissuade him; he knows first-hand that any prison time is miserable.

When they return to the church, the boys discover that it is on fire and realize a few children are trapped inside. Pony and Johnny immediately rush to their rescue. In the process of saving the children, Johnny is injured when a burning beam falls on him. Dally is then hurt trying to save Johnny. All three of them are finally rushed to the hospital. Johnny’s condition is critical, and he is not expected to live. The next day their heroism is reported in the paper.

The rumble between the Greasers and the Socs is still to occur as planned. Cherry, who now serves as a spy for the Greasers, informs them that the Socs plan to stick to the rules and not bring any weapons. Before the fight begins, Tim Shepard and his gang and the Brumly boys come to help the Greasers. Unexpectedly, Dally also shows up to fight. After the Socs are defeated, Pony and Dally rush to the hospital to tell Johnny about their victory. A dying Johnny tells Dally that “fighting’s no good.” He next looks at Pony and says, “Stay gold, Ponyboy, Stay gold.” He then quietly dies.

Dally is completely shattered by Johnny’s death. In anger, he robs a store and then threatens the police with his unloaded gun; as a result, he is shot and killed by the police. Pony is in total shock when he realizes he has lost two friends in one evening; he becomes delirious, and Darry and Soda must nurse him round the clock. After he recovers, Pony refuses to accept that Bob was killed or that Johnny is dead. Fortunately, his is acquitted of any wrongdoing, but he still has no interest in anything, especially school. Finally his English teacher tells him if he does not write a composition for her class, he will fail. Darry stays on his back about doing the work, and Soda refuses to get involved.

Trying to come up with ideas for his composition, Pony listlessly flicks through Gone with the Wind, which he had read with Johnny. Inside the book he discovers a letter written to him. In it Johnny again tells Pony to remain “gold” and to enjoy sunsets. He also encourages Pony, saying he can overcome his circumstances by hard work. The letter is a turning point in Pony’s life. He now vows to tell everyone about the disadvantages of underprivileged children, such as those living on the eastside; it will become his mission in life. He decides he will start his mission by explaining it in the composition for his English teacher.

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