Study Guide

The Outsiders

by S. E. Hinton

The Outsiders Characters

Character Summary

Ponyboy Curtis is the sole narrator of The Outsiders, so all the characters and all the action are seen through his eyes as the reader senses his gradual maturation. His older brother, Soda-pop, is a dropout who now works and feels "caught in the middle" between Darry and Ponyboy. His running away during an argument creates a final scene of understanding between the three brothers at the end of the novel. Darry, the oldest brother, is the father figure, a former football star who gave up college and now works two jobs to keep the family together.

Johnny, the "pet" of the gang is very young; his killing of a Soc sets the main plot in motion. His heroism in saving small children from a church fire leads eventually to his death, which prompts intense self-reflection in Ponyboy. Dallas Winston is an older, world-wise character who has "fought for his life" and helps Ponyboy and Johnny hide out after the killing. His own tragic death through a misunderstanding begins to bring to a closure some of the novel's themes. Two-Bit is a gang member known for his distinctive switchblade, Sandy is a girl much loved by Sodapop, but her pregnancy by someone else leads to the final confrontation scene between the brothers. Cherry Valance is a Soc, a friend of the Soc gang member who was killed by Johnny. She attempts to help the "greasers" when she realizes the unfairness of class conflict and the futility of gang fighting.

The Outsiders Character Development

Ponyboy Curtis, his best friend Johnny Cade, and the tough hood Dallas Winston are the main characters in The Outsiders. Ponyboy narrates the story as he writes about his gang and the loyalty and friendship they share. Smart but often dreamy, he wants to escape the kind of life he sees awaiting him as a greaser and into which he sees many of his friends and acquaintances drifting. He wants to be somebody special, yet he does not want to abandon his friends or his image.

Johnny is quiet and shy, a victim of physical and verbal abuse by his parents and still emotionally scarred by a vicious beating received at the hands of the greasers' archenemies, the "Socs," short for "socialites." Johnny has too little self-esteem to aspire to much in life, yet the labels of "hood" and "greaser" hurt him, too, and he feels the contempt behind them. When the Socs attempt to beat him a second time, he kills one in self-defense and is forced to flee the city with Ponyboy.

Dallas Winston is a real hood, described as dangerous and "tougher than the rest of us—tougher, colder, meaner." In and out of jails since the age of ten, Dally is fiercely loyal to the gang but seldom expresses his emotions. The only person whom he allows himself tender feelings for is Johnny, who represents all of the innocence and humanity that Dally himself has lost. When Johnny dies, Dally breaks down, precipitating a police shoot-out that results in his own death.

Ponyboy Curtis's parents have died in a car crash within the past year, and he lives with his two...

(The entire section is 633 words.)

The Outsiders Complete Character Analysis

Johnny Cade

Beaten by his father and ignored by his mother, he stays around town only because he is the gang's pet, "everyone's kid brother." Johnny reminds Pony of a "little dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers." He was jumped once by the Socs and beaten very badly. Since then he has carried a blade and has become even more suspicious and jumpy. Johnny and Pony are friends by default. They are the youngest in the gang and also the most sensitive. They are quiet around the older boys and reflective between themselves.

Johnny echoes Pony's frustration at their predicament in life, scared of being beaten or killed and not able to change anything about it. Johnny was considered dumb by his teachers, and yet he realizes things that completely pass by Pony. While Pony reads from Gone with the Wind about Southern gentlemen riding into certain death, Johnny sees Dally. And when Pony recites Robert Frost Johnny understands the meaning of the poem. They have to stay gold, stay young, and stay true to themselves. It is this message that Johnny sends to Pony in his final letter and the one Pony is left to struggle with.

Darrel Curtis

Darrel has been taking care of the family ever since Mr. and Mrs. Curtis died in a car wreck, eight months before the start of the novel. A judge allows the brothers to stay together under twenty-year-old Darry's supervision—so long as they stay out of trouble. Rather than go to college on a football scholarship, Darry has to go to work in order to keep the three together and Pony in school. He has had to give up a lot and has become an adult too fast. "Darry's hard and firm and rarely grins at all." A big and powerful young man, Darry has "eyes that are like two pieces of pale blue-green ice ... He doesn't understand anything that is not plain hard fact. But he uses his head." Darry takes his custodianship very seriously by keeping a tight hold on Pony.

Ponyboy often has conflicts with his oldest brother, not realizing how similar the two are. Darry is different from the other greasers; as Two-Bit says, "the only thing that keeps Darry from being a Soc is us." He is the leader of the gang by mutual consent and respect. He wears his hair short like a Soc and he is clean shaven. While Darry likes fighting for the athletic challenge of it, Pony realizes that Darry is too smart to stay around the greasers forever. "That's why he's better than the rest of us, [Pony] thought. He's going somewhere." Pony finally comes to understand his brother really does love him.

Ponyboy Curtis

The story is Ponyboy Curtis's narrative about his experience seeing three young men die. Pony is a good student, a track star, and a greaser. It is this latter distinction, rather than his orphan status, which brings him trouble. In addition, he is a solitary, sensitive boy who likes movies, watching sunsets, and reading. His consumption of these poetic pursuits often foils his common sense. Thus, his desire to see movies without the distracting fidgets of friends or brothers leads to his lonely walk home from the cinema and his run-in with a group of Socs. Luckily for him, his brothers and the gang hear his cries for help and he doesn't receive anything like the beating that spooked Johnny.

A great deal of the tension in Pony comes from his attempts to figure out his oldest brother Darry. He complains to Two-Bit, Johnny, and Cherry that his brother doesn't like him. He believes that Darry resents him because he had to turn down a football scholarship to college in order to support him. Everyone tries to tell him otherwise, but Pony doesn't believe in Darry's love for him until he is injured in the fire. Even so, he only comes to understand his brother after their fighting drives Sodapop, the middle brother, to tears.

The beauty of Ponyboy's character is that though he emerges strong and confident at the end of the book, it is not the result of becoming a tough hood but of remaining true to himself. The positive tone is not so much because the...

(The entire section is 430 words.)

Dallas Winston

"The real character of the gang," Dally was arrested his first time at the age of ten. He spent three years on the "wild side" of New York and likes to blow off steam in gang fights. He is the most dangerous member of the bunch—not even Darry wants to tangle with him—but he is still a part of their greaser "family." The local police have a large file on him, and he has just gotten out of jail at the opening of the novel. While "the fight for self-preservation had hardened him beyond caring," there are two things that have meaning for him; jockeying on ponies (the "only thing Dally did honestly") and Johnny.

In Tulsa, lacking a rival gang, Dally hates the Socs. Fighting them is frustrating, however, because he knows...

(The entire section is 255 words.)

Other Characters

Randy Adderson
Randy is Bob's best friend and takes his death very hard. Before the rumble, he has a talk with Ponyboy about all that has happened. He has decided that violence is wrong because "it doesn't do any good." He stays out of the rumble and later comes to visit Pony when he's sick. His words lead Pony to realize that "the other guy was human too."

Darry Curtis
See Darrel Curtis.

Sodapop Curtis
Ponyboy's older brother is sixteen going on seventeen and a high school dropout. He is the caregiver and peacemaker of the Curtis brothers. Soda is "movie-star kind of handsome, the kind that people stop on the street to watch go by." Bubbly...

(The entire section is 898 words.)