From the opening passages of S.E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders, the distinctions between Ponyboy's two older brothers are made very apparent. Darryl, or "Darry," is Ponyboy's 20-year-old brother and the oldest of the three Curtis brothers. A large, muscular man, Darry has been placed in the difficult position of raising his two younger siblings following the deaths of their parents in an automobile accident. Ponyboy's descriptions of Darryl paint a portrait of a boy forced to grow up too fast because of their parents' deaths and because of the rough, poverty-stricken neighborhood in which they live. It is Darryl who must ensure that the state allows the boys to remain together despite the absence of their parents, and he takes his role very seriously. Sodapop, on the other hand, is Darryl's antithesis. Ponyboy's description of the second-oldest of the brothers does a fine job of illuminating the vast distinctions between the two older brothers:
". . .my second-oldest brother, Soda, who is sixteen-going-on-seventeen, never cracks a book at all, and my oldest brother, Darrel, who we call Darry, works too long and hard to be interested in a story or drawing a picture, so I'm not like them. . .Soda tries to understand, at least, which is more than Darry does. But then, Soda is different from anybody; he understands everything, almost. Like he's never hollering at me all the time the way Darry is, or treating me as if I was six instead of fourteen. I love Soda more than I've ever loved anyone, even Mom and Dad. He's always happy-go-lucky and grinning, while Darry's hard and firm and rarely grins at all. But then, Darry's gone through a lot in his twenty years, grown up too fast. Sodapop'll never grow up at all. I don't know which way's the best. I'll find out one of these days."
This lengthy passage depicts a triangular relationship among the three very-different brothers that accounts for the less-than-harmonious environment that exists in the boys' home. Darryl, the surrogate parent, feels responsible for Ponyboy's proper upbringing, and imposes discipline and expectations as would a responsible parent, which naturally engenders occasional ill-will between him and Ponyboy. If Darryl is the serious-minded surrogate parent, however, Sodapop, or Soda, is the antithesis, a handsome, happy-go-lucky type who is nevertheless sensitive and thoughtful, especially where his two brothers are concerned. And it is Sodapop who must arbitrate the disputes that invariably arise between his older and younger brothers. Despite that emotional burden, though, he is an upbeat teenager whose demeanor is best expressed by Ponyboy in this opening chapter of Hinton's novel:
"Soda is one of a kind. He can get drunk in a drag race or dancing without ever getting near alcohol. In our neighborhood it's rare to find a kid who doesn't drink once in a while. But Soda never touches a drop--- he doesn't need to. He gets drunk on just plain living. And he understands everybody."
These dramatic distinctions between the brothers allow for a more fulfilling familial relationship for Ponyboy. If it is to Sodapop to whom Ponyboy looks for emotional support, however, it is the former's letter to the fugitive Ponyboy, hiding out with Johnny following the latter's killing of the Soc who was trying to drown Ponyboy, that reveals the bond between Darryl and Ponyboy. As Ponyboy reads Sodapop's letter, delivered by Dallas to the hiding place, the anguish confronting Darryl over Ponyboy's disappearance is palpable:
Darry and me nearly went nuts when you ran out like that. Darry is awful sorry he hit you. You know he didn't mean it. . . Darry hasn't got the slightest notion where you're at and it is nearly killing him."
Hinton's narrative leaves no question that Darryl feels very deeply the burden of raising his younger brothers, especially the rebellious Ponyboy. Just as obvious, however, is the depth of Darryl's love for his brothers. While Sodapop might be the one to whom Ponyboy confides, it is Darryl who fights, physically and emotionally, to keep the brothers together, and its Darryl's efforts that will remain with Ponyboy long after the events depicted in The Outsiders are long over.