In the novel, the author uses mostly indirect characterization to change our perception of Pony as the story progresses.
Indirect characterization is a way for an author to reveal a particular character's personality through his thoughts, actions, speech, facial expressions, and influence on others. In fact, the novel begins with Ponyboy's thoughts about his looks. He wishes that he looks like Paul Newman, only because the actor "looks tough." Ponyboy believes that looking tough would add to his street credibility as a Greaser. Ponyboy's insecurity regarding his looks highlights his vulnerability.
Through his thoughts, we also get to understand how Ponyboy really feels about his family. His favorite brother is Soda, whom he loves more than anyone else, even his deceased parents. Ponyboy doesn't seem to be as enthused about his oldest brother, Darry, whom he feels is too serious for his own good. Characterizing himself as a loner, Ponyboy reveals that he enjoys immersing himself in books and movies, something he feels that no one else understands. The author's revelations of Ponyboy's initial thoughts lead us to sympathize with a young teenager who must navigate the treacherous paths of adolescence with little guidance and moral support.
As the novel progresses, we learn that Ponyboy isn't exactly enthused about gang life either. He's a Greaser because it gives him some semblance of comfort to associate with boys who experience similar challenges in life. Many, if not all of Ponyboy's Greaser friends come from dysfunctional backgrounds, and some of them have had numerous run-ins with the law. Again, the author uses indirect characterization to highlight what Ponyboy thinks of the Greaser lifestyle:
I loved the country. I wanted to be out of towns and away from excitement. I only wanted to lie on my back under a tree and read a book or draw a picture, and not worry about being jumped or carrying a blade or ending up married to some scatterbrained broad with no sense. The country would be like that, I thought dreamily.
Through his thoughts, we can see that Ponyboy yearns for a better future; he just doesn't know how to go about getting it. He desperately wishes that his "golden and beautiful mother" would come back to life to show his fellow Greaser, Dally, that "there was some good in the world after all." Later, after an especially violent argument with Darry, Ponyboy runs away. He is so angry about being slapped by Darry that he fails to see the incredible stress Darry himself is under. As the oldest of the brothers, Darry must work two jobs to support all of them; he is also the only father-figure Ponyboy has in his life, despite being only a few years older than his brothers.
From Ponyboy's actions (another type of indirect characterization), we can see how his faulty judgment and immaturity sets off a chain of events that eventually ends in Johnny's death (Johnny is the fellow Greaser Ponyboy runs away with). Despite this, the author portrays Ponyboy in a compassionate light: Ponyboy may be moody and mercurial, but he is also desperately idealistic and noble. When he hears that some children may be caught in a church fire that he and Johnny may have unwittingly started, Ponyboy slams a big rock through one of the windows and climbs into the burning building.
By the time Ponyboy and Johnny get to the children, we are cheering for them. Ponyboy's thoughts as he and Johnny do what comes so naturally to them is noteworthy:
I caught one quick 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.
Through his thoughts, Ponyboy reveals to us the intrinsic nobility in both boys; it is a touching tribute to the boys' resilience and character. By the time the end of the novel approaches, we see Ponyboy in a completely different light than when we first began the novel. Through the author's skillful delineation of Ponyboy's thoughts, we receive a vivid perspective of Ponyboy's evolving maturity as the story progresses.
Ponyboy comes to see how much Darry really cares about him, and he comes to understand the incredible pressures Darry has faced.
Darry did care about me, maybe as much as he cared about Soda, and because he cared he was trying too hard to make something of me. When he yelled "Pony, wherehave you been all this time?" he meant "Pony, you've scared me to death. Please be careful, because I couldn't stand it if anything happened to you."
By the end of the novel, Ponyboy begins to embrace his own responsibilities and to understand how he can make a difference in the world.
I could see boys going down under street lights because they were mean and tough and hated the world, and it was too late to tell them that there was still good in it, and they wouldn't believe you if you did. It was too vast a problem to be just a personal thing. There should be some help, someone should tell them before it was too late. Someone should tell their side of the story, and maybe people would understand then and wouldn't be so quick to judge a boy by the amount of hair oil he wore. It was important to me.
His thoughts definitely inspire us to think differently about him as the novel closes. Ponyboy is no longer the rudderless and confused character he was when the novel began. The deaths of two of his fellow Greasers (Dally and Johnny) have led him to see life differently. He now understands the importance of sharing his experiences, so other boys can learn from them. Ponyboy's new outlook on life leads us to admire and to support his love for the written word.