How did S.E. Hinton foreshadow in Chapter Two of her novel The Outsiders that Johnny would use his knife in Chapter Four? 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

During the period depicted in S.E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders, knives were the primary lethal weapon of choice for juvenile delinquents and others seeking either to threaten or to provide a sense of security against others. Guns, while occasionally available, were rare, and actual shootings rarer still. Hinton set her story in the mid-1960s, before the full-scale anti-establishment rebellions that began to develop in response to the war in Vietnam. It was considered a simpler time, and youth gangs were armed with little more than knives or switchblades. In the opening chapter of The Outsiders, Hinton's young narrator, Ponyboy Curtis, is confronted by a group of "Socs," the well-to-do teenagers from the more affluent side of town. As the Socs surround Ponyboy, one threatens the solitary Greaser:

"Need a haircut, greaser?" The medium-sized blond pulled a knife out of his back pocket and flipped the blade open. 

Knives, then, play a prominent role in The Outsiders as the most threatening form of violence. Clubs and chains can certainly kill, but they do not represent the mortal threat that knives represent. In Chapter Two, the stage is set for Johnny's later use of his knife, or switchblade. In that chapter, Ponyboy, Johnny's closest friend, describes Johnny as a good kid who could be counted on in a rumble, but who was perpetually frightened by a serious beating he once endured at the hands of a group of Socs. As Hinton's narrator describes the character of Johnny:

". . .after the night of the beating, Johnny was jumpier than ever. I didn't think he'd ever get over it. Johnny never walked by himself after that. And Johnny, who was the most law-abiding of us, now carried in his back pocket a six-inch switchblade. He'd use it, too, if he ever got jumped again. They had scared him that much. He would kill the next person who jumped him."

So, we know that Johnny carries a switchblade, and that he does so as a reaction to the brutal assault he had earlier survived. In Chapter Four, the information provided in Chapter Two become fully relevant. Ponyboy and Johnny are attacked by five bigger Socs, and one of the latter is holding Ponyboy's head under water in a fountain. The next thing Ponyboy knows is that Johnny has stabbed one of the Socs in an effort to save his friend. Before Ponyboy can comprehend what has transpired, however, he sets his gaze on Johnny:

"Johnny was scared to death. I mean it. He was as white as a ghost and his eyes were wild-looking, like the eyes of an animal in a trap."

Johnny began carrying the switchblade out of fear following his assault. Another assault at the hands of the Socs results in his use of that weapon, with deadly results. The incident triggers the chain of events leading to Johnny's heroic rescue of children from the burning church and his death from the smoke and fire he braved on behalf of others.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Chapter 2 of The Outsiders, the author, S.E. Hinton, foreshadows that Johnny will use his switch blade knife to kill a Soc in Chapter 4 during a conversation between Ponyboy and a Soc girl, named Cherry Valance, who he meets at The Dingo Drive-In. This occurs when Cherry asks Ponyboy about Johnny, and says “he’s been hurt bad sometime, hasn’t he?” (Hinton 31), to which Ponyboy replies with the story of how Johnny was jumped by a group of four Socs in a “blue Mustang” (Hinton 33) almost four months earlier. He goes on to tell Cherry how since that day Johnny “carried in his back pocket a six-inch switch blade” (Hinton 34). Ponyboy then tells Cherry “He would kill the next person who jumped him. Nobody was ever going to beat him like that again” (Hinton 34). It is this part of the conversation that occurs in Chapter 2 that foreshadows that Johnny will later use his switch blade knife in Chapter 4 to kill Bob, a Soc boy, who along with 4 other Socs attempts to jump both Johnny and Ponyboy at the park.

Hope this helps!

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ponyboy tells Cherry the story of when Johnny was beaten badly in the park. Johnny was practicing kicks when a group a soc's jumped him. He was almost beaten to death by one of the boys who wore a lot of rings. Ponyboy explained that the beating didn't bother Johnny that much but he hated that he was scared. He vowed if he was ever jumped again, he would kill them. This foreshadows the outcome of the fight in chapter four, when Johnny kills Bob to save Ponyboy's fight.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial