How does Johnny's character change from the begining to the end of The Outsiders?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the story progresses, Johnny is shown as intelligent as well as sensitive.

From the beginning to the end of the story, Johnny and Ponyboy become closer.  Johnny may not necessarily change much, but Ponyboy’s understanding of him develops.

When Pony first introduces Johnny, he describes him as “scared of his own shadow” because of a beating some Socs had given him when he was sixteen.  Johnny had it “awful rough at home-it took a lot to make him cry.”  Pony does not seem to admire Johnny much.

If you can picture a little dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers, you'll have Johnny. He was the youngest, next to me, smaller than the rest, with a slight build. (Ch. 1, p. 11)

It is not until Johnny and Ponyboy get into the fight in the park and Bob is killed that we see another side of Johnny.  This is when we realize that Johnny has a depth and intelligence to him that Pony had not seen before.

Johnny brings Pony a copy of Gone with the Wind, because he heard him say he wanted one and he thought it would kill time.  It is through this story and discussions of Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” that we develop a better understanding of Johnny’s sensitivity and intelligence.

It amazed me how Johnny could get more meaning out of some of the stuff in there than I could-I was supposed to be the deep one. Johnny had failed a year in school and never made good grades-he couldn't grasp anything that was shoved at him too fast…. (Ch. 5, p. 76)

One of Ponyboy’s main points is that greasers are stereotyped as low-lifes and hoods, when they really are just people.  Johnny did kill Bob, but he killed him out of fear.  It was an impulse.  The kid was drunk, and Pony remembered how badly the Socs had beaten him when they jumped him.  Pony, and the reader, learn quite a bit about Johnny’s character from his actions since then.