How does Ponyboy's character change from the beginning to the end of The Outsiders?

Ponyboy starts off the novel as the most innocent member of the Greasers. He is the youngest of three brothers and has not yet experienced the degree of suffering the rest of the gang has. Ponyboy grows into more of an adult after talking with Cherry Valance and beginning to understand that everyone faces problems and people are not so different. By the end of the novel, after Ponyboy has witnessed the deaths of Bob Sheldon and Johnny, he has completely lost his innocence.

 

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After Johnny's and Dally's deaths, Pony engages in some deep introspection and realizes that maybe settling for the way Greasers have always lived isn't his best option for having a meaningful life.

When the gang begins gathering for the fight against Socs, Pony begins to question his place...

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After Johnny's and Dally's deaths, Pony engages in some deep introspection and realizes that maybe settling for the way Greasers have always lived isn't his best option for having a meaningful life.

When the gang begins gathering for the fight against Socs, Pony begins to question his place there:

Why do I fight? I thought, and couldn't think of any real good reason. There isn't any real good reason for fighting except self-defense.

This is a marked change in attitude from Pony, who has previously engaged in Greaser fights with his group simply because that's what he believes Greasers do. After seeing how quickly their lives can end—Socs as well as Greasers—his perspective shifts.

He also realizes that Socs do not live the problem-free lives he's envisioned. He even begins to recognize that Bob, who had tried to drown him and whose death he certainly didn't mourn early in the book, was scared, too:

I looked at Bob's picture and I could begin to see the person we had killed. A reckless, hot-tempered boy, cocky and scared stiff at the same time.

Ponyboy begins to realize that "things are rough all over" and that living any type of lifestyle comes with its own set of struggles.

Pony also learns that even people who seem to live a carefree life are often covering lots of hurt under the surface. Near the end, Darry tells him that Soda's girlfriend has gotten pregnant—but the baby isn't Soda's. Soda even offered to marry her and claim the child as his own, but Sandy moves away. Ponyboy considers this:

And while I was thinking about it, I realized that I never had paid much attention to Soda's problems. Darry and I just took it for granted that he didn't have any.

Thus, Pony matures to understand that some people are simply better at hiding pain than others.

In the end, Pony listens to the advice from Johnny in a letter he'd written before dying:

And don't be so bugged over being a greaser. You still have a lot o f time to make yourself be what you want. There's still lots of good in the world. Tell Dally. I don't think he knows.

Pony realizes that he is more than just a Greaser and that he, unlike his dead friends, has a lifetime to become a good man and live a life that will make a positive difference in the world.

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Throughout the course of the novel, Ponyboy gains perspective on life and becomes sympathetic to Darry's situation. At the beginning of the story, Pony believes that his oldest brother does not truly care about him and feels that the Soc gang members live perfect lives. As the novel progresses, Ponyboy becomes friends with Cherry Valance, a Soc cheerleader, and learns that Socs have their own unique set of struggles. Following the church fire, Ponyboy realizes that Darry does love him and is concerned about his future. As Ponyboy matures, he views various members of the gang differently. Johnny has a significant impact on Ponyboy's perspective, and Pony realizes that other Greasers are complex individuals with positive attributes, despite their tough reputations. Ponyboy learns to admire Dally for his courage and loyalty, as well as Johnny for his intelligence and insight. Sodapop also helps Ponyboy reflect upon his actions and encourages him to get along with Darry. Ponyboy ends up maturing into a sympathetic, insightful individual by the end of the novel.

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Ponyboy Curtis probably changes more throughout the course of The Outsiders than any other character. His loss of innocence is a major theme of the novel. Pony is a good student at the start of the story, and he is a member of the track team. Aside from the death of his parents, Pony has suffered less than most of the characters. His older brother, Darry, tries to protect him from the gang violence that erupts with the Socs, and he chastizes Pony after he is jumped by a Soc gang while walking alone. Darry rarely allows Pony to go out on school days, for he knows that Pony has a bright future ahead of him--unlike most of the other greasers.

However, the attack by the Socs in the park leaves Bob Sheldon dead, and Pony and Johnny decide to leave town and hide out in an abandoned church outside Windrixville. Pony endures the fear of the unknown and worries about what will happen to them when they are finally caught. When the church catches fire (because of Pony's burning cigarette), he and Johnny scramble inside the burning building to save the children inside. Pony's life changes forever following his heroic act. Johnny is severely burned, and finally dies from his injuries, costing Pony his best friend. His health has been compromised, and he receives a concussion in the rumble. Following Johnny's death, Pony seem to give up hope of resuming his old life. His friends worry that he has grown hard, like Dally, and they hope that he will return to his old ways. In the end, when it appears that he may have to repeat a year of high school, his English teacher allows him extra time to complete an essay. Pony decides to tell his story, that of The Outsiders. 

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