In S.E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders, how is Ponyboy heroic?

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In S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel of growing up amid conflict between social classes, Ponyboy Curtis definitely qualifies as heroic.  The Outsiders is a tragic story, but one that emphasizes the love of the Curtis brothers for each other and the sacrifices the “Greasers” are willing to make for each other in the face of social-economic conditions that make them outcasts in their own town.  Ponyboy and his older brothers, Darrel and Sodapop, live together following the deaths of their parents and try their best to overcome innumerable obstacles, not least of which is the frequent tensions among them as they attempt to coexist. 

Ponyboy is the story’s narrator.  When he his friend Johnny are forced to flee the town and hide following Johnny’s stabbing of a “Soc” who was holding Ponyboy’s head underwater, the two pass their time reading Gone With The Wind, playing poker and sharing their thoughts.  It is when their older and tougher friend Dallas shows up at their hiding place and drives them back towards town that Ponyboy and Johnny’s defining moment arises.  The two boys, Ponyboy in the lead, enter a flaming Church and rescue four or five children trapped inside among the burning rubble.  Ponyboy describes the sensations of entering the burning church and searching for the missing children:

“ . . . we started stumbling through the church. I should be scared, I thought with an odd detached feeling, but I'm not. The cinders and embers began falling on us, stinging and smarting like ants. Suddenly, in the red glow and the haze, I remembered wondering what it was like in a burning ember, and I thought: Now I know, it's a red hell. Why aren't I scared?”

As Ponyboy and Johnny rescue each of the children, carefully carrying them to a broken window and lowering them outside to safety, Dallas pleads with them to forget the children and save themselves:

“ . . . Dally was standing there, and when he saw me he screamed, ‘For Pete’s sake, get outa there!  That roofs gonna cave in any minute.  Forget those blasted kids!”

“I didn’t pay any attention, although pieces of the old roof were crashing down too close for comfort.”

Ponyboy’s actions were heroic in every sense of the word.  He risked his life so that others would be spared the horrendous fate of burning to death.

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