At the beginning of the story, Johnny is portrayed as a reticent, shy boy who has a terrible homelife and is extremely afraid of Socs. After being jumped by a group of Socs and suffering serious injuries, Johnny carries a switchblade with him and vows to never let it happen again. As the story progresses, Johnny begins to open up and becomes more outspoken and confident. At the drive-in movies, Johnny defends the Soc cheerleaders by challenging Dally, which astonishes Ponyboy. Later that evening, Johnny courageously defends Ponyboy by stabbing Bob Sheldon in self-defense to prevent Ponyboy from drowning. Following the death of Bob Sheldon, Johnny and Pony consult Dally and hide out in an abandoned church in Windrixville.
Johnny's character continues to develop while he is hiding out with Ponyboy. Johnny demonstrates his intelligence by comprehending the novel Gone with the Wind, develops a closer relationship with his friend, and shows that he is willing to take responsibility for his actions by deciding to turn himself in against Dally's wishes. Johnny's decision to enter the burning church also illustrates his newfound confidence and determination. Johnny proves that he is no longer the timid, fearful boy he once was by entering the burning church and helping Ponyboy save the children.
Once Johnny is in the hospital, his character continues to develop as he struggles with the bleak reality of his situation. Before Johnny passes away, he stands up for himself by refusing to see his mother. He tells Dally the truth about his violent life and encourages Ponyboy to remain innocent. Johnny's final letter to Ponyboy also illustrates his character development. Johnny writes that he has accepted the fact that he will die but does not regret saving the children from the church. Johnny also depicts his enhanced perspective and spiritual growth by metaphorically interpreting the Robert Frost poem and encouraging Ponyboy to remain innocent. By the end of the story, Johnny has developed into a courageous, outspoken teenager with an enhanced perspective of the world and a desire to help others.