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Johnny Cade is a hero when he helps rescue the kids from the church fire.
When Johnny kills Bob, he is acting in self-defense. Bob is drunk and goes after Johnny. Johnny is actually a gentle soul, and kind at heart. After Johnny’s accident, Dally tells Johnny and Pony to leave town and hide at an old abandoned church.
The boys spend some time at the church just reading and waiting for Dally to come and get them. Then some kids come to the church on a field trip, and someone a fire starts.
There was a crowd at the front of the church, mostly little kids, and I wondered how they'd gotten there so quickly. (ch 6, p. 91)
When Johnny realizes that there might be kids trapped in the church, he goes in to help. Johnny does not think about himself. He is worried about a life on the run and feels guilty about killing Bob, but at that moment he and Pony just want to help.
Pony enters the burning church, and realizes Johnny is right behind him. When they get to the kids, Johnny is acting like a different person. He is calm and assertive.
That was the only time I can think of when I saw him without that defeated, suspicious look in his eyes. He looked like he was having the time of his life. (ch 6, p. 93)
Dally orders them to leave, but they ignore them. Then there is a crash and Pony hears Johnny scream.
When Pony wakes up, he realizes that Johnny has gotten badly hurt.
A piece of timber caught him across the back-he might have a broken back, and he was burned pretty severely. (ch 6, p. 96)
Unfortunately, Johnny does not survive his injuries. However, he dies a hero. Johnny felt terrible about the fight with Bob, and had never been the same after being jumped by the Socs. Although he did not survive the fire, he died doing something that mattered to him. In rescuing the kids, he found himself.
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