Johnny is delicate and jumpy, but he is also thoughtful. He worries about being jumped by the Socs, but he also worries about living a good life.
Johnny Cade is one of Ponyboy’s friends. He is in his late teens, but he is small and wiry.
I had never been jumped, but I had seen Johnny after four Socs got hold of him, and it wasn't pretty. Johnny was scared of his own shadow after that. (ch 1, p. 4)
Johnny also “had it awful rough at home” (p. 4). His father was abusive. Johnny’s family was mainly the gang of boys.
When Johnny accidentally kills a Soc in a rumble in the park, he and Johnny have to go on the run. While hiding in the church with Johnny, Ponyboy sees another side of him. He realizes Johnny is smarter, gentler, and more thoughtful than he previously thought.
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. (ch 5, p. 75)
Johnny remembers that Ponyboy wanted to read Gone with the Wind, and he brings the book with him to kill time. He is also impressed with the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” a poem about youth not lasting that really means something to him. When he dies, he alludes to the poem in telling Ponyboy to “stay gold,” meaning stay young and innocent.
Johnny is one of the key characters in the book because he drives the plot. It is his killing Bob that causes Ponyboy to have to run. Yet he is also a key element to the theme, because through him we see the destructive cycle of class.
Johnny Cade is practical; he uses common sense in crisis situations. After recovering from the initial shock of stabbing the Soc in self-defense, he begins to plan, "We gotta get outa here...We'll need money...a plan...Dally...Dally'll get us outa here" (Chapter 4). When he is hiding in Windrixville with Ponyboy, it is his idea to have Ponyboy cut and bleach his hair (Chapter 5). And when he realizes how worried Soda and Darry are about Ponyboy, he decides to turn himself in, reasoning the he "got a good chance of bein' let off easy...(he) ain't got no record with the fuzz and it was self-defense" (Chapter 6).
Johnny is also unselfish. He overlooks danger to himself to save the children from the burning church (Chapter 6). He decides to turn himself in when he sees how worried Soda and Darry are about Ponyboy (Chapter 6). And when he realizes he is going to die, his last thought is for Ponyboy, when he tells him to "Stay gold" (Chapter 9).
Of all the Greasers, Johnny is arguably the most sensitive. He appreciates literature and poetry, sharing Gone With the Wind andNothing Gold Can Stay with Ponyboy while they are hiding out (Chapter 5). He is perceptive enough to recognize the quality of "gold" in Ponyboy, and to realize it is something of rare value (Chapter 9). And Ponyboy himself observes, "Johnny was a good fighter and could play it cool, but he was sensitive and that isn't a good way to be when you're a Greaser" (Chapter 6).