The Outsiders takes the reader through a journey of struggle, violence and death because it is a coming of age story in which Ponyboy decides that he is not going to follow his family and his gang, the greasers, into a life of violence. Being pulled into a life of violence is common in his community, where the greasers and the Socs fight each other over territory and to avenge prior attacks. This leads to the death of two young men, one on each side, before the novel is over, but also causes some members of each gang to determine that enough is enough.
Ponyboy is one of the two young men whose lives is changed by the end of the story. Although he grew up surrounded by violence and believing that it was just part of life for the greasers and the Socs, the confrontation with Johnny and Bob shakes him. He has to flee, to an abandoned church, and there re-evaluates his life.
One of the ironic elements of this encounter is that the Soc that Johnny killed defending Ponbyboy was the boyfriend of Cherry, the Soc who was kind to Ponyboy and gave a human face to the Socs, helping him see that things are rough all over, and everyone sees the same sunset.
It seemed funny to me that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren't so different. (Ch. 3)
The greasers and Socs are not completely different, Ponyboy realizes.
Cherry has her own problems. She has a big problem, in fact, when her boyfriend is killed. It puts Ponyboy and Cherry on different sides, in a way, but they are both on the same side in that they want the violence to stop.
People can change. Cherry explains that Bob’s best friend, Randy, does not want to go to the rumble (a major fight between the two gangs) to get revenge on Johnny. Randy later explains his reasons to Pony.
"I'm sick of all this. Sick and tired. Bob was a good guy. He was the best buddy a guy ever had. I mean, he was a good fighter and tuff and everything, but he was a real person too. You dig?" (Ch. 6)
Randy, the same Soc who was so gung-ho before, now has lost all of his fight. He brings up an interesting point, that underneath everything all of the Socs and greasers are all people. People make up gangs. Once joined together they get into a mob mentality and forget about consequences. Randy asks Ponyboy why he helped the children in the church fire, saying he wouldn’t have. However, he is clearly impressed.
When Johnny dies, it shakes many of the greasers to their core, and makes many of the Socs pity the greasers too. They know that he died trying to help innocent kids, even if they do blame him for Bob's death. Some of the Socs realize that Bob was the aggressor in the park. Dally, for instance, is very grieved by Johnny's death even though he is a tough guy. Johnny was the gang's pet, and they see him as an innocent victim in all of this.
When you are poor, every day is a struggle. Class wars are also common. This book takes that concept and puts it on an allegorical level, demonstrating how the Socs versus the greasers exist in a kind of permanent battle for no real reason. They are on this track for fun, but really, it is not fun. It is about survival for the greasers, and amusement for the Socs.
As Ponoyboy grows up, he struggles for his own identity apart from his greaser gang. He realizes that he does not need to live a life of violence, things are rough all over, and people can change.