Ponyboy, the young narrator of the book, has a fondness for literature. The epic novel, Gone with the Wind and the lyrical poem ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’ appear to be two of his favourite literary pieces, and he awakens Johnny’s interest in them too while they hide out in an abandoned church after Johnny kills Bob. Ponyboy passes the time reading a copy of Gone with the Wind which Johnny has brought to him, and he also quotes the poem. At the end of the book, when Johnny dies he leaves the copy of the book for Ponyboy, with a note inside it about the poem. Thus the poem and the book are linked.
On the most general level, the use of this novel and poem is to show that even Greasers, supposedly poor, ill-educated, anti-social types, can have a deep appreciation for literature, and art and culture in general. More specifically, they relate to an important theme of the book: that of transience. The titles of both works strongly hint at this. Gone with the Wind and ‘Nothing Gold can Stay’ are both ways of saying that nothing is permanent, nothing lasts; security and joy and peace are precarious. As illustration, Ponyboy lost his parents in an instant, in a car-crash, and loses Johnny and Dally, members of the Greaser gang, in the space of a week. But alongside these sudden, physical losses is also the theme that, with the inevitable passing of time, he will lose his youth and innocence – to refer to the Frost poem, the first flush of dawn, the ‘gold’ of youth, with its carefree, happy ways, cannot last. It is Johnny who figures out that this is what the poem really means (Ponyboy is initially rather puzzled by it), and he tries to pass this knowledge onto Ponyboy even as he’s dying. In fact his last words to Ponyboy are ‘Stay gold’, meaning that Ponyboy should try to keep the youthful purity of his heart, come what may, and not grow up into a mean, hardened type like some of the Greasers, for example Dally (although Dally has a notable soft side – his great affection for Johnny).
Gone with the Wind also has another relevance for The Outsiders. On the face of it, it seems to be of a quite different world to the world that Ponyboy knows, but its depiction of Southern men who go bravely to certain death, fighting for a lost cause, is seized upon by Johnny as a parallel to the Greasers. Like the Southern fighters in the Civil War, the Greasers appear to be down-and-out most of the time. Yet they courageously face up to things, just like the Southern gentlemen depicted in Margaret Mitchell’s book.