In The Outsiders, why does the Greasers' victory over the Socs seem futile and pointless?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton reveals the tragedy of gang rivalry and the perceived need for vindication when gang members feel wronged and think that the only way to solve a problem is through physical fighting. Ponyboy the narrator points out that the Socs will "jump Greasers...for kicks" (ch 1), but the Greasers, the gang of which Ponyboy is a member, will only fight when they think there is a need. Socs are always threatening Greasers and both Ponyboy and Johnny Cade, Ponyboy's best friend, have suffered at the hands of the Socs. Johnny in particular has suffered to such an extent that he is even afraid of his "own shadow" (ch 1).

Unfortunately, during a recent struggle Johnny killed Bob, a Soc, while one of his gang was trying to drown Ponyboy, and the two boys have been in hiding since. During a fire, the boys rescue some children and are suddenly heroes, but Johnny is badly burned and his chances of survival seem slim. The Greasers intend to "stomp the Socies good" (ch 7), according to Ponyboy's brother Sodapop, because even though a Soc died, Johnny and Ponyboy only fought them in self-defence. Even Bob's best friend Randy does not want to be part of any "rumble" because they never resolve anything. Nonetheless, the fight is going ahead because the Greasers want to "get even with the Socs. For Johnny." (ch 8) They even intend to have a party.

Immediately after the fight, which the Greasers win, they go to see Johnny in the hospital. However, Johnny is dying because of his injuries and burns and although he's pleased that his gang won, he tells them that "fighting's no good" (ch 9). Johnny then dies and Dally cannot cope and gets himself killed by the police. It seems therefore that Johnny's words to Ponyboy to "stay gold" are the most poignant, as nothing can bring Johnny back and so lessons have to be learned. There will be no celebration.