Johnny Cade is the smallest and second-youngest of the greaser gang in The Outsiders. Ponyboy describes Johnny as the "last and least" of the group. He is compared to a "little dark puppy who has been kicked too many times." He is slightly built, with jet-black eyes and greasy, jet-black hair that is combed on one side, with "shaggy bangs across his forehead." He is also the darkest of all the greasers, both in complexion--he is heavily tanned--and in spirit. He had "a nervous, suspicious look in his eyes," and he is also nervous and jumpy after the severe beating he takes from the Socs, which leave him with a scar "from his temple to his cheekbone."
Johnny is the gang's pet--the little brother to all of them; Soda sometimes calls him "Johnnycake." He is shy, and his ears get red when he is embarrassed. He cries fairly easily. He has a soft and sensitive side, which he displays on Jay Mountain while hiding out with Pony. He also proves to be quite insightful, explaining the meaning of the poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay," before he dies.
The Outsiders traces the difficult life of Ponyboy Curtis who is a "Greaser," which is the name of one of the gangs in his neighborhood. The Greasers are from the "East side" of town, unlike the "Socs," the gang from the "West side" and the privileged few who "jump Greasers and wreck houses." Greasers are a close-knit group of "hoods" who "hold up gas stations and have a gang fight once in a while" but would never hurt anyone just "for kicks."
Life for Ponyboy's best friend Johnny Cade, who is affectionately called "Johnnycake," is very hard. His father is abusive and his mother neglectful to the point that "Johnny had it awful rough at home." Johnny is accepting and tolerant of his situation and never feels sorry for himself. He has also been beaten very badly by the Socs for no reason other than that he is a Greaser. As a result, Johnny is very wary, always uneasy and "scared of his own shadow." The gang is more like family to Johnny and he is protected by some of its fiercest members, such as Dally Winston.
Johnny is often mistakenly perceived as being younger than he is because of his "slight build." He is also shy but fiercely loyal to his gang, and it is this that gets him into trouble when he saves Ponyboy but murders one of the Socs who was trying to drown Ponyboy in the fountain.
Johnny knows that Ponyboy loves Gone with the Wind and is considerate enough to bring him a copy while they are hiding out. He appreciates his friend's intellect and wants to learn. He is also impressed by Ponyboy's poetry readings and interprets a Robert Frost poem, revealing that he has a deeper understanding than his education gives him credit for. Ponyboy is surprised at Johnny's ability to find a personal message in the poem. Ponyboy is moved by Johnny's plea to "stay gold" because Johnny understands how easy it would be for Ponyboy to change because of their harsh environment. This also shows that Johnny is intuitive and thoughtful, wanting only the best for his friend.
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