What did Ponyboy mean when he said of Dally, "the fight of self-preservation had hardened him beyond caring"?

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Shortly after Johnny kills Bob Sheldon in self-defense, the boys travel to Buck Merrill's home, where they seek Dally's help. When they arrive at Buck Merrill's place and Johnny explains their stressful situation to Dally, Pony analyzes their tough, callous friend and mentions,

"The fight for self-preservation had hardened...

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Shortly after Johnny kills Bob Sheldon in self-defense, the boys travel to Buck Merrill's home, where they seek Dally's help. When they arrive at Buck Merrill's place and Johnny explains their stressful situation to Dally, Pony analyzes their tough, callous friend and mentions,

"The fight for self-preservation had hardened him [Dally] beyond caring" (Hinton, 52).

Pony understands that Dally has had a significantly difficult, tumultuous life and hails from a broken home full of issues. He has lived on the streets, been to jail numerous times, and has developed a callous, insensitive attitude towards life, which has allowed him to survive and thrive in dangerous circumstances. In order to survive challenging, unstable situations, Dally has learned to protect his emotions by becoming hard and cold. Dally is used to pain, instability, and struggle, which has negatively impacted his psychology and explains why he lacks empathy for others. Essentially, Dally's struggles and difficult life have made him a hard, callous individual, who lacks sympathy for others.

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Dallas Winston has grown up on the streets of New York city, hardened by gang violence since long before relocating to Tulsa. Violence continues to be a part of his life in Oklahoma, and he is proud of his motto to become hard and tough so that nothing can touch him. His parents are not a part of his life, and the only "family" he has are his greaser buddies--and he is not one of the most popular members, aside from his close friendship with Johnny Cade. When Johnny dies, Dally loses his only true friend. It is the last straw for Dally, who decides he has little reason for living, proven by his robbery of the store while waving an empty gun at the clerk and, later, the police.

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