What does it mean when Johnny tells Ponyboy "be gold" in The Outsiders?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I assume you are referring to The Outsiders.  In The Outsiders, there is reference to the following poem:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

This poem is called "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost.  The meaning of the poem is that everything starts out young and innocent, but it cannot stay.  Good is "the hardest hue to hold" because there are so many influences just from living life that can corrupt us.  When Johnny tells Ponyboy to "stay gold" he means that he wants him to stay good, and not be corrupted by the negative forces in the world.

The Outsiders is a coming of age story.  Although Ponyboy is a good person, he gets caught up in gang life and ends up going on the run after a boy dies.  Throughout the story, Ponyboy keeps his good heart and does manage to stay gold.

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Johnny says these words to Ponyboy as he lies in a hospital bed, dying from his burns. His remarks are significant as they show that Johnny has achieved some wisdom in his last few moments on earth. At long last, he now realizes the futility of fighting, of the importance of "staying gold," staying young and innocent for as long as possible. That's what he means by the reference to the Frost poem that Ponyboy used to read to Johnny when they were hiding out in the church. It's too late for Johnny, but there's still hope for Ponyboy. Johnny's sure that Ponyboy can still hang on to his "gold," that residue of youthful innocence that elevates him far above the common run of gang members.

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