The Outsiders is one of my favorite books. My students always love to read it as well as observe the movie.
Johnny and Pony Boy have a friendship established out of need. They both belong to the Greasers, a gang in a lower class district. Pony Boy's home is where the boys go to hang-out, sleep on the couch, or just to feel safe. Pony Boy's parents were killed in an auto wreck and his older brothers, Darry and Soda Pop, are raising him. Johnny's parents are abusive and neglectful. Johnny is skittish because he is a victim in his home and has been victimized by the Socs. Pony Boy describes Johnny as:
"If you can picture a dark puppy that has been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers, you'll have Johnny."(12)
"He was the gang's pet. Everyone's kid brother."(12)
At the drive-in when Pony Boy and Cherry are getting snacks she asks him about Johnny. In his defense Pony Boy says:
"And I don't like to talk about it either-Johnny getting beat-up."(31)
After Pony Boy and Johnny get into a disagreement Pony Boy says something mean to Johnny. He apologizes and tells him:
"I'm sorry," I said miserably. Johnny was my buddy."(43)
The relationship between Johnny and Pony Boy is further cemented when they run away. Johnny had killed a Soc, Bob, while trying to protect Pony Boy. Johnny tells Pony Boy the following after he has just stabbed Bob:
“I had to. They was drowning you, Pony. They might have killed you.” (57)
Knowing he is dying he has a nurse help him to write a letter. In Johnny’s letter he tells his friend to keep digging the sunsets and being gold. In his last minutes of life Johnny has helped to direct Pony Boy to turn his life around.
"Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold."
As he lies dying in Chapter 9, Johnny Cade says these words to Ponyboy. “Stay gold” is a Robert Frost poem that Ponyboy recited to Johnny when the two hide out in the Church. One line in the poem reads, “Nothing gold can stay,” meaning that innocence doesn't last and everything good must eventually come to an end. By the end of the novel, the boys realize that they cannot remain unaffected by the harsh realities of life. Here, Johnny urges Ponyboy to stay gold, or innocent. Johnny now senses the uselessness of fighting; he knows that Ponyboy is different from the others, and he wants Ponyboy to hold onto the golden qualities that set him apart from his companions, like his appreciation for the simple things in life and his sensitive nature, how he cares about things.
The quotation also recalls when the boys were hiding out a the church. During the time there, the two boys read, talked, and smoked, escaping responsibility and adulthood. In the poem, the gold doesn't last and vanishes. They realize their time at the church will not last either. That time together was gold, but like all other good things, it had to come to an end.