In The Outsiders, what is a "heater," and why does Dally have one?This reference is in chapter 5.
In both the popular literature of the 1950s and 1960s and in the films, especially so-called film noir detective stories, a “heater” refers to a firearm, specifically, to handguns. Detectives and gangsters would refer to themselves or to others as “carrying heat,” or “packing heat,” meaning armed with a handgun. In S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders, that word occurs several times in discussions of weaponry, especially in Chapter Five, when Dallas is ‘schooling’ the younger, more innocent Greasers, Johnny and Ponyboy, regarding self-preservation:
"I didn't tell y'all something," Dally said, finishing his third hamburger. "The Socs and us are having all-out warfare all over the city. That kid you killed had plenty of friends and all over town it's Soc against grease. We can't walk alone at all. I started carryin' a heater..."
"Dally!" I said, frightened. "You kill people with heaters!"
"Ya kill 'em with switchblades, too, don't ya, kid?" Dally said in a hard voice.
Johnny gulped. "Don't worry," Dally went on, "it ain't loaded. I ain't aimin' to get picked up for murder. But it sure does help a bluff.”
Dallas has a gun because of the "war" between the Greasers and the Socs, and death is a possibility.
In chapter 5, Dally visits Ponyboy and Johhny, who are hiding out in an abandoned church in Windrixville. Dally then treats the boys to a meal at Dairy Queen, and they begin to discuss the upcoming rumble with the Socs. Dally mentions that there is all-out warfare throughout the city and says that he cannot even travel alone. Dally then says that he has started carrying a "heater" with him everywhere he goes. A "heater" is a slang term used for a firearm. Similar to a heater, a gun's barrel emits heat and sparks will occasionally flash from its cylinder when fired. Dally believes that carrying a "heater" will protect him and deter Soc gang members from attacking him. Dally then tells Ponyboy that his gun is not even loaded and hopes to scare Soc members when he pulls it out.
A "heater" is a slang word for a pistol or a hand gun. Dallas Winston, the toughest and most street-wise member of the greasers in The Outsiders, grew up on the streets of New York. He has been arrested many times (he brags about his police file), and he is more prone to violence than the Curtis brothers or the other gang members. He carries a heater in case he should ever need it, and Johnny knows this; Dally loans it to Johnny and Pony when they go on the lamb.