Ponyboy is caught between two worlds. He is part of the greaser gang with his brothers, Darrel and Sodapop. He is fiercely loyal to his family and friends although he does not quite fit in with their outlook on life. He is struggling to be seen as a man and full member the gang. He struggles against his natural intelligence and slight physical build.
This is evident in the opening of the book when he is assaulted by a group of Soc's. When telling the story to his older brother he begins to cry which he is immediately ashamed. Ponyboy states you only earn the right to cry if you take a beating like Johnny (who was beaten and left for dead in a vacant lot).
Further into the book Ponyboy is able to connect with Cherry Valance, a young girl connected to the Soc's. It is clear through their conversation at the drive-in movie they share an intellectual bond and Cherry encourages Ponyboy to use his intelligence. While Johnny and Ponyboy are hiding in the church, Ponyboy is able to recite a poem and talk to Johnny about being different.
Ponyboy is different from Sodapop, who is easy going and a womanizer. Darrel is smart enough to go to college, but focuses on providing for his younger brothers. Ponyboy enjoys the tight knit community of his family and friends but still yearns to escape.
As the book is closing the dynamics of Ponyboy's struggle become crystalized in a scene outside a local convenience store. Ponyboy smashes a bottle and uses it to fend of threats from rivals. However, when the tension resolves Ponyboy begins picking up the broken glass so no one gets a flat tire. This sums up the struggle of Ponyboy; to be tough, but not jaded.