What is the key idea in The Outsiders in Chapters 1-3?

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Chapters 1-3 introduces the idea that life isn't fair and that sometimes, this is true no matter which side of town one lives in. Additionally, most teenagers value the same things in life no matter which strata of society they belong to.

For example, in Chapter 1, Pony relates how he must live with his two older brothers after his parents' deaths. Darry, the oldest, is only twenty but looks much older. Because of extenuating circumstances, he must work two jobs while trying to maintain the structural integrity of their little family. Sodapop, the second oldest, is movie-star handsome but must work at a DX gas station in order to help Darry put Pony through school. Pony, the youngest, definitely feels that he relates to the character of Pip in the Dickensian novel, Great Expectations: like Pip, he has to endure the social stigma of being ostracized because he is not a gentleman. He resents the fact that Socs are always trying to beat up Greasers; Pony thinks that being poor shouldn't be a reason to get beat up on.

In Chapter 2, Pony meets Cherry and Marcia, two friendly Socs girls who engage in conversation with him and Johnny. In this chapter, Johnny finds himself at odds with Dally, a tough fellow Greaser, who tries to take advantage of Cherry. Yet, despite his fear of the bigger boy, Johnny orders Dally to leave Cherry alone. By all indications, Johnny's brave action saves Cherry embarrassment but succeeds in alienating him from a fellow Greaser. This incident highlights the conflict between Greasers and Socs and between individuals in both groups who don't wish to conform to societal expectations of gang behavior. In this chapter, Pony also describes how badly Johnny was beaten up by four Socs. His narrative and Cherry's later assertion that 'things are rough all over' reinforces the idea that life is difficult no matter where one lives.

In Chapter 3, Cherry maintains that it isn't money which separates the Greasers from the Socs but rather, honesty. She argues that Socs socialize at a very superficial level, while Greasers are more emotionally open with one another.

"That's why we're separated," I said. "It's not money, it's feeling---you don't feel anything and we feel too violently."

Even though Cherry asserts that Pony has no idea what sort of challenges Socs kids endure on a daily basis, Pony definitely feels that Greasers have it far worse. However, in this chapter, Johnny expresses similar views that is later expressed by Randy, a Soc, in Chapter Seven: many Socs and Greasers are tired of all the conflict that exists between the two groups. Most Socs and Greasers just want to live happier lives and to know that they matter to their families and their communities.

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