What is the most important lesson that Ponyboy learns in The Outsiders?

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Ponyboy learns there are more similarities among young people than differences. He also learns there is goodness in others and, most importantly, that violence serves no positive purpose.

When Ponyboy talks to Cherry in Chapter 3 , he learns the Socs have problems, too, although they differ from those of...

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Ponyboy learns there are more similarities among young people than differences. He also learns there is goodness in others and, most importantly, that violence serves no positive purpose.

When Ponyboy talks to Cherry in Chapter 3, he learns the Socs have problems, too, although they differ from those of the Greasers. Interestingly, Cherry seems to understand Ponyboy: 

"You read a lot, don't you, Ponyboy?" Cherry asked. 

I was startled. "Yeah. Why?" 

She kind of shrugged. "I could just tell. I'll bet you watch sunsets, too." She was quiet for a minute after I nodded. "I used to watch them, too, before I got so busy. . . "

From Cherry and others, Ponyboy learns there is still goodness in the world. Yet, there is also peer pressure for both gangs. Like the Greasers, the Socs have parents who neglect them, although for different reasons.

With the knowledge that he gains from his experiences, Ponyboy learns the important lesson that violence serves no positive purpose. This idea is expressed in Chapter 7 when a Mustang pulls up as Two-Bit and Ponyboy stop at the Tasty Freeze to relax and have Cokes. Randy and a tall boy who nearly drowned Ponyboy are inside; Randy asks Ponyboy to get into the Mustang and talk with him. In the course of their conversation, Randy praises Ponyboy for his courageous act of saving the children in the church fire. After saying a few other things, Randy tells Ponyboy that he is not going to participate in the rumble between their gangs:

You can't win, even if you whip us. You'll still be where you were before—at the bottom. And we'll still be the lucky ones with all the breaks. So it doesn't do any good, the fighting and the killing (Chapter 7).

Ponyboy knows Randy is right. Nothing positive comes of violence. Instead, he has lost boys that he has loved to it. This is his most important lesson.

As a summation of his experiences and thoughts, Ponyboy arrives at the realization that "[N]othing gold can stay." Words are much more effective than actions; therefore, he writes with the hope that what is "gold" in people can "stay" as it is recorded.

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One could argue that Ponyboy's most important life lesson concerns the fact that appearances and reputations can be deceiving. Towards the beginning of the novel, Ponyboy is rather naive and fails to consider that every individual, regardless of age or class, struggles in some area of his or her life. As the novel progresses, Ponyboy interacts with members of the Soc gang, has enlightening conversations with Johnny, experiences traumatic events with his brothers, and develops a broadened perspective on life. Through his interactions with Cherry Valance and Randy Adderson, Ponyboy learns that Socs struggle to maintain their reputations in their superficial social group and lack responsible authority figures. During Pony's time spent with Johnny, he realizes that intelligence is not always identified in school and that Dally is a gallant individual despite his negative personality traits. Following the church fire, Ponyboy realizes that Darry loves him and has sacrificed everything to keep their family together. Pony also learns the importance of retaining his innocence and appreciating life after reading Johnny's letter. Overall, Pony's increased perspective on life teaches him to view situations from various points of view and to not judge others, because appearances are often deceiving.

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I would say that the most important life lesson that Ponyboy learns has to be in the last couple of pages of the story, when he reads the final letter that Johnny wrote to him that includes Johnny's analysis of the poem by Robert Frost, "Nothing Gold Can Stay." In this letter, Johnny encourages Ponyboy to not be limited by the identity that others give him and he reminds him that there is still "lots of good in the world." This leads Ponyboy to contemplate the situation that is his reality, with hundreds of boys and girls divided and identified based on their wealth or lack of it and where they live in town. Note what he says about this situation:

Suddenly it wasn't only a personal thing to me. I could picture hundreds and hundreds of boys living on the wrong sides of cities, boys with black eyes who jumped at their own shadows. Hundreds of boys who maybe watched sunsets and looked at stars and ached for something better. I could see boys going down under street lights because they were mean and tough and hated the world, and it was too late to tell them that there was still good in it, and they wouldn't believe you if you did.

Ponyboy concludes that these boys need some help to tell their side of the story so that these boys would not be judged so quickly and to give them hope. Ponyboy realises that it is possible to defy the identifications that are given in this novel and which are shown to be so harmful: greaser or soc, and that these labels can be transcended.

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