Ponyboy Curtis, the narrator of S. E. Hinton's novel The Outsiders, is very clear about his feelings regarding Dally. Early in the story, in the opening chapter, Ponyboy describes his hardscrabble life as an orphaned child being raised by his two older brothers amid a perpetual cycle of violence between the poorer boys of the city, the Greasers, and the more affluent ones, the Socs. Once this basic setting is established, Hinton's young narrator begins to describe important figures in his life, including Dally:
"If I had to pick the real character of the gang, it would be Dallas Winston—Dally. I used to like to draw his picture when he was in a dangerous mood, for then I could get his personality down in a few lines. . .He was tougher than the rest of us—tougher, colder, meaner."
As Ponyboy's description continues, he emphasizes the hardened nature of Dally's character. Dally is the one among the group who is regularly in trouble with the law and who is more than just a Greaser; he is, for all intents and purposes, a criminal. Dally, Ponyboy relates, has been arrested at least once and is seriously lacking in any degree of fealty to the conventions of society. Ponyboy is not, at this point in the story, a fan. As he notes, "I didn't like him, but he was smart and you had to respect him."
This, then, is how Ponyboy views Dally early in The Outsiders. As the story progresses, however, Dally's importance in Ponyboy's life increases, and Ponyboy develops a considerable measure of respect and fondness for the older, tougher, and infinitely loyal Dallas Winston. As readers of Hinton's novel know, Dally will die towards the end of the story, but only after helping Ponyboy and Johnny, and only after suffering emotionally at Johnny's death. Ponyboy learns not only to respect Dally for the latter's fearlessness but to love his now-deceased friend despite his conviction that Dally was a doomed figure:
"Don't think of Dally breaking up in the hospital, crumpling under the street light. Try to think that Johnny is better off now, try to remember that Dally would have ended up like that sooner or later."
Ponyboy mourns his friend and protector's loss, even while knowing inside that Dally was heading down a dangerous path from which there was no return.