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At the end of chapter 6, Ponyboy is picked up after saving the kids from the fire by Darry and Soda. Ponyboy hugs Soda first, of course, and remembers how Darry had hit him the night that he ran away. But then he looks up at Darry and notices that he's crying. As the narrator, Pony says,
"In that second what Soda and Dally and Two-Bit had been trying to tell me came through. Darry did care about me, maybe as much as he cared about Soda, and because he cared he was trying too hard to make something of me" (98).
This is the point at which Ponyboy realizes Darry does love him. It is certainly characteristic of a bildungsroman, or a coming of age story. However, one might argue that the points at which Pony saves the children from the fire or where he decides to go back to society are also major points of him growing from a boy to a man. The fact that he comes to understand brotherly love is also important to his growth, but it would be difficult to argue that this is the pivitol point in Pony's maturation. Ponyboy goes through many moments of growth throughout the whole story. Facing death, prejudice, and physical harm also top the list of life-growing experiences.
Darry assumed all the responsibilities of taking care of his brothers after their parents passed on. The situation forced him to abandon his opportunity to go to college. He became their primary guardian and worked hard to provide for the family. Due to the nature of his position, Darry was seemingly harsh on his brothers, and Ponyboy took it negatively, thinking that Darry disliked him. According to Ponyboy, his assertions were confirmed when Darry hit him the same night he was nearly drowned by the Socs before Johnny stabbed and killed one of them.
After saving the kids from the fire, Ponyboy comes to realize Darry's true feelings, because he sees his elder brother break down in front of him when they meet. In that moment he realizes that he mistook Darry’s strictness for hatred and discovers that his brother loves him.
Darry didn't like me... he had driven me away that night... he had hit me... Darry hollered at me all the time... he didn't give a hang about me.... Suddenly I realized, horrified, that Darry was crying.
Previous events, including the moment Pony was nearly drowned, the stabbing of Bob, and the death of Johnny, serve as a buildup toward the coming of age theme or maturity of the main character.
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