What are some characteristics of Dallas in The Outsiders?

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Dally can be violent and impulsive, but he genuinely cares about Ponyboy.

Towheaded and shifty-eyed, Dally was anything but handsome. Yet in his hard face there was character, pride, and a savage defiance of the world. (ch 4, p. 59)

Dallas is the older friend of Ponyboy and his brothers.  He is described as “tougher, colder, meaner” (ch 1, p. 11).  Dallas Winston is nicknamed Dally by those closest to him.  He has had a difficult life, spending “three years on the wild side in New York” and getting arrested by ten years old.  Physically, he is distinctive.  Both his looks and personality are described in animal metaphors.

He had an elfish face, with high cheekbones and a pointed chin, small, sharp animal teeth, and ears like a lynx. (ch 1, p. 10)

This description also hints at Dally’s unpredictability and roughness.  The reader gets the impression that Dally is not someone you want to mess with.  He is street-smart and independent, and he can handle himself.  He has had a difficult life, and it shows in his demeanor.

His eyes were blue, blazing ice, cold with a hatred of the whole world. (ch 1, p. 10)

As the story starts, Ponyboy is weary of Dallas.  He is aware that he “hated to do things the legal way” (ch 2, p. 20).  This makes him anxious around him.

I didn't like him, but he was smart and you had to respect him. (ch 1, p. 10)

Dally’s rough exterior demonstrates itself in his treatment of Cherry and her friend. He harasses them at the drive in.

He started out bad and got worse.  Dallas could talk awful dirty if he wanted to and I guess he wanted to then. (ch 2, p. 21)

Despite Dally’s difficult behavior, the boys turn to him when they are in trouble.  When Johnny accidentally kills a Soc in the park, he and Ponyboy know that Dally can help them.  Ponyboy is nervous about going to him, but he knows that Dally will know what to do.

He didn't bat an eye when Johnny told him what had happened, only grinned and said

"Good for you" when Johnny told how he had knifed the Soc. (ch 4, p. 59)

Dally tells the boys to hide in the country and lay low until he can get them.  He has experience running from the law.  Ponyboy describes Johnny’s obsession with Dally as “hero worship” (p. 76) and says that Dally is the one he likes the least.  When Dally helps to save Johnny from the burning church, Ponyboy worries that he will be annoyed that the papers make him out to be a hero.  Dally would not want to sound heroic.

When Dally tells Ponyboy he was glad he didn’t kill him trying to get him out of the fire, Ponyboy’s opinion of him changes slightly.  He decides Dally is not all bad.

Dally shows a softer side when Johnny dies.  Frustrated and grieving, he robs a grocery store and goes on the run.  When the cops find him, he raises a gun so that they shoot him.  He commits suicide by cop.

The character of Dally goes a long way to establishing one of the major themes of the book: you can't judge people by the way they look.  Dally seems tough and mean, and he is.  Yet under that rough exterior he also has a good heart.