What do we learn was so special about Johnny in The Outsiders?

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lentzk's profile pic

Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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As Ponyboy misses his friend Johnny, he reflects on how much Johnny meant to all the gang.  What was really special about Johnny was his ability to listen and care about his friends' problems: 

"Johnny was something more than a buddy to all of us [...] A guy that'll really listen to you, listen and care about what you're saying, is something rare" (178).

Ponyboy appreciates the fact that Johnny, despite all of his difficult problems at home, was probably the least self-centered guy in their gang.  His rare quality of genuinely caring for his friends and being a comfort and caring listener for them all makes Johnny very special indeed.  After realizing just important Johnny was to them all, Ponyboy picks up Johnny's copy of Gone with the Wind and discovers Johnny's final letter.  This poignant scene in the novel reinforces the over-arching theme of the importance of friendship.

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The reader of The Outsiders learns that despite his gang activity, Johnny really is a character who possesses sterling qualities that eventually inspire Ponyboy.

Despite the physical and verbal abuse that Johnny suffers from his parents, he has a good heart, and is loyal and loving. In Chapter Three Ponyboy returns to the vacant lot where Johnny is, and they walk to the park together. Not long after arriving at the park, they hear the Mustang and know that the Socs have come for them. One of the Socs grabs Ponyboy, shoving his face under the icy fountain water. He feels himself drowning and fears dying. Then, the next thing Ponyboy knows is that he is lying on the pavement, coughing. He sees Johnny; the blade he holds is covered with blood.

He was sitting next to me, one elbow on his knee, and staring straight ahead. He was a strange greenish-white, and his eyes were huger than I'd ever seen them.
"I killed him," he said slowly. "I killed that boy." (Ch.4)

Johnny has saved Ponyboy's life. The two boys go to Dallas, who gives them a gun and tells them to hide in an old abandoned church. While they are outside the church one day, a group of school children enter it, and somehow the church catches on fire. Ponyboy and Johnny break a window and enter to save the children. Johnny rescues frightened children by lifting them out the window he breaks. Ponyboy remarks,

That was the only time I can think of when I saw him without that defeated, suspicious look in his eyes. He looked like he was having the time of his life. (Ch.7)

Unfortunately, Ponyboy learns that Johnny has been severely injured; his back is broken from a piece of timber that fell on him. While he would prefer to live, Johnny is glad that he has saved the lives of innocent children. He leaves his friend Ponyboy with the message to "stay gold." That is, he wants Ponyboy to hold on to his ability to see beauty.

Johnny is special because he is unselfish and loving. He has risked his life for both Ponyboy and the children who are caught in the fire.

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simoncat's profile pic

simoncat | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

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I'm not sure my copy corresponds to your p. 178. I see in mine that Ponyboy picks up Gone with the Wind and sees Johnny's note. He basically tells Pony to tell Dally that saving the kids in the church was worth it. This note is sort of a small elegy to himself. Johnny talks about the beauty of sunsets and how he knows Pony will surpass his status as "greaser" in his life.

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