In Chapter 7 of S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders, the story’s narrator, Ponyboy, describes waking up one night from a bad dream:
“I had a nightmare the night of Mom and Dad’s funeral. I’d had nightmares and wild dreams every once in a while when I was little, but nothing like this one. I woke up screaming bloody murder. And I never could remember what it was that had scared me. . . night after night, for weeks on end, I would dream this dream and wake up in a cold sweat or screaming.”
Hinton’s story of the conflicts between a group of poor kids from blue-collar families, the Greasers, and the wealthier kids from “across the tracks,” the Socs, takes place against the backdrop of Ponyboy and his older brothers, Sodapop and Darryl, struggling to remain together as a family following the death of their parents. A child losing one parent is painful; losing both parents is incomprehensible. The sense of loss that remains is too much for a child Ponyboy’s age to endure; hence, his nightmares. On top of the daily humiliations of being confronted by the Socs with their visible displays of material comfort, Ponyboy suffers a physical attack by the Socs, who hold his head underwater, prompting the tragic and fatal act by Johnny of stabbing one of the Socs and precipitating their flight from prosecution (and persecution).
And, then, in the story’s act of heroism, Johnny saves children from a burning house, only to be mortally wounded in the process. His death in the hospital from his burns and broken bones had to effect Ponyboy: after all, they were best friends and shared the experience of hiding from the police. But when Johnny succumbs from his wounds, Ponyboy is emotionally exhausted. He is losing everyone he cares about, first his parents and now his friend. He can only describe his friend’s lifeless body as such:
“You read about people looking peacefully asleep when they’re dead, but they don’t. Johnny just looked dead. Like a candle with the flame gone. It tried to say something, but I couldn’t make a sound.”
Dallas’ death could be categorized as “suicide by cop,” the phenomenon whereby a seriously depressed individual who wants to die, but can’t muster the will to kill himself, places himself in a situation, for instance, committing an armed robbery, in which the police are forced to kill him. This is precisely how Dallas exits life. And another of Ponyboy’s small circle is dead.
When, near the end of the story, Ponyboy responds to Darryl and Sodapop’s efforts at getting him to apply himself better in school and not dwell so much on the loss of Johnny and Dallas, he describes his response as follows: “I went tight and cold. We never talked about Dallas or Johnny.” Darryl and Sodapop are older and more mature; they have accepted the losses in their lives (“Johnny and Dallas were our buddies, too, but you don’t just stop living because you lose someone”) and understand the need to keep living. The memories of Johnny and Dallas are kept inside, however painful.