Why doesn't Dally want Johnny to go jail, and why was Ponyboy surprised to hear Dally talk about the past in The Outsiders?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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While the boys are eating at the Dairy Queen in Windrixville, Johnny suddenly tells Dally that he plans on going home and turning himself into the police. Dally is shocked by Johnny's statement and proceeds to curse and criticize Johnny for not turning himself in five days ago. After the boys leave Dairy Queen, Dally expresses his feelings for Johnny and explains why he doesn't want him to go to jail by saying:

Johnny, I ain't mad at you. I just don't want you to get hurt. You don't know what a few months in jail can do to you. Oh, blast it, Johnny...you get hardened in jail. I don't want that to happen to you. Like it happened to me. (Hinton, 76)

Essentially, Dally fears that Johnny will become callous and insensitive after spending a significant time in prison. Dally recognizes that jail has turned him into a cold, hard person and doesn't want the same thing to happen to his close friend. Pony is shocked to hear Dally talk about his past in such a moving, emotional way. Typically, Dally only brags about his past but this is the first time Pony's heard him lament about how his experience in jail negatively affected his emotional state.

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bullgatortail eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Dally is not happy when Johnny tells him that the two boys want to go back home and turn themselves in. Dally has spent time in juvenile detention and jail before, and he doesn't want to see Johnny turn out the same way that he turned out. Dally tells Johnny that he doesn't want to see him hurt.

"... you get hardened in jail. I don't want that to happen to you. Like it happened to me..."

Pony is surprised to hear Dally talk about the past since it was not a good time for him. Dally spent much of his time living on the streets of New York City and had been jailed at the age of 10. He never talked about his bad times there; whenever Dally talked of the past, it was only to "brag." Dally had become "cold and hard and mean," but he was happier in Oklahoma, where he got to ride horses--one of the few things that made him happy.

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