Why are gangs important to the Greasers and Socs in The Outsiders?
Because the Greasers and the Socs are from two entirely different socio-economic classes, there are different reasons for the boys of each class to desire to belong to a gang.
For the Socs, a gang of upper-class boys, the gang is a social organization that gives the boys who belong to it a sense of identity. This gang also provides them social activities and companionship as they bond together.
Other gangs provide protection for their members. For instance, Ponyboy is a Greaser, and he explains, "Greasers can't walk alone too much or they'll get jumped." Without parents, the gang also provides Ponyboy physical security and a social unit something like a family. In order to demonstrate that they belong to a gang, the Greasers dress alike:
...we wear our hair long and dress in blue jeans and T-shirts, or leave our shirttails out and wear leather jackets and tennis shoes or boots.
Between the Greasers and the Socs, for example, there is a rivalry. When Ponyboy goes to a movie with Dally and Johnny, Dally teases two girls, Cherry and Marcia. When the Socs find out, they confront Ponyboy, trying to drown him, and Johnny kills Bob with a switchblade. The other members of the gang rally behind the boys, and one of them tells the members where to hide. This incident puts an ironic twist upon one of the reasons that youths join gangs: the need for physical safety and protection. Sometimes, unfortunately, belonging to a gang brings more danger than it does safety.
Gangs are important to both the Socs and Greasers throughout the novel because they provide support and friendship to the members. The members of the Greaser gang come from broken homes and the comradery they share helps them deal with difficult struggles throughout their lives. The gangs also provide each member with a sense of identity. The members of the Socs are known for their stylish clothes and fancy cars, while the Greasers are known for their greasy hair and bad boy image. Also, the gangs provide its members with protection. In the violent and dangerous environment, each gang helps defend its members from frequent attacks. The Socs defend each other against the Greasers and vice versa. Both gangs are also important to each character's development throughout the novel. Although the gangs have a significant affect on how each character acts and views themselves, Hinton suggests that one's social life does not define them.