How does the quote "Sixteen years on the streets you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn" relate to the gang members' lives and their learnings in "The Outsiders"?

"Sixteen years on the streets you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn."

Quick answer:

The quote helps to reveal the emptiness that hovers over the Greasers. It is what they have learned from the streets, but it is not something that they would want to know. In different ways, Johnny and Dallas exemplify this learning, but it ultimately does not provide them with redemption or meaning in life.

Expert Answers

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For Johnny and the Greasers, the quote reveals the condition of emptiness that hovers over them.  The quote brings out how the Greasers live a life that is filled with knowledge and understanding.  Yet, it is an understanding that enables them to see the more "smarmy" aspects of being in the world.  There is not redemption in this vision.  Rather, it is one of condemnation, complete with the idea that the learning and knowledge gained are reflective of that which one does not want to know.  

In different ways, the members of the gang represent narratives that embody this idea of large amounts of learning lessons that are not comforting.  For Johnny and Ponyboy, they have learned the reality of the streets is one that will follow them.  The Socs will always have the benefit of social class and economic advantage.  They can always be the aggressors and not evoke social condemnation, while the Greasers' retaliation makes them social outcasts.  Johnny and Ponyboy both have learned how there is a struggle to be "pure" in such a world.  This is one of the lessons they have learned, and it is not something that they would "want to learn." Rather, it is a reflection of what they would rather not know.  For Dallas, the knowledge he has gained from the streets is that there is nothing he can do to remove the built in social advantage that the Socs have.  Yet, he is also compelled to look out for Johnny and Ponyboy.  This is what he has learned from the streets:  What he must do and what he feels the need to do often collide with one another, making his being a tormented one.  The ending in which he dies with an empty gun in his hand reflects the sum total of his knowledge:  Pain, sacrifice, and complete negation of redemption. 

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