Discussion Topic

The meaning and significance of Johnny's "stay gold" message to Ponyboy in The Outsiders

Summary:

Johnny's "stay gold" message to Ponyboy in The Outsiders signifies the importance of preserving innocence and goodness in a harsh world. Drawing from the Robert Frost poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay," Johnny urges Ponyboy to hold onto his youthful innocence and unique qualities despite the challenges and corruption around him.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Does Ponyboy share Johnny's 'stay gold' message with anyone in The Outsiders?

At the end of the story, Ponyboy discovers Johnny's letter in the novel Gone with the Wind, which inspires him to write the novel The Outsiders in order to share his story with other kids struggling to overcome similar obstacles in their lives. In Johnny's letter, he interprets the Robert Frost poem by explaining to Pony that staying gold is equivalent to remaining youthful, innocent, and hopeful in life. Johnny once again encourages Ponyboy to stay gold and to share the same message with Dally, who desperately needs to see the positives in life. After reading Johnny's poem, Pony feels inspired to help the thousands of adolescents throughout the country dealing with similar issues and immediately calls his English teacher to ask him about the required length of his theme assignment. Pony then thinks about Bob Sheldon, Dally, and Johnny before beginning to write the story that he just narrated for his English assignment. Pony's first words of his theme assignment are the first words of the novel The Outsiders. Overall, Pony shares Johnny's message with his English teacher and countless adolescents who end up reading the novel.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Does Ponyboy share Johnny's 'stay gold' message with anyone in The Outsiders?

Yes, Ponyboy does plan on relating Johnny's message about 'staying gold' to other people, as revealed in the final chapter of the novel:

"I could picture hundreds and hundreds of boys living on the wrong sides of cities [...] Someone should tell their side of the story, and maybe people would understand then and wouldn't be so quick to judge a boy by the amount of hair oil he wore" (179).

Ponyboy contemplates the importance of telling the other boys' stories after finishing Johnny's letter.  He wishes he could tell Dally, knowing and hating the fact that it was too late.  After considering all the other boys who might need to hear a similar message, Ponyboy picks up his phone and called his English teacher, Mr. Syme, wondering about the required length of his English theme essay.  The reader can infer that Ponyboy plans on telling his and Johnny's story for his English paper that is due. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What did Johnny mean when he told Ponyboy to "stay gold" in The Outsiders?

He means for Ponyboy to hold on to his innocence and youth as long as he can. The source of quote is a poem by Robert Frost, "Nothing Gold Can Stay."

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What did Johnny mean when he told Ponyboy to "stay gold" in The Outsiders?

In the novel The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, Johnny tells Ponyboy to "stay gold," which means to stay out of trouble and follow his dream. The "stay gold" is a reference to the poem Johnny read to Ponyboy earlier in the novel which is a poem by Robert Frost called "Nothing Gold Can Stay". Johnny knows that Ponyboy doesn't really belong in a gang, and that he could follow his dreams as the others cannot. Johnny does not want Ponyboy to end up like him, a hero who saved children but dies from the injuries he sustained while doing so. He wants Ponyboy to be the golden boy of the group and succeed at following his dreams.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What did Johnny mean when he told Ponyboy to "stay gold" in The Outsiders?

Johnny says these words to Ponyboy as he lies in a hospital bed, dying from his burns. His remarks are significant as they show that Johnny has achieved some wisdom in his last few moments on earth. At long last, he now realizes the futility of fighting, of the importance of "staying gold," staying young and innocent for as long as possible. That's what he means by the reference to the Frost poem that Ponyboy used to read to Johnny when they were hiding out in the church. It's too late for Johnny, but there's still hope for Ponyboy. Johnny's sure that Ponyboy can still hang on to his "gold," that residue of youthful innocence that elevates him far above the common run of gang members.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What did Johnny mean when he told Ponyboy to "stay gold" in The Outsiders?

I assume you are referring to The Outsiders.  In The Outsiders, there is reference to the following poem:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

This poem is called "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost.  The meaning of the poem is that everything starts out young and innocent, but it cannot stay.  Good is "the hardest hue to hold" because there are so many influences just from living life that can corrupt us.  When Johnny tells Ponyboy to "stay gold" he means that he wants him to stay good, and not be corrupted by the negative forces in the world.

The Outsiders is a coming of age story.  Although Ponyboy is a good person, he gets caught up in gang life and ends up going on the run after a boy dies.  Throughout the story, Ponyboy keeps his good heart and does manage to stay gold.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What did Johnny mean when he told Ponyboy to "stay gold" in The Outsiders?

Johnny told Ponyboy to stay gold to remind him that he did not need to stay in the gang life.

Although Pony describes the greasers as protecting each other like family and assures the reader that the kids in his town divide their affiliation by socioeconomic status, the greasers are still a gang.  The often get into trouble, with the law or with the other gang, the Socs.

Pony tells us that greasers are poorer than Socs, and also “wilder.”

Not like the Socs, who jump greasers and wreck houses and throw beer blasts for kicks … Greasers are almost like hoods; we steal things and drive old souped-up cars and hold up gas stations and have a gang fight once in a while. (Ch. 1)

Although he says he does not do those things, they are part of the life of a greaser.  Pony is expected to participate in these activities eventually, especially fighting.  He says that greasers can’t walk alone for fear they will be jumped by Socs.  

Pony is different from the other Socs.  He does well in school and likes to read.  He is just a deep thinker overall.  Johnny is aware of this.  When he and Pony spend time on the run after Johnny accidentally kills a Soc, Johnny brings Pony a book and the two spend their time discussing the novel and poetry.

While on the run, in addition to reading Gone with the Wind, they discuss the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”  The poem is about young things in nature not lasting, but it also has a metaphorical quality for Pony.  It means that as you get older, you get more corrupt.  In the hospital, Johnny tells Pony to stay gold.

"We told him about beatin' the Socs and... I don't know, he just died." He told me to stay gold, I remembered.  What was he talking about? (Ch. 10)

Johnny means that Pony has the potential to get out of the gang life. He can get an education, leave town, and become a responsible and contributing member of society.  With Johnny’s last words, he reminds Pony that the gang life is dangerous and while not all greasers have a choice, he does.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What did Johnny mean when he told Ponyboy to "stay gold" in The Outsiders?

Johnny Cade utters this last phrase, likely one of the most famous lines in all of The Outsiders, to Ponyboy as he lies dying. The quote is a reference to the line "Nothing gold can stay" from the Robert Frost poem that Ponyboy recited to Johnny when the two were hiding at the church. This notion is applied to the concept of youthful innocence throughout the novel, and Johnny is begging Ponyboy not to grow bitter and cynical and to retain his childlike sense of wonder about the world.

The quote is also a reference to the time at the church, where the two could temporarily forget about the hardships of their lives outside that particular interlude. It was a part of their lives that made their friendship into a brotherhood. That was the "gold" that couldn't stay. Johnny is asking Ponyboy to be an exception to the rule, by being something gold that stays.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What did Johnny mean when he told Ponyboy to "stay gold" in The Outsiders?

After the rumble, Dallas and Ponyboy go to the hospital to see Johnny. When they arrive, Johnny is still and quiet. During their visit, Johnny tells Ponyboy to "Stay gold." This comment is in reference to an earlier event in the story. In chapter 5, Johnny and Ponyboy observe a beautiful sunrise. Johnny comments on the mist, "All gold and silver." Ponyboy then quotes a line from a Robert Frost poem in his reply to Johnny by stating that "Nothing gold can stay." He remembers the line but is unsure of the poet's intent.

After Johnny's death, Pony finds a letter inside the copy of Gone With the Wind that Johnny had in the hospital. By reading the letter, Pony understands why Johnny told him to "Stay gold." Johnny explains that being gold is like being a kid, when "everything's new." He compares Pony's love of sunsets to being gold and instructs Pony to have Dallas look at a sunset. Johnny's words help Pony understand that Johnny wants him to see life through a youthful and positive perspective.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What did Johnny mean when he told Ponyboy to "stay gold" in The Outsiders?

What Johnny is saying to Pony is that he does not want him to change.  He does not want Pony to become hardened and bitter.  He thinks that Pony has the potential to become something and he does not want him to end up like, for example, Dallas Winston.

In the poem, Frost says that things that are beautiful (like gold) cannot stay that way.  He says that the first leaves that come out are the most beautiful, but they too cannot stay that way.  Johnny is trying to encourage Pony to resist that trend and to stay beautiful (inwardly) and good.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Outsiders, what does Johnny mean when he tells Ponyboy to "stay gold"?

More information on this topic in the links below:

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Outsiders, what does Johnny mean when he tells Ponyboy to "stay gold"?

When Johnny says this, he is telling Ponyboy to stay true to himself and to continue to be the good person he is.  Ponyboy is different from some of the other "Greasers" in that he can empathize with the "Socs" and he is more tolerant and understanding of them.  Ponyboy is more open-minded to them, which is something that most of the other "Greasers" aren't.  They simply hate the "Socs" because they are "Socs."  Examples are numerous, but a couple would be when Ponyboy has conversations with Cherry about the differences between the two groups and when he tries to be the voice of reason in several situations.  As eNotes states:

The beauty of Ponyboy's character is that though he emerges strong and confident at the end of the book, it is not the result of becoming a tough hood but of remaining true to himself.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Outsiders, what does "stay gold" mean?

To "stay gold" means to remain unspoiled, pure, and fresh. The line is something that Johnny tells Ponyboy as Johnny is dying. Johnny recalls a famous Robert Frost poem that Ponyboy recited to him when the two were in hiding after their fight with the Socs.

The scene in which Johnny first hears the poem reveals that Johnny has more depth than we have seen previously. The reader already knows that Ponyboy is academic and sensitive, with an intuitive understanding about the people around him. Therefore, it is not surprising that he marvels at the beauty of nature as he watches the sunrise. We have seen this side of Ponyboy before, when he and Cherry watch the moon and he thinks about how universal it is.

However, we get a new side of Johnny in the scene, as he is equally impressed by sunrise. He says,

"Golly … that sure was pretty … The mist was what was pretty … All gold and silver."

He tells Ponyboy,

"I never noticed colors and clouds and stuff until you kept reminding me about them. It seems like they were never there before."

At the sight of the sunrise, Ponyboy recalls the Robert Frost poem, which he recites to Johnny. Johnny is impressed. Later, in the hospital, just before he dies, he tells Ponyboy to "stay gold," which suggests that he understands the significance of the line in the poem, "Nothing gold can stay." His reference to this line refers to the brief and ephemeral stage of young adulthood when a person has their entire life ahead of them.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Outsiders, what does "stay gold" mean?

The phrase "stay gold" is an allusion to the Robert Frost poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay":

Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.

Essentially, the poem is about the transience of innocence. It illustrates this loss by using the end of springtime as a metaphor. Most people lose their innocence and youthful qualities as they grow up. This is presented in a different way from maturing or becoming less naive, which is a positive experience—instead, the loss of one's goldenness, if it were, is presented as akin to the expulsion from Eden in the book of Genesis, something tragic.

When the dying Johnny presses Ponyboy to "stay gold," he is telling him to retain the positive attributes of youth even after he has become an adult. He wants Ponyboy to remain compassionate, sensitive, and open to the beautiful things in the world (like sunsets), unlike the older teens and adults they encounter who have allowed life to make them callous, violent, and bitter.

While Frost appears to think the loss of innocence is an inevitable tragedy, Johnny seems to believe that certain elements of innocence can remain even in an adult. Once again, not in the sense of being immature or foolish, but in being open to the wonder of life.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Outsiders, what does "stay gold" mean?

Towards the end of chapter 9, Johnny's final words to Ponyboy before he dies are to "Stay gold," which is his way of telling Ponyboy to remain innocent and recognize the positive aspects of life. When Ponyboy and Johnny were hiding out in Windrixville, both boys witnessed a serene sunrise, which reminded Ponyboy of the well-known Robert Frost poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay." In the short poem, Frost explores the transience of youth, beauty, and life using the metaphor of spring's ending. Initially, Ponyboy does not comprehend the true meaning of the poem but recites the poem to Johnny. As the story progresses, Johnny suffers a serious back injury during the church fire and is taken to the hospital's critical care unit.

Following the rumble, Ponyboy and Dally visit Johnny on his death bed, where he references the Robert Frost poem by telling Ponyboy to "Stay gold." After Johnny dies, Ponyboy finds a letter that Johnny had written to him before he passed away. In the letter, Johnny explains the meaning of the poem to Ponyboy by writing,

I've been thinking about it, and that poem, that guy that wrote it, he meant you're gold when you're a kid, like green. When you're a kid everything's new, dawn. It's just when you get used to everything that it's day. Like the way you dig sunsets, Pony. That's gold. Keep that way, it's a good way to be.

Johnny recognizes the meaning of the poem and wants Ponyboy to retain his childlike innocence and purity. Johnny does not want Ponyboy to develop into a hardened, tough individual like Dally and wants him to remain a compassionate, sensitive person who appreciates the natural environment and is sympathetic towards others.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Outsiders, what does "stay gold" mean?

Johnny alludes to the Robert Frost poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by encouraging Ponyboy to "Stay gold" before he passes away in the hospital (Hinton, 126). Initially, Ponyboy does not understand the meaning of Robert Frost's poem, which elaborates on the transitory nature of life and expresses the fact that all good things must eventually come to an end. Towards the end of the novel, Pony finds a letter that Johnny had written before he died, which explains the meaning of the poem and encourages him to "Stay gold."

In the poem, nature's first green is described as being gold, which is "her hardest hue to hold." As time passes, the green leaves wither and lose their golden hue. The golden hue of nature can metaphorically apply to one's childhood innocence and optimism. Johnny understands that Pony has experienced traumatic events, which have resulted in his loss of innocence, optimism, and faith. By encouraging Ponyboy to "Stay gold," Johnny is challenging him to embrace life, remain optimistic, and appreciate the good that still exists in the world. Johnny does not want Ponyboy to lose hope and become callous and jaded like Dally, which is why he encourages him to "Stay gold."

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Outsiders, what does "stay gold" mean?

The allusion to Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a significant moment in the story. Originally, Ponyboy is confused by the meaning of the poem. After Johnny’s death, though, he begins to realize that “staying gold” is indicative of a complex moral struggle. Things in life start out “gold”—beautiful, innocent, and pure—but change is certain. For instance, the poem refers to sunrise/dawn, early leaves in autumn, and the Garden of Eden. The analogy works for Ponyboy, who grows up significantly throughout the events of the novel. He begins as an innocent boy who goes through difficult and heartbreaking times. Johnny, who dies a hero, can “stay gold.” However, Ponyboy must realize that despite everything, he must stay believing in goodness and beauty (such as the symbolic sunset). Although gold is the “hardest hue to hold,” it is not impossible. Johnny’s final note to Ponyboy causes this important realization, one that he had been struggling with throughout the novel.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on