What is the significance of the church fire in The Outsiders for character development?

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The significance of the church fire scene in The Outsiders is that Johnny achieves redemption after killing the Soc in a fight. The scene shows character development of Johnny, Ponyboy, and Dally, because they are presented with a situation in which they must make a choice between acting in their own best interests or making a sacrifice to help others, and all three eventually decide to make the sacrifice.

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The significance of the church fire scene in The Outsiders is that it enables Johnny to achieve redemption after killing the Soc in a gang fight. One night in a prior scene, some of the Socs find Johnny and Ponyboy and attack them. To save Ponyboy from one of the attackers, Johnny pulls out his knife and stabs him to death.

The fire scene helps the characters—both Johnny and Ponyboy, as well as Dally—develop by presenting a situation in which they must make a choice between acting in their own best interests. although it would mean harm to others, or making a sacrifice to help others. All three decide to make the sacrifice. The scene shows Johnny and Ponyboy rescuing children from the fire instead of fleeing from the police to avoid imprisonment for the stabbing. It also shows Dally sacrificing to save the other two.

Before the fire begins, Ponyboy and Johnny hide out in the old church, where they believe the police will not find them. Ponyboy notes how careful they must be with their cigarettes, because “if that old church ever caught fire there'd be no stopping it.”

When Dally takes the boys in his car, from the distance they see that a fire has, indeed, broken out. Both boys jump out of Dally’s car to run to the church. They are told that some school children who were having a picnic when the fire broke out are missing and presumably in the church. Ponyboy runs inside to rescue them, with Johnny following at his heels. Performing this heroic deed emboldens both boys. They feel courageous. This shows significant character development, particularly for Johnny, who is seen as very timid up until this point (except for a brief moment at the movies), the result of the many beatings he endures at his father’s hand and a previous attack by the Socs.

Dally is standing outside the church and screams to them,

For Pete's sake, get outa there! That roofs gonna cave in any minute. Forget those blasted kids!

Neither boy heeds Dally’s words. They put the children ahead of their own safety, and in doing so, they achieve redemption. When Dally then helps save Ponyboy and Johnny, he also achieves redemption. In fact, the ambulance technician says,

I swear, you three are the bravest kids I've seen in a long time. First you and the black haired kid climbing in that window, and then the tough-looking kid going back in to save him. Mrs. O'Briant and I think you were sent straight from heaven.

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The church fire scene in The Outsiders is crucial because it becomes one of the central factors in Ponyboy growing up. The church fire happens in chapter 5 when one of the cigarettes that Ponyboy and Johnny leave in the church catches fire. The problem is that children on a school trip have gone to explore the church and end up trapped inside the burning building. Johnny, Ponyboy, and Dally, worried about the kids, rush into the burning church to rescue them (though Dally does so hesitantly). They manage to get all the kids out, but Johnny, Ponyboy, and Dally are burned after a rafter falls on them.

The scene is hugely significant to Ponyboy’s growth as a character because, although Dally and Ponyboy are not critically injured, Johnny dies from his injuries. Johnny’s death sends Ponyboy into a guilt spiral resulting in a mental breakdown. It comes to the point that Ponyboy doesn’t believe that Johnny has died, and he is so disassociated from reality that he blames himself for Bob’s death. He tells Randy,

"I had it" I stopped him. He was looking at me strangely. "I had the knife. I killed Bob." (chapter 11)

Ponyboy has to grow because the death of Johnny forces him to; he comes face to face with the consequences of their feud with the Socs. It takes him time, though, because he has a hard time pushing past the reality of Johnny’s death.

The fire hugely impacts everything that happens in the story from that point on. Some of the Socs like Randy quit fighting and move on, while other characters have to come face to face with Johnny’s death and react in different ways. Dally, in a frenzy, robs a grocery store, confronts the police, and is shot. Darry and Sodapop eventually make up with Johnny, and their family becomes strong from the struggles they have faced. Ponyboy’s final act of coming to terms with the deaths of his friends is to write it down—which eventually becomes the novel.

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During the church fire scene in Chapter 6, Ponyboy, Johnny, and Dally develop as characters, as their actions are brave and responsible. When Ponyboy sees the church on fire, he immediately feels responsible for having started it by smoking inside the church and rushes into the church to help the children who are trapped inside. He thinks to himself, "All I could think was: We started it. We started it. We started it!" (page numbers vary by edition). Johnny, who also takes responsibility for possibly starting the fire, is right behind him. Johnny tells the trapped children he's in charge—which is a change from his previous frightened behavior. Ponyboy says of Johnny, "He wasn't scared either. That was the only time I can think of when I saw him without that defeated, suspicious look in his eyes. He looked like he was having the time of his life" (page numbers vary by edition). While Johnny's experiences have left him scared and vulnerable, rescuing the children from the fire allows him to display a brave and commanding side of himself that appears to liberate him in some ways.

Later, Ponyboy learns from Jerry, the man in the ambulance that is taking him to the hospital, that Dally went into the church to rescue Johnny, an act that also showed immense courage. Jerry says to Ponyboy, "I swear, you three are the bravest kids I've seen in a long time" (page numbers vary by edition). The significance of the church fire is that it allows all three characters to put into action the brave and selfless sides of themselves that they are not always able to show in everyday life.

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