Who is Bob in The Outsiders?

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In S.E. Hinton's novel, The Outsiders, Bob Sheldon is a member of The Socs, a rival gang to Ponyboy's "greasers." The Socs are from rich families and come from the West side of town. Bob's parents allow him a great deal of freedom and he tends to run wild.

Bob is a minor character but plays a pivotal role in the plot. During a fight in the park, the Socs grab Ponyboy and hold his head underwater in the fountain. When he sees that Ponyboy is about to drown, Johnny stabs Bob with a switchblade to get them to stop. He kills Bob, which leads to Johnny and Ponyboy both having to run away to avoid being arrested for murder.

Later, Cherry Valance, Bob's girlfriend whom Ponyboy had always thought of as the archetypal rich, popular Soc, testifies that Bob was drunk on the night he died and that Johnny killed him in self-defense (or defense of Ponyboy).

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Bob is Sherri "Cherry" Valence's boyfriend.  He is also the Social that beat Johnny up. (We learn this through Ponyboys' retelling of the story the night of the movie). He drives a "tuff" blue Mustang, wears a lot of rings (a clue that tells us he was responsible for hurting Johnny), and likes to bully others. He directs another social to "give the kid a bath" in the scene at the park.  That social then pushes Ponyboys' head under the water in the fountain. 

Johnny, being scared from the first time he got jumped and worried that they are going to kill Pony, kills him by stabbing him.

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Bob Sheldon is the stereotypical Soc (Social) character in the book. He is rich, drives a cool blue Mustang, and his parents let him do whatever he wants. Bob really loves to push other people around, and wears heavy rings on his hands when he fights greasers so he can do more damage. Bob is the one who beat up Johnny so badly that he was terrified and started to carry a switchblade with him.

Randy is Bob’s best friend. However, Bob’s character never develops in maturity the way Randy does.

At the turning point of the story, Bob tries to drown Ponyboy and Johnny kills him.

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Bob is one of the Socs, and he is also the boyfriend of Cherry Valence. Through hints in the novel referring to the rings on his fingers, we know that he is the Soc who previously beat up Johnny. He is also the Soc that Johnny ends up killing because he was trying to drown Ponyboy in the park the night that Ponyboy and Johnny ran away.

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In The Outsiders, what sort of character is Bob?

We are not supplied with that much information about Bob in this excellent novel. However we are told that he is handsome, wealthy, and most importantly, a Soc. He is Cherry's boyfriend, and it is clear that he likes to drink, but that this causes problems in his relationship with Cherry. Note what she says to him in Chapter 3:

"Bob, I told you, I'm never going out with you while you're drinking, and I mean it. Too many things could happen while your're drunk.. It's me or the booze."

However, it is also strongly indicated that it was Bob and his gang that was responsible for Johnny's attack that has left him so traumatised. Note what Ponyboy sees as the car pulls up:

Johnny was breathing heavily and I noticed he was staring at the Soc's hand. He was wearing three heavy rings. I looked quickly at Johnny, an idea dawning on me. I remembered that it was a blue Mustang that had pulled up beside the vacant lot and that Johnny's face had been cut up by someone wearing rings...

So, clearly Bob has a violent side to him that, when unleashed, could be incredibly destructive. However, as Cherry tells Ponyboy later on, it would be wrong to label him as a violent psychopath alone:

"You only knew his bad side. He could be sweet sometimes, and friendly... Bob was something special. He wasn't just any boy. He had something that made people follow him, something that marked him different, maybe a little better, than the crowd."

It is important that the author presents Bob as just human like everyone else in the play. He is another character that would benefit from looking at sunsets, and another young man caught up in a system beyond his understanding and control. So whilst we are perhaps tempted to think of Bob in purely negative terms, it is important to maintain a balanced view of his character.

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