After his parents are killed in a car accident, Ponyboy Curtis becomes increasingly frustrated with the rules imposed on him by his oldest brother, Darry. Ponyboy thinks Darry hates him. He does not realize that Darry’s rules are meant to keep Ponyboy and his other brother, Soda, out of trouble. Darry is worried that if his brothers get in trouble, the three will be split up and sent to a boys’ home.
Ponyboy walks home from the movies alone. He is followed by a red Corvair full of Socs, the rich kids in town. Ponyboy notices the car and worries that the Socs might try to beat him up. His fears are not unfounded, since his friend Johnny Cade had recently been assaulted by such a group. The Socs get out of the car and threaten to cut off Ponyboy’s long, greasy hair. The Socs pin Ponyboy to the ground, and he screams for help. Ponyboy’s brothers and friends hear his cries for help and come to his aid. Ponyboy is shaken up but not seriously injured. Darry criticizes Ponyboy for his lack of common sense. He says that Ponyboy should know better than to walk home alone.
Later, Ponyboy goes to the drive-in with his friends Dally Winston and Johnny Cade. Dally starts talking dirty to two rich girls sitting near them. The redhead, Cherry Valance, tells Dally to leave them alone. Dally backs off and leaves. Cherry asks Ponyboy if he intends to pick up where Dally left off. Ponyboy says he does not. The girls strike up a conversation with Ponyboy despite the fact that he is from the wrong side of town.
Dally returns and starts taunting the girls again. Cherry throws her drink on him. Dally will not stop bothering the girls until Johnny intervenes on their behalf. When Johnny tells him to stop, Dally stalks off and does not come back. Cherry tells Ponyboy that she and her friend, Marcia, left their boyfriends because the boys were drunk. The girls ask Ponyboy and Johnny to sit with them. Two-Bit arrives before the movie is over, sneaks up on the group, and frightens Johnny. Cherry is surprised by the strength of Johnny’s reaction, until Ponyboy tells her that Johnny was jumped by a group of Socs a few months before.
After the movie, Two-Bit convinces the girls to let him give them a ride home. As they are walking to Two-Bit’s car, a Mustang full of Socs pulls up. Bob Sheldon and Randy Anderson, Cherry and Marcia’s boyfriends, plead with the girls to come with them and stop walking with “the bums.” Two-Bit takes offense at the comment. Cherry and Marcia agree to go with Bob and Randy in order to prevent a fight. Before Cherry leaves, she tells Ponyboy not to take it personally if she does not talk to him at school on Monday. Ponyboy understands: They are not in the same social class, and they never will be. Cherry also tells Ponyboy that she hopes she never sees Dally again, because she will fall for him if she does.
Two-Bit leaves. Ponyboy and Johnny continue walking home but stop at a vacant lot down the street to talk about meeting the girls. They wish that they lived in a place not divided into Greasers and Socs, where everyone is just plain and ordinary. The boys fall asleep in the vacant lot. Johnny wakes Ponyboy and tells him that he is going to stay in the lot instead of going home. Ponyboy realizes he has missed his curfew and rushes home.
When Ponyboy gets home, Darry is...
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