At a Glance

  • The Socs and the Greasers represent the opposing sides of the conflict between rich and poor. The arrogant, self-satisfied Socs flaunt their wealth and drive around in fancy cars, while the Greasers wear simple t-shirts and live on the bad side of town. Their socioeconomic differences fuel the novel's central conflict.
  • Both the Greasers and the Socs prize loyalty. Johnny shows fierce loyalty to Ponyboy by killing Bob when the Socs attack in the park. One could argue that loyalty exacerbates the conflicts in the novel, driving Johnny to violence and requiring the rival gangs to pick sides in a deadly rivalry.
  • Ponyboy’s search for his identity leads him to wonder whether he will model himself on the other members of his gang or follow his own course. He frequently rebels against his older brother Darry's authority, and he has trouble adjusting after his friend Johnny's death. Ultimately, he finds himself by writing his story down.

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Themes

Bridging Social Classes

The Outsiders focuses on issues of social class, exemplified by confrontations between the lower-class Greasers and the upper-class Socs. Ponyboy hasn’t done anything to provoke the Socs into ganging up on him, but this is not a personal or unusual attack; the Socs regularly beat up on Greasers, and the Greasers retaliate. The relations between the social classes are made more complicated when Johnny and Ponyboy befriend the Soc girls, Cherry and Marcia, at the movies. Ponyboy is surprised to find that he relates to Cherry. This is the first instance where readers see that the Socs are not all the same and that there is a common bond across the social classes. Despite learning that the Socs have their own problems, the pre-existing tensions cause the Socs to want to punish Johnny and Ponyboy for hanging out with the Soc girls. This prompts Bob the other Soc to force Ponyboy’s head underwater at the fountain and causes Johnny to kill Bob.

One of the big differences between the social classes is how they are perceived in public. The title of the novel, The Outsiders, refers to how the Greasers are not typically thought of as good kids or members of society. The Socs, on the other hand, are condemned for causing fights and wrecking houses but are just as likely to receive recognition and praise for their accomplishments. This perception slowly begins to change throughout the novel as the result of a closer look at the conflict between Ponyboy, Johnny, and Bob, and the boys’ heroic efforts with the burning church.

Honor Among the Lawless

The Outsiders focuses on giving readers insight into a group of people who are normally looked down upon in society. The novel also shows how the Greasers follow a behavioral code, even when they break the law. The idea of honor among the lawless is exemplified by Dally Winston. Although he has an extensive criminal record, his sense of pride and loyalty motivates him to help Johnny and Ponyboy find a way out of town after Johnny kills Bob. This is made more apparent when Johnny compares Dally to the Southern gentlemen in Gone with the Wind, who “[ride] into sure death because they were gallant.” As a result of Johnny and Ponyboy's saving the children from the burning church, and Dally's saving Johnny’s life, the newspaper prints an article called “Juvenile Delinquents Turn Heroes.” This shows how public perception of the Greasers has begun to change, as people recognize that one can be an honorable or ethical person despite having a criminal background.

When Ponyboy first recites “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” it is in response to Johnny wishing that the beautiful sunrise could last forever. Although Ponyboy says he doesn’t understand the poem, the reader is left to draw the connection between beauty and its transitory nature. On his deathbed, Johnny tells Ponyboy to “stay golden,” alluding to the poem although a fuller explanation isn’t given. Only when Ponyboy finds Johnny’s letter are we given Johnny’s interpretation of the...

(The entire section is 2,227 words.)