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“Sixteen years on the streets and you can learn a lot. But all the wrong things, not the things you want to learn. Sixteen years on the streets and you see a lot. But all the wrong sights, not the things you want to see.”
Susan Eloise Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was in high school. She was tired of the gang rivalry at Will Rogers High School in Oklahoma, and rushed home one day to write the first chapter of the novel after yet another scuffle between the Greasers and the Socs. She wanted a viewpoint from the Greasers—the hoodlum gang in the book.
Ponyboy Curtis, the youngest Greaser member, narrates a memorable two weeks of his life. In the opening chapter, he exits the movie theater only to be followed by a red Corvette full of Socs (their rivals). The Socs get out and shove a knife up against Ponyboy’s chin. His Greaser brothers, Sodapop and Darrel, save him.
There are several members of the Greasers gang, but I’ll highlight on my favorite ones. Dally Winston is by far the most appealing character, in my opinion. It isn’t because he’s a relatable character, necessarily, but because you instantly love him when you know you shouldn’t.
He hates kids, he comes on to girls, and he was in jail. But that isn’t why you love him, no. You fall in love with Dally because of the way he walks down the street, because of what he does for Ponyboy and Johnny, and because he’s loyal down to the last page.
Then there’s Johnny Cade. Johnny walks around with black eyes every other day, but not because of fights—he lives with an abusive father and an alcoholic mother. Hinton finds a way to make this downtrodden boy stronger than any other Greasers in the book. As battered as he is, Johnny is still the toughest when it comes to his allegiance to the gang.
Ponyboy and Johnny become close when they have to hide out in an abandoned church. As they live off bologna for a week, Ponyboy recites a poem from Robert Frost as they watch a sunset together.
This is when the reader sees how deep Johnny is. It’s obvious how deep Ponyboy is throughout the novel, but when Johnny explains what it means to “stay gold,” the reader finally reaches in to Johnny’s soul and sees hope in a character that probably should be completely dried up of hope by now.
“That guy that wrote it,” Johnny said. “He meant you are gold when you’re a kid, like green. When you’re a kid everything is new, dawn. It’s just when you get used to everything it’s day. Like the way you dig sunsets, Pony. That’s gold. Keep it that way, it’s a good way to be.”
After hiding out, beating up the Socs, and making a court appearance, Ponyboy is told he must write a personal experience essay if he wants to pass his class. He tried to write a dozen different things, but nothing came out right. Until he thought of one last idea.
So Ponyboy Curtis sat at his desk and penned the first sentence to his essay: “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”