S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders tells the story of a young teenager named Ponyboy, who is a member of the greasers gang, who is ensnared in a battle with the Socs, the richer people in the neighborhood. One day, a group of Socs try to drown Ponyboy, who is a greaser, in a fountain, but his friend Johnny kills one of the Socs, which causes them to run away. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Ponyboy and Johnny are also forced to flee, and they hide out in an abandoned church. It is during this time that a fire starts in the church, and Ponyboy and Johnny go in to rescue the children who are still stuck inside. From this moment in the book forward, things begin to change for Ponyboy. He questions the ideals he has believed for a long time, and it seems that his worldview has changed substantially by the end of the book.
At the beginning of the book, Ponyboy believed that all Socs were bad, and that revenge against them was the only option; however, he meets some Socs who show him that’s not true. Many of his friends, including Johnny, had been jumped by Socs before, and they were often very brutal, sometimes even killing greasers. Ponyboy thinks the Socs “jump greasers and wreck houses and throw beer blasts for kicks.” However, one day when Ponyboy is at the theater, he meets a Soc named Sherri Valance (nicknamed Cherry), who tells him that not all Socs are bad. Ponyboy befriends her, and Ponyboy comes to the conclusion that while greasers are more sensitive, Socs are cold, aloof, and the exact opposite. As Cherry puts it, “we don’t feel.” While Ponyboy begins to realize Socs like Cherry exist, his viewpoint gets conflicted when Cherry’s boyfriend Bob nearly drowns him, driving Johnny, who is known to be kind and perhaps a bit shy, to stab Bob, which kills him. This incident lingers in Ponyboy’s head for a while, but it isn’t until the end of the book that he really changes.
After Ponyboy encounters another Soc, he begins to reconsider who’s right and who’s not. After Ponyboy returns from the abandoned church with Johnny, Randy Anderson, who is a friend of Bob, pays a visit to him. He tells him that in truth, Bob was actually a nice guy, and that his parents spoiled him too much. This caused Bob to be very angry, annoyed, and perhaps even sad; all he wanted, Randy said, was for his parents to say “no” to him once. He went out of control and was constantly drinking, and that’s partially what caused him to attack Ponyboy. This was different from what Ponyboy had believed; he thought Bob was simply fueled by hatred for the greasers. Cherry tells him a similar story, which changes him even more, since Cherry was the only friend he had that wasn’t a greaser. Although he still shows up at the big fight between the greasers and the Socs, it is clear that he is a changed person by the end of the book.
While many of his friends, such as Ponyboy’s own brothers, remain unchanged from the beginning to the end, a small but certain seed of change is planted in Ponyboy, and grows steadily throughout the book. His encounters with Cherry, Randy, and the other Socs changed him, and this is portrayed well by the last couple pages of the book. During this time, Ponyboy’s grades drop substantially, but he gets over this by writing out what’s nagging him the most: the event that started his of conflict morals, Bob’s death. The change in Ponyboy may have been small, but in the end it was enough to make him think things over again.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Puffin Books, 1988. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!