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The Outsiders

S. E. Hinton

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Ponyboy Curtis

Ponyboy Curtis, the youngest member of the greasers, narrates the novel. Ponyboy theorizes on the motivations and personalities of his friends and describes events in a slangy, youthful voice. Though only fourteen years old, he understands the way his social group functions and the role each group member plays. He sees that Two-Bit is the wisecracker, Darry the natural leader, and Dally the dangerous hood.

Ponyboy dislikes the Socs, whom we see through his subjective viewpoint. The distorting effects of hatred and group rivalry make his narration less than objective. Ponyboy is young enough to have changeable conceptions of people, however, and over the course of the novel he realizes that Socs have problems just as greasers do. He also comes to see that Socs are even similar to the greasers in some ways.

Ponyboy has a literary bent, which Hinton uses to show that poverty does not necessarily mean boorishness or lack of culture, and that gang members are not always delinquents. Ponyboy identifies with Pip, the impoverished protagonist of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, cites the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” and introduces Johnny to the southern gentlemen of Margaret Mitchell’s Southern epic, Gone with the Wind. With such an awareness of literary protagonists, Ponyboy sees himself as he is, as both character and narrator. He takes on the narrator’s work of recounting events and the character’s work of growing and changing as a result of those events. The novel is not just a story of gang rivalry; it is an account of Ponyboy’s development.

Johnny Cade

Johnny Cade is a vulnerable sixteen-year-old greaser in a group defined by toughness and a sense of invincibility. He comes from an abusive home, and he takes to the greasers because they are his only reliable family. While Johnny needs the greasers, the greasers also need Johnny, for protecting him gives them a sense of purpose and justifies their violent measures. When Johnny, little and vulnerable, suffers at the hands of the Socs, the greasers feel justified in their hatred of the rival gang.

Passive and quiet, Johnny is the principal catalyst for the major events of the novel. He stands up to Dally at the drive-in and tells him to stop harassing the two Soc girls, Cherry and Marcia. Johnny’s intervention on the girls’ behalf pleases the girls, and they talk and walk with the greasers. This interaction between female Socs and male greasers sparks the anger of the Soc boys and motivates them to attack Johnny and Ponyboy. Ultimately, Johnny’s small acts of courage lead to murder, death, and heroic rescue. But Johnny ends by advocating against gang violence, stating that he would gladly sacrifice his life for the lives of little children. Although a gentle boy, he has a profound impact with his startling, persistent demand for peace. His courage in rescuing the children from the burning church and his subsequent death as a result of injuries sustained in the rescue make him a martyr. Ponyboy’s decision to write the story that becomes The Outsiders ensures that Johnny’s bravery will not be forgotten.

Cherry Valance

Before Cherry Valance enters the narrative, Ponyboy paints the conflict between the greasers and the Socs as irreconcilable. The introduction of Cherry, however, suggests that individual friendships can chip away at group hatreds. Cherry gets along perfectly well with some of the greasers. She likes Ponyboy and Johnny because they treat her politely. Dally’s rude antics do not amuse her. Her disenchantment with Dally’s behavior suggests that she talks to Ponyboy and Johnny not because she is slumming and their greaser identity fascinates her, but rather because she likes them as individuals. For a short while at least, she cares more about how each boy behaves than about his West Side or East Side address.

Cherry is not just a sweet, simple girl. She finds herself sexually attracted to Dally, who is crass and unrefined but also sexy and charismatic. Despite all her attraction to the greasers, moreover, she is not completely free of group prejudice. She tells Ponyboy she probably will not say hello to him at school, acknowledging that she respects social divisions. Although Cherry plays a relatively small role in the novel, the ambiguity of her sympathies gives us something to which we can relate. She mirrors our own perspective as someone close to the action who is nevertheless an outsider and who does not always fully understand other characters’ emotions and motivations.

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Eye color important!

by jmm0411, September 02, 2012

Eyes represent the way Ponyboy feels about certain characters! For example Darry has icy blue ices because Ponyboy feels least comfortable with him.

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109 out of 154 people found this helpful

Good Book!

by harrygirl320, September 13, 2012

For once, I actually recommend really reading this book...its pretty interesting

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57 out of 124 people found this helpful

The Outsiders

by Shooby698, May 12, 2013

Sodapop kinda acts like there mom.Darry kinda acts like the dad.

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26 out of 54 people found this helpful

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