As he lies dying in Chapter 9, Johnny Cade speaks these words to Ponyboy. “Stay gold” is a reference to the Robert Frost poem that Ponyboy recites to Johnny when the two hide out in the Windrixville Church. One line in the poem reads, “Nothing gold can stay,” meaning that all good things must come to an end. By the end of the novel, the boys apply this idea to youthful innocence, believing that they cannot remain forever unsullied by the harsh realities of life. Here, Johnny urges Ponyboy to remain gold, or innocent. Johnny now senses the uselessness of fighting; he knows that Ponyboy is better than the average hoodlum, and he wants Ponyboy to hold onto the golden qualities that set him apart from his companions.
The quotation also recalls the period of time during which the boys’ friendship blossoms and solidifies—the idyllic interlude at the church. During this blissful time, the two boys read, talk, and smoke, escaping the adult world of responsibility. Like the gold of the poem, however, this idyll is tinged with sadness. Just as the gold in the poem vanishes, the idyll must end, and the boys must face the consequences of the murder.
Ponyboy speaks these words to Cherry Valance in Chapter 3 after he, Two-Bit, and Johnny spend time with Cherry and Marcia at the drive-in. Ponyboy points out that the sunset closes the gap between the greasers and Socs. He realizes that, even though the two groups have unequal lifestyles, attitudes, and financial situations, they nevertheless live in the same world, beneath the same sun. The words “some of us watch the sunset” suggest to Cherry that although some of the greasers live up to the stereotype of greasers as rough and unrefined, some of them, like Ponyboy, have a keen appreciation for beauty—as keen as that of the richest socialite. By agreeing on the basic fact that rich and poor people look at the same sun, Ponyboy and Cherry take a small step toward a potential reconciliation between the rival gangs. This moment of concord comes early in the narrative, and its idealistic tone makes the rifts and violence to come all the more painful.
Ponyboy speaks these words in Chapter 5, during his stay with Johnny in the abandoned church in Windrixville. Pony’s realization stems from a comment Johnny makes after reading a passage from Gone with the Wind, in which he says that Dally reminds him of one of the gallant Southern gentlemen from the Civil War. The fact that Dally is too “real” for Ponyboy reveals something about his narrative perspective. He says earlier that the other greasers—Soda, Darry, and Two-Bit—remind him more of the heroes in his books than Dally does. Ponyboy feels more comfortable with Soda, Darry, and Two-Bit because as a narrator, and later a writer, he is more comfortable with fictional heroes than with real people like Dally who have lost their innocence.
Johnny, on the other hand, though quieter and more timid than Ponyboy, finds it in himself to admire Dally and to look past his intimidating exterior. Dally does not scare him but rather fascinates him, and he holds a romanticized vision of Dally as an honorable Southern gentleman. By comparing Dally to a character in a book, Johnny becomes able to understand him. In a sense, Ponyboy’s and Johnny’s comments about Dally reveal that Ponyboy is even more vulnerable than Johnny.
Greasers will still be greasers and Socs will still be Socs. Sometimes I think it’s the ones in the middle that are really the lucky stiffs.
Randy delivers these lines in Chapter 7 when he tells Ponyboy that he will not be fighting in the rumble. His words speak to an important idea in the novel—the futility of the recurring Soc-greaser violence. The idea Randy presents here has another side to it, however. By stating that the members of both groups will always remain in their respective groups, he suggests that it would be impossible for a greaser or a Soc to rise above his current status. He appears to believe that, despite their youth, the young men in the story will never be able to move on and transcend the narrow limits of their gang identities.
Randy’s belief in the permanence of their social identities may be based, however, in the fact that he is a Soc and not a greaser. Having grown up in a wealthy and comfortable environment, it would not be difficult for him to imagine himself forever stuck in this lifestyle. A greaser, on the other hand, might have different ideas about social mobility. A poor youth from the East Side like Ponyboy would be more likely to imagine shedding the greaser lifestyle to pursue higher goals and improve his social status.
We couldn’t get along without him. We needed Johnny as much as he needed the gang. And for the same reason.
This quotation comes from Chapter 8. As Ponyboy sits in the hospital and watches Johnny dying, he muses on the fragility of group cohesion. It seems obvious that Johnny needs the greasers—he is small, passive, and poor, which makes him an easy target of Soc violence. Less obvious is the gang’s need for Johnny. The greasers need a vulnerable friend to give them a sense of purpose. Telling themselves that they exist to protect people like Johnny lets them avoid thinking about the fact that their poverty and vulnerability leave them no choice but to band together. Ponyboy comes to this conclusion at the end of the novel, as Johnny is dying. He understands Johnny’s value only when he is about to lose Johnny, which amplifies the pain of the loss.