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Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold. . . .
Feeling sick before the rumble, Ponyboy swallows five aspirin and struggles to eat his dinner. The boys have bathed and made themselves look “tuff,” and leave for the rumble excitedly. Ponyboy feels a sinking feeling when he sees the other greasers. Tim Shepard’s gang and the others seem like genuine hoods. Twenty-two Socs arrive in four carloads to fight the twenty greasers. Darry steps forward to start the fight, and Paul Holden, Darry’s high school friend and football teammate, steps up to challenge him. As Paul and Darry circle each other, Dally joins the group. As Dally arrives, the fight breaks out in full. After a long struggle, the greasers win.
When the rumble ends, Dally and Ponyboy go to the hospital to see Johnny. A policeman stops them, but Ponyboy feigns an injury, and the officer gives them an escort to the hospital. Ponyboy and Dally find Johnny dying. Johnny moans that fighting is useless, tells Ponyboy to “[s]tay gold,” and then dies. Dally is beside himself with grief and runs frantically from the room.
After Johnny’s death, Ponyboy wanders alone for hours until a man offers him a ride. The man asks Ponyboy if he is okay and tells him that his head is bleeding. Ponyboy feels vaguely disoriented. At home, he finds the greasers gathered in the living room and tells them that Johnny is dead and that Dally has broken down. Dally calls and says he just robbed a grocery store and is running from the police. The gang rushes out and sees police officers chasing him. Dally pulls out the unloaded gun he carries, and the police shoot him. Dally collapses to the ground, dead. Ponyboy muses that Dally wanted to die. Feeling dizzy and overwhelmed, Ponyboy passes out.
When Ponyboy wakes, Darry is at his side. Ponyboy learns that he got a concussion when a Soc kicked him in the head during the rumble, and that he has been delirious in bed for three days.
Underlying the struggle between the Socs and the greasers is the struggle between the instinct to make peace and the social obligation to fight. Hinton turns the rumble into a moral lesson. The fight begins when Darry Curtis and Paul Holden face off; the fact that Darry and Paul were high school friends and football teammates suggests that their rivalry need not exist—that money makes enemies of natural friends. Ponyboy’s comment that they used to be friends but now dislike each other because one has to work for a living while the other comes from the leisurely West Side emphasizes the artificial and unnecessary nature of their animosity. While this animosity seems pointless, each gang member who fights still feels a responsibility to his gang to hate the other gang.
Ponyboy feels this tension within him before the fight. His instincts tell him to skip the rumble, as he knows in his heart that violence won’t solve anything. His hesitation after speaking with Randy and his decision to take five aspirin before the fight show that he is emotionally and physically unprepared for the ordeal. Nevertheless, Ponyboy ignores his instincts and goes through with the fight because he wants to please his social group. His participation in the rumble cements his place in the gang; he is no longer a tagalong little brother but rather a fighter in his own right.
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