At first, Ponyboy cannot come to terms with the deaths of Dally and Johnny. He is physically and emotionally immobilized. Even after he recovers from his physical injuries, he feels listless and empty, his grades slip, and his relationship with Darry suffers. Ponyboy’s friends worry that he will cope by hardening into an angry hoodlum, a prospect that worries them. We might think that Ponyboy’s shows of toughness would be a positive development in Steve and Two-Bit’s eyes—displays like the one in the grocery store suggest that Ponyboy is losing his vulnerability to intimidation and thus becoming more valuable in the greaser gang. However, though it is important for a greaser to have a tough exterior, Ponyboy’s friends do not want him to become something he is not. Because Johnny has died, Ponyboy is the last one of their group to retain the innocence that each group member lost but remembers with nostalgia. The greasers also worry about Ponyboy’s show of toughness because they know that he is not naturally hostile or intimidating. The greasers’ concern shows that they place as much importance on individual well-being as on group well-being. The consideration Ponyboy shows in picking up the broken glass from the bottle he uses to intimidate the Socs indicates that his capacity for angry outbursts is less a part of his character than his thoughtfulness and decency.
Ponyboy shows himself to be on the road to recovery when he hashes things out with his brothers. Though Ponyboy still feels the pain of loss, he can finally remember Johnny and Dally without feeling overwhelming denial or anguish. He begins to look at the plight of the greasers and juvenile delinquents with objectivity. He realizes that many boys his age hate the world and feel they must be tough and violent, and he begins to feel that someone should show them the good in the world. Ponyboy’s decision to tell the greasers’ story in his English theme paper marks his maturation into an emotionally capable young man. Hinton suggests that Ponyboy has found a way to make sense of the preventable violence in his life. Ponyboy’s willingness to examine his painful past marks the last stage in his recovery and sets him up to achieve the potential that Darry has long seen in him.
That the novel’s closing lines are an exact repetition of its opening lines symbolically initiates Ponyboy’s exploration of his past through memory. With this exploration, recorded in Ponyboy’s writing, we, as well as Ponyboy, finally discover a purpose to the seemingly senseless struggle that he has undergone. Hinton’s act of ending the novel by circling back to its beginning provides a balanced symmetry to the story’s structure. More important, however, Ponyboy’s ability to tie the story up so neatly shows that he has dealt with these traumatic events in a healthy way.