Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Two-Bit’s switchblade is his most prized possession and, in several ways, represents the disregard for authority for which greasers traditionally pride themselves. First of all, the blade is stolen. Second, it represents a sense of the individual power that comes with the potential to commit violence. This symbolism surfaces most clearly when Dally borrows the blade from Two-Bit and uses it to break out of the hospital to join his gang at the rumble. It is fitting that Two-Bit finally loses the blade when the police confiscate it from Dally’s dead body. The loss of the weapon, at this point, becomes inextricably linked with the loss of Dally—a figure who embodies individual power and authority.
Cars represent the Socs power and the greasers’ vulnerability. Because their parents can afford to buy them their “tuff” cars, the Socs have increased mobility and protection. The greasers, who move mostly on foot, are physically vulnerable in comparison to the Socs. Still, greasers like Darry, Sodapop, and Steve do have contact with automobiles—they repair them. We can interpret this interaction with cars positively or negatively. On one hand, it symbolizes how the greasers have a more direct and well-rounded experience than the Socs with the gritty realities of life. On the other hand, the fact that the greasers must service and care for Soc possessions demonstrates that the Socs have the power to oppress the greasers.
Bob Sheldon’s rings function similarly to the Socs’ cars. Throughout literature, rings and jewelry have been traditional symbols of wealth. The rings in this story represent the physical power that accompanies wealth. By using his rings as combative weapons, Bob takes advantage of his economic superiority over Ponyboy and the other greasers, using his wealth to injure his opponents.
The greasers cannot afford rings, cars, or other physical trappings of power that the Socs enjoy. Consequently, they must resort to more affordable markers of identity. By wearing their hair in a specific style, greasers distinguish themselves from other social groups. Conservative cultural values of the 1960s called for men to keep their hair short, and the greaser style is a clear transgression of this social convention. It is not only distinctive, but, as a physical characteristic, this hair is truly an organic part of the greaser persona. When the Socs jump Ponyboy at the beginning of the novel, they ask him if he wants a haircut and threaten to cut off his hair. By doing so, they would rob him of his identity.
More main ideas from The Outsiders