Dally Winston is one of the older members of the Greasers and by far the most hardened and violent, to the extent that Ponyboy admits to feeling uncomfortable around him. Dally joins the Greasers after growing up in New York City, where he experienced incredibly harsh conditions due to living in abject poverty. However, throughout The Outsiders, the depths of Dally’s personality are uncovered, revealing a vulnerable and tragic character. He shares brief details of his abusive childhood, admitting that his father doesn’t care whether he lives or dies. He shows special care for one of the gang’s younger members, Johnny, a sweet kid whom Ponyboy describes as sensitive. Through Dally’s relationship with Johnny, to whom he acts as a stand-in older brother, Dally reveals a good heart underneath his mean exterior. He sees Johnny as a younger version of himself, uncorrupted by crime and potentially still able to escape poverty for a better life. It becomes clear that Dally fears Johnny facing the same severe consequences that he has, telling him “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”
Dally shows his strong sense of loyalty by helping and protecting Johnny and Ponyboy as much as he can, including running into the burning church to save both boys. But Johnny’s death is the last straw for Dally, whose life has been filled with too much pain, abuse, and tragedy for him to handle. Dally found purpose through caring for Johnny, and Johnny’s passing destroys any meaning he still finds in life. Dally robs a grocery store, attracting the police, and ultimately dies via suicide-by-cop. Unable to envision a better path for himself, Dally ends his suffering through violence, the only constant in his life. Ultimately, Dally represents the tragic consequences of an uncaring society abandoning vulnerable children in abusive, violent situations. If Dally had been given the empathy, care, and resources he deserved, he might have had a chance to escape the trauma of his upbringing.