The Outsiders is written from the first-person point of view. Ponyboy is the protagonist and the narrator and refers to himself as “I” throughout the story. Additionally, the reader experiences the events from Ponyboy’s perspective. The use of the first-person point of view closes the distance between the reader and Ponyboy by creating a sense of intimacy in the reading experience. We see what Ponyboy sees, and we feel what he feels. Experiencing the events of the novel while perched on Ponyboy’s shoulder intensifies the reading experience because we become invested in the outcome of Ponyboy’s story.
Ponyboy is an articulate and sensitive narrator and immediately draws the reader into seeing things from his point of view. The first-person point of view also means that the reader becomes reliant on Ponyboy for information about the story, setting, and characters and focuses the reader’s attention on the important people in Ponyboy’s world. For example, we know from the first few pages that Darrell has cold blue eyes and is hard, physically and emotionally. Because the characters jump off the page so early in the book, we know immediately that the focus will be on Ponyboy and his friends.
In other ways, however, being dependent on Ponyboy’s point of view can be limiting to the reader. For instance, we don’t learn until three-quarters of the way through the book that the story takes place in Oklahoma, when Two-Bit says, “I thought all the wild Indians in Oklahoma had been tamed.” From this statement, we can extrapolate that the story takes place in Tulsa since we know the story takes place in a medium-sized city. Puzzling out information about the book’s setting take a bit of work on the part of the reader. However, the author’s choice to relegate information about the setting to a mere aside reiterates that the focus of the book is the characters, and that is where the reader should invest their emotional energy.
Ponyboy’s first person focus on the characters rather than the setting also gives a sense of universality to the story. A reader doesn’t need to understand the culture of Tulsa to empathize with these characters. We may not know someone exactly like Johnny, but we have probably known someone who is vulnerable and sensitive. We might not have a Dallas in our lives, but we probably know someone who is wild and tough.
Ponyboy is a reliable and earnest narrator, and the seriousness of his narration reflects the seriousness of his story. Moments of humor and levity are few and far between and are often provided by Two-Bit. Although the entire story is told from Ponyboy’s point of view, he is a deft enough storyteller that the reader doesn’t feel the absence of other perspectives. Specifically, Ponyboy’s use of dialogue allows the reader to hear different perspectives without changing the novel’s point of view. When Ponyboy and Randy are talking in the car before the rumble, we empathize with Randy’s decision not to fight because we are hearing the conversation from Ponyboy’s perspective, and we know that Ponyboy is truly attempting to understand the Socs point of view.
Interestingly, the first-person point of view sets limitations as the narrative stops completely due to Ponyboy falling asleep or fainting. There are large chunks of time that are lost to the reader due to Ponyboy’s being unconscious. Experiencing the story through Ponyboy’s eyes creates an emotional attachment to and investment in the characters that is immediate and powerful from the first pages of the book.