I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me.

Ponyboy reveals this personal truth as he introduces the reader to his family dynamic at home. Sodapop keeps the peace between Darry and Ponyboy, who are often at odds. Darry has high expectations for Ponyboy, who misunderstands Darry’s intentions. Even as Ponyboy states that he doesn’t care about Darry, he knows he feels deeply connected to his brother. Ponyboy’s revelation reveals a sophisticated level of self-awareness, which, as the reader learns in hindsight, has been developed due to the traumatic events in his life.

“Oh no!” My hand flew to my hair. “No, Johnny, not my hair!”

While Johnny and Ponyboy are hiding out in the church, Johnny suggests they cut and dye their hair to disguise themselves. Ponyboy instinctively resists: his long, oil-filled hair identifies him as a greaser. When the boys eventually do cut off their hair, they forge a new identity that goes beyond “greaser” and allows each of them to morph into a person more authentic to who they are, free from the confines of their gang.

I would, I would help her and Randy both if I could. “Hey,” I said suddenly, “can you see the sunset real good from the West Side?”

Ponyboy realizes he is capable of empathy for Socs. Cherry has asked Ponyboy to put himself in her shoes and think about whether he would help her the way she helped him, attempting to bridge the social gap between them. The novel follows Ponyboy’s journey to understand the social elements that divide people, such as social class. In this moment, the friendship and loyalty he feels for two Socs, Randy and Cherry, allow him to understand that everyone is an individual who needs love and support. Ponyboy’s rhetorical question about the sunset makes the point that what people share unites them rather than divides them.

That’s stupid, I thought swiftly, they’ve both come here to fight and they’re both supposed to be smarter than that. What difference does the side make?

At the rumble, Ponyboy keenly notices the subtle subtext between Paul and Darry, former high school football teammates, who’ve just agreed to take each other on in the fight. Ponyboy senses Darry’s resentment to be fighting on the greaser side, when, if his life circumstances had been different, Darry would be on the Soc side. Ponyboy realizes that sides are temporary, and the things that truly unify people are internal.

Dally didn’t die a hero. He died violent and young and desperate, just like we all knew he’d die someday…But Johnny was right. He died gallant.

Ponyboy realizes an important truth as he compares Dally’s and Johnny’s deaths. Dally’s reckless death served no purpose. Johnny’s death redeems his life. Johnny dies with purpose, saving the children. Johnny sacrificed his life, and through this sacrifice transcends all social class, becoming even finer than the finest Southern gentlemen in Gone with the Wind.