I only mean that most greasers do things like that, just like we wear our hair long and dress in blue jeans and T-shirts, or leave our shirttails out and wear leather jackets and tennis shoes or boots. I’m not saying that either Socs or greasers are better; that’s just the way things are.
The narrator Ponyboy, a teenage boy, lays out the socioeconomic battleground of his hometown. Enmity polarizes the young adults into two forces, the rich West Side Socs, and the poor East Side greasers. The bitter divide makes the town unsafe for a greaser like Ponyboy to walk alone at night near the West Side. This hostility fuels intense tension throughout the book.
Things were rough all over, all right. All over the East Side. It just didn't seem right to me.
On their walk to Two-Bit’s house, Ponyboy and Cherry butt heads over the differences they each perceive between their social classes. While Cherry argues that things are difficult on both sides, Ponyboy sarcastically remarks to himself that things are mostly rough on the East Side. His observation points up the disproportionate level of sacrifice the greasers make to live in comparison to the Socs, who have the luxury of terrorizing greasers for sport. Ponyboy’s opinion highlights the cruel fear the Socs inflict upon the greasers, who are barely making ends meet to survive.
“Do you think that your spying for us makes up for the fact that you’re sitting there in a Corvette while my brother drops out of high school to get a job? Don’t you ever try to give us handouts and then feel high and mighty about it.”
Ponyboy lashes out at Cherry when she refuses to visit Johnny in the hospital, as Johnny killed her Soc boyfriend. Her affluent sports car and loyalty to the West Siders starkly contrast with his brother’s daily sacrifice and the poverty they live in. In his bitterness, Pony repudiates her attempts to help the greasers as charity meant to make her feel good about herself. Even though Cherry and Ponyboy are trying to forge a real friendship, money—at least to Ponyboy—divides them.
“Greaser… greaser… greaser…” Steve singsonged. “Oh victim of environment, underprivileged, rotten no-count hood.”
On the way to the rumble, the greasers walk excitedly and get hyped up to fight. Steve Randall, one of the more intelligent and sharp-minded greasers, mimics the way greasers are looked at by others. He sings the terms people use to describe greasers, and by mocking these terms, Steve creates space between the greasers and social opinion. His song becomes a “battle cry” for the greasers to disown social perception and rise above it as victors.
It was too vast a problem to be just a personal thing. There should be some help, someone should tell them before it was too late. Someone should tell their side of the story, and maybe people would understand then and wouldn’t be so quick to judge a boy by the amount of hair oil he wore.
Sobered and made wiser by his experience, Ponyboy reflects upon his situation and the drama that has just indelibly altered his life. Ponyboy understands that the problems that drove him and the other characters to murder are much larger than themselves, and he wants to save others from the same fate. Armed with an awareness of the forces of socioeconomic disparity, and inspired by the goodness in the world Johnny’s death showed him, Ponyboy can now rise above society’s inequalities and his loss to become a guide for others.