The next night, Ponyboy and Johnny go with Dally to a double feature at the drive-in movie theater. They sit behind a pair of Soc girls, and Dally begins to talk dirty in an attempt to embarrass the girls. The girl with red hair turns around and coolly tells him to stop, but Dally continues to make suggestive remarks. He goes to buy Cokes, and Ponyboy talks to the red-haired girl, Cherry Valance. They talk about the rodeo and about Sodapop, whom Cherry describes as a “doll.” She asks what became of Sodapop, and although the admission embarrasses him, Ponyboy says that Sodapop dropped out of school to work in a gas station. Dally comes back and offers a Coke to Cherry, but she throws it in his face. Dally tries to put his arm around her. When he will not listen to Cherry’s protests, the usually quiet Johnny stuns Dally by telling him not to bother the girls.
Dally stalks off, and Cherry and her friend Marcia invite Ponyboy and Johnny to watch the movie with them. Two-Bit, one of Ponyboy’s friends, comes to announce that Dally has slashed Tim Shepard’s tires and is going to have to fight him. Tim Shepard is the leader of another greaser gang. Two-Bit explains the greasers’ two main rules: always stick together and never get caught.
Cherry and Ponyboy go to get popcorn, and Ponyboy tells her about the time the Socs beat up Johnny. The leader of the gang that beat him, Ponyboy says, wore a fistful of rings. Cherry looks distressed and assures him that not all Socs are violent like the Socs that beat Johnny. She also tells him that Socs have problems just as the greasers do, but Ponyboy does not believe her.
The Outsiders’ primary concern is to explore the effect of social class on young people. The novel begins by detailing the differences between the poor greasers and the rich Socs and sketching the treacherous world in which they live. When the Socs jump Ponyboy in the opening chapter, it suggests that Ponyboy lives in a place where even an innocent walk is fraught with danger.
Hinton defines her characters as she thinks people should be defined in life—not according to the group to which they belong, but according to their individual characteristics. For instance, she introduces Ponyboy not as a tough street youth but as a boy who likes to read and watch sunsets. Ponyboy is something of an anthropologist, a natural role for a narrator, and he observes and records the group dynamics and individual traits of his fellow greasers. Darry is presented not as the natural leader of the gang, but as a struggling young man who has had to forgo an education so that he can support and raise his two younger brothers. Hinton suggests that greasers, despite their exclusion from the mainstream, have moral grounding and sense of decency as strong as—or stronger than—the kids from the privileged classes.
Hinton shows the constant conflict between the greasers and the Socs, but she also shows that the two groups are not as different as they initially appear. After meeting faceless, cruel Socs, we meet Cherry Valance, a Soc who is also a sympathetic, warm girl. She and Ponyboy discuss how greasers and Socs deal with their problems differently. Greasers feel their distress keenly, while Socs pretend their problems do not exist. Ponyboy’s and Cherry’s discussion reveals that, despite different methods of coping, both Socs and greasers must deal with difficulties. The conversation between Cherry and Ponyboy exemplifies the rare civil negotiation that would alleviate the tensions between the Socs and greasers far more than violent conflict. The flirtation between Two-Bit and Marcia demonstrates the social compatibility that could exist between the warring groups.