Ponyboy is restricted to bed rest for a week after he wakes up from his concussion. He finds a picture of Bob the Soc in Sodapop’s high school yearbook. Bob’s grin reminds him of Sodapop’s. Ponyboy wonders if Bob’s parents hate him, saying he prefers their hatred to their pity. Looking at the photograph and remembering conversations with Cherry and Randy, Ponyboy concludes that Bob was cocky, hot-tempered, frightened, and human.
Randy arrives at the house to talk to Ponyboy and behaves with shocking insensitivity. Not thinking of what Ponyboy has suffered, Randy says he is worried about being associated with the violence. They discuss the hearing scheduled for the next day. Ponyboy, in a delirious state, says that he killed Bob himself and that Johnny is still alive. Darry asks Randy to leave.
Ponyboy does not have to speak much at the hearing, since his doctor has spoken to the judge about Ponyboy’s condition. The judge asks Ponyboy a few gentle questions about his home life and then acquits him of all wrongdoing and allows him to return home with his brothers. After the hearing, Ponyboy becomes detached and depressed. His grades suffer, he loses his coordination, memory, and appetite, and he resumes fighting with Darry. Ponyboy’s English teacher, Mr. Syme, says that although Ponyboy is failing, he can raise his grade to a C by writing an outstanding autobiographical theme.
The next day at lunch, Ponyboy goes to the grocery store with Steve and Two-Bit for candy bars and Cokes. When a group of Socs accosts him, he threatens them with a broken bottle, saying he refuses to take any more of their intimidation. Ponyboy’s uncharacteristic show of hostility alarms Steve and Two-Bit, and they warn Ponyboy not to grow hard like Dally was. They are relieved when Ponyboy bends down to pick up the broken glass, not wanting anyone to get a flat tire.
That night as Ponyboy and Darry fight about Ponyboy’s grades, Sodapop runs out of the house, upset that Sandy has returned a letter he wrote her unopened. Darry explains that Sodapop is not the father of Sandy’s child and acts puzzled that Sodapop never told Ponyboy. Ponyboy reflects that he probably acted uninterested when Sodapop tried to talk about his problems. Worried, Darry and Ponyboy go find Sodapop. He tells them their constant fighting is tearing him apart. Sobbing, he asks them to try to understand each other and stop fighting. They promise to try. Ponyboy thinks that Sodapop will hold them together.
The boys run back home. Ponyboy looks at Johnny’s copy of Gone with the Wind. He finds a handwritten note from Johnny urging him to stay gold and saying that the children’s lives were worth his own. Ponyboy realizes that he wants to tell the story of his friends so that other hoodlums will not nurse their anger at the world and ignore the beauty in it. He begins to work on his English theme, starting with the words that begin The Outsiders: “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”
At first, Ponyboy cannot come to terms with the deaths of Dally and Johnny. He is physically and emotionally immobilized. Even after he recovers from his physical injuries, he feels listless and empty, his grades slip, and his relationship with Darry suffers. Ponyboy’s friends worry that he will cope by hardening into an angry hoodlum, a prospect that worries them. We might think that Ponyboy’s shows of toughness would be a positive development in Steve and Two-Bit’s eyes—displays like the one in the grocery store suggest that Ponyboy is losing his vulnerability to intimidation and thus becoming more valuable in the greaser gang. However, though it is important for a greaser to have a tough exterior, Ponyboy’s friends do not want him to become something he is not. Because Johnny has died, Ponyboy is the last one of their group to retain the innocence that each group member lost but remembers with nostalgia. The greasers also worry about Ponyboy’s show of toughness because they know that he is not naturally hostile or intimidating. The greasers’ concern shows that they place as much importance on individual well-being as on group well-being. The consideration Ponyboy shows in picking up the broken glass from the bottle he uses to intimidate the Socs indicates that his capacity for angry outbursts is less a part of his character than his thoughtfulness and decency.
Ponyboy shows himself to be on the road to recovery when he hashes things out with his brothers. Though Ponyboy still feels the pain of loss, he can finally remember Johnny and Dally without feeling overwhelming denial or anguish. He begins to look at the plight of the greasers and juvenile delinquents with objectivity. He realizes that many boys his age hate the world and feel they must be tough and violent, and he begins to feel that someone should show them the good in the world. Ponyboy’s decision to tell the greasers’ story in his English theme paper marks his maturation into an emotionally capable young man. Hinton suggests that Ponyboy has found a way to make sense of the preventable violence in his life. Ponyboy’s willingness to examine his painful past marks the last stage in his recovery and sets him up to achieve the potential that Darry has long seen in him.
That the novel’s closing lines are an exact repetition of its opening lines symbolically initiates Ponyboy’s exploration of his past through memory. With this exploration, recorded in Ponyboy’s writing, we, as well as Ponyboy, finally discover a purpose to the seemingly senseless struggle that he has undergone. Hinton’s act of ending the novel by circling back to its beginning provides a balanced symmetry to the story’s structure. More important, however, Ponyboy’s ability to tie the story up so neatly shows that he has dealt with these traumatic events in a healthy way.