The Outsiders

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Sunsets and Sunrises Symbol Analysis

Sunsets and Sunrises Symbol Icon
Sunsets and sunrises in The Outsiders represent the beauty and goodness in the world, particularly after Johnny compares the gold in the poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" to the gold of the sunrises and sunsets Ponyboy enjoys. The sunset also stands for the common humanity of all people, regardless of the gang to which they belong—in their first conversation at the drive-in, Cherry and Ponyboy find common ground in their enjoyment of the same sunset from opposite sides of town.

Sunsets and Sunrises Quotes in The Outsiders

The The Outsiders quotes below all refer to the symbol of Sunsets and Sunrises. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Divided Communities Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Speak edition of The Outsiders published in 2006.
Chapter 3 Quotes
It seemed funny that the sunset [Cherry] saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two worlds we lived in weren't so different. We saw the same sunset.
Related Characters: Ponyboy Curtis (speaker), Cherry Valance
Related Symbols: Sunsets and Sunrises
Page Number: 40-41
Explanation and Analysis:

As Ponyboy and Two-Bit drive Cherry and Marcia home, Ponyboy sees that these women (Socs) aren't very different from him. They like the same music, they do the same things. Ponyboy resolves that maybe money is the only difference between the Greasers and the Socs. Cherry disagrees; She tells him that their differences lie in something deeper: feelings. She explains that the Socs are forced to wear a mask of sophistication and aloofness, hiding who they really are. The Greasers, on the other hand, are open with their emotions. They are honest and don't feel the need to perform. 

As they walk, Cherry asks Ponyboy if he likes watching the sunset at night. They realize that they share this love. The ever introspective and sensitive Ponyboy then realizes that while they may be on opposite sides of town, on different porches, in different gangs, they all watch the same sunset. In this moment, Cherry encourages Ponyboy once again to see his rivals as humans and to exercise empathy. Cherry is a window through which Ponyboy can understand the Socs. In addition, the sunset also becomes a unifying symbol, not just for the Greasers and Socs, but for people everywhere—when we step back, we're all just trying our best on the same earth.

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Chapter 5 Quotes
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Related Characters: Ponyboy Curtis, Johnny Cade
Related Symbols: Sunsets and Sunrises
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

Johnny and Ponyboy are hiding out in an abandoned church. They are now fugitives. Several days have passed, and the boys are avoiding being outside during the day. One morning Ponyboy wakes up at dawn and watches the sunrise. Johnny awakes and sits with him, both admiring the natural beauty of the sun. Yet Johnny also laments the sunrise, wishing the sun would always stay red and low as it is in dawn. This reminds Ponyboy of the Robert Frost poem Nothing Gold Can Stay. He then recites the poem to Johnny. Johnny asks him what it means, but Ponyboy can't seem to explain it. He supposes that the beauty of the poem is that he doesn't know the meaning. 

Here, Ponyboy reveals another part of his sensitivity to Johnny. Not only is he the introspective dreamer, but he also recites poetry and finds deep meaning in parts of life like the sunrise. The poem itself also represents the fleeting nature of youth and innocence. Staying "gold" is remaining in that beautiful, sparkling place in life where nothing can harm you. Staring at the sunrise with Johnny, Ponyboy is having a "gold" moment himself during a time of tumult and tragedy. But of course it cannot last.

Chapter 8 Quotes
"Hey," I said suddenly, "can you see the sunset real good from the West Side?"
She blinked, startled, then smiled. "Real good."
"You can see it good from the East Side, too," I said quietly.
"Thanks, Ponyboy." She smiled through her tears. "You dig okay."
Related Characters: Ponyboy Curtis (speaker), Cherry Valance (speaker)
Related Symbols: Sunsets and Sunrises
Page Number: 129-130
Explanation and Analysis:

After visiting Johnny in the hospital, Ponyboy and Two-Bit run into Cherry who has news about the rumble that evening. Ponyboy and Cherry talk. He asks her if she is going to visit Johnny and she says no. She is loyal to the Socs and she can't look at the man who killed someone she loved, even if he may have deserved it. This infuriates Ponyboy. He responds by telling Cherry that her spying and helping them out doesn't make up for the guilt she should be feeling. She doesn't have to worry about the same things as they do—she has everything and they have nothing. Cherry is hurt, and this quote is Ponyboy's own way of apologizing. He realizes that he was using her wealth as ammunition instead of learning from the lessons she taught him. Once again, the sunset becomes the symbol of unification. They all look at the same sunset at the end of the day, they are all human, and they all hurt. They find common ground in the sunsets they both see and for now, that has to be enough. 

Chapter 12 Quotes
I've been thinking about it, and that poem, that guy that wrote it, he meant you're gold when you're a kid, like green. When you're a kid everything's new, dawn. It's just when you get used to everything that it's day. Like the way you dig sunsets, Pony. That's gold. Keep that way, it's a good way to be...And don't be so bugged over being a greaser. You still have a lot of time to make yourself what you want. There's still lots of good in the world. Tell Dally. I don't think he knows. Your buddy, Johnny.
Related Characters: Johnny Cade (speaker), Ponyboy Curtis, Dallas Winston
Related Symbols: Sunsets and Sunrises
Page Number: 178-179
Explanation and Analysis:

Before he died, Johnny made sure that Ponyboy received his copy of Gone With The Wind. During this moment, Ponyboy opens the book and sees a note that Johnny has written to him. Close to his death, Johnny realized the meaning of the Robert Frost poem Ponyboy recited in their hideout at the church. To stay gold is to stay young, to preserve one’s innocence and always see the world as new, like the dawn. This is why Johnny tells him to stay gold before his death. It is another moment where someone is urging Ponyboy to preserve his innocence, because it’s too late for everyone else. He is special, and his entire community of Greasers knows it. This moment gives Ponyboy a sense of universal empathy. He thinks about the other boys living on the “wrong” side of town, without opportunity. Ponyboy is inspired, and he realizes that someone should do something about this. He then begins to write.

Suddenly it wasn't only a personal thing to me. I could picture hundreds of boys living on the wrong sides of cities, boys with black eyes who jumped at their own shadows. Hundreds of boys who maybe watched sunsets and looked at the stars and ached for something better. I could see boys going down under street lights because they were mean and tough and hated the world, and it was too late to tell them there was still good in it...There should be some help, someone to 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.
Related Characters: Ponyboy Curtis (speaker)
Related Symbols: Sunsets and Sunrises, Greaser Hair
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

Johnny’s note to Ponyboy makes him realize that there are other entire communities of young people without opportunities, just like the Greasers or even worse off—kids that are limited by their poverty, their appearance, or their zip code. Boys who watch the same sunsets and dream of a better life. After this epiphany, Ponyboy calls his English teacher, who has given him an assignment to write on any theme he wants. He asks his teacher if he can write a longer paper. He realizes that this, these boys, and this moment is what he wants to write about. His own identity is found through the pen, not through gang allegiance, rumbles, or poverty. 

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Sunsets and Sunrises Symbol Timeline in The Outsiders

The timeline below shows where the symbol Sunsets and Sunrises appears in The Outsiders. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Divided Communities Theme Icon
Empathy Theme Icon
Preserving Childhood Innocence Theme Icon
Individual Identity Theme Icon
...they talk, the two of them also discover a shared love of reading and watching sunsets. Ponyboy realizes that, despite their different classes and friends, the two of them see the... (full context)
Chapter 5
Preserving Childhood Innocence Theme Icon
Individual Identity Theme Icon
One morning, Ponyboy and Johnny watch the sunrise. As they lament that the sunrise's beauty doesn't last, Ponyboy recites the poem "Nothing Gold... (full context)
Chapter 8
Divided Communities Theme Icon
Empathy Theme Icon
Preserving Childhood Innocence Theme Icon
Individual Identity Theme Icon
...good qualities, Ponyboy asks for her forgiveness. He asks Cherry whether she can see the sunset well from the West Side. She says she can. He says that he can still... (full context)
Chapter 12
Divided Communities Theme Icon
Empathy Theme Icon
Preserving Childhood Innocence Theme Icon
Self-Sacrifice and Honor Theme Icon
Individual Identity Theme Icon
...the book. In the letter, Johnny urges Ponyboy to "stay gold," to keep watching the sunsets and appreciating the world as if it were new. The letter reminds Ponyboy to remember... (full context)