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Themes

In LitCharts each theme gets its own color. Our color-coded theme boxes       make it easy to track where the themes occur throughout the work.


Divided Communities

Ponyboy stands in the middle of two major conflicts: the conflict between the Socs and greasers, and the conflict between Ponyboy and Darry within the Curtis family. In the gang conflict, the novel shows how the two groups focus on their differences—they dress differently, socialize differently, and hang out with different girls—and how this focus on superficial differences leads to hate and violence. Yet the novel also shows how the two groups depend on their conflict in order to continue to exist. The greasers, for instance, live by a pledge to "stick together" against the Socs. Without the conflict, the two gangs' individual members might go their own way.

The novel's other divided community is Ponyboy's immediate family. Like the conflict between Socs and greasers, the conflict between Darry and Ponyboy is fueled by misperceptions. Just as the Socs and greasers are unable to see past their superficial differences to their deeper similarities, Darry and Ponyboy can't see past their own limited view to understand each other's actions. Ponyboy misinterprets Darry's desperate desire to deliver Ponyboy from the poverty and strife of their neighborhood as antagonism, while Darry interprets Ponyboy's quest to escape his conflict-ridden existence as irresponsibility and lack of consideration.

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Look for the to see analysis of this theme in: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12


Empathy

Empathy, the ability to see things through another person's perspective, is central to the resolution of both the gang and the family conflict in The Outsiders. The two gangs' preoccupation with the appearance and class status of their rivals underscores the superficiality of their mutual hostility, which thrives on stereotypes and prejudice. Certain characters can see past the stereotypes, however. When Cherry befriends Ponyboy at the drive-in and insists that "things are rough all over," she encourages Ponyboy to see Socs as individuals, and he begins to question the conflict between the gangs. Randy furthers forces Ponyboy to feel compassion for Socs as individual people by sharing details about Bob's troubled life. Ultimately, Ponyboy himself takes on the role of showing the two groups their shared humanity by writing his English essay, which turns out to be the novel itself.

In the Curtis family, it is Sodapop who helps Ponyboy recognize that Darry's high expectations for Ponyboy result from Darry's love for Ponyboy and determination to provide Ponyboy with the shot at a better life. In the end, their newfound admiration for one another, combined with a desire to protect the pained Sodapop from unnecessary grief, brings about a pledge not to fight anymore.

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Look for the to see analysis of this theme in: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 11, Chapter 12


Preserving Childhood Innocence

The Outsiders shows the importance of preserving the hope, open-mindedness, and appreciation of beauty that are characteristic of childhood. Ponyboy's daydreams about the country, his appreciation of sunrises and sunsets, and his rescue of the children from the burning church distinguish him from other characters in the novel. These traits show that Ponyboy, unlike the other boys, still has preserved some of his childhood innocence. They also allow him to see beyond the shallow hatred between the Socs and greasers.

Primarily through the characters of Dally and Johnny, the novel also shows how easily experience can harden people and cause them to lose these youthful traits. It also shows the tragic results of this process. Dally's rough youth has made him tough and fearsome, and he seems not to care about anything. But Dally has a soft spot too—his love for Johnny. Johnny represents the hope that Dally has lost, and Dally strives to protect Johnny from the forces that threaten to pull him into the cycle of violence that has enveloped Dally. When Johnny and Dally die, an acknowledgment of the death of any hope in his life. Johnny's dying words, "stay gold," also touch on this theme by referencing the Robert Frost poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay." While the poem's message—that all beautiful things fade with the passage of time—forces the two boys to realize that they can't hide from the realities of growing up, Johnny's call for Ponyboy and the greasers to "stay gold" is also a call for them to preserve the hope and optimism of childhood no matter what the world throws at them.

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Look for the to see analysis of this theme in: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 12


Self-Sacrifice and Honor

Despite the greasers' reputation as heartless young criminals, they live by a specific and honorable code of friendship, and there are many instances in which gang and family members make selfless choices. These choices often reflect a desire to make life better for the next generation of youths. Darry forfeited a college scholarship for a full-time manual labor job in order to support his younger brothers. Dally, who seems not to care about anything, demonstrates great loyalty to and compassion for his friends and for strangers in need. He helps Johnny and Ponyboy slip away to the rural town of Windrixville after Bob's stabbing, and he plays a key role in the church fire rescue. Dally's death is the ultimate tribute to Johnny, without whom life seemed meaningless. Ponyboy's essay is a different and perhaps more powerful response to Johnny's death. He honors both of his deceased friends by telling their story, an act of generosity intended to benefit the greater community.

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Look for the to see analysis of this theme in: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 10, Chapter 12


Individual Identity

Both the Socs and the greasers sacrifice their individuality to the styles and sentiments of their groups. Greasers, for example, wear their hair long and oiled, and share a common hostility toward the Socs.

At the start of the novel, Ponyboy is a dedicated greaser even though he knows that certain aspects of his personality make him different from the rest of the gang. The gang provides him with too great of a sense of safety and strength to even consider life outside of it. But the events surrounding Bob's death cause Ponyboy to think more deeply about who he wants to be, and his conversations with Johnny, Cherry, and Randy lead him to reflect on the path his life is taking. He begins to question the reasons for conflict between Socs and greasers, and he thinks hard about the decision to participate in the rumble. Ponyboy's willingness to enter friendships with Socs signals the development of a distinct personal identity, one that includes association with the greasers but excludes total devotion to the greaser way of life. Darry encourages Ponyboy to pursue a life beyond gang membership, and the deaths of Johnny and Dally inspire the expression of his individual point of view in the English essay he writes. By the end of the novel, Ponyboy has committed himself to a life that will, at least in part, encourage other boys to find their own paths and voices, outside of the gang identity.

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Look for the to see analysis of this theme in: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12