The Outsiders

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Themes and Colors
Divided Communities Theme Icon
Empathy Theme Icon
Preserving Childhood Innocence Theme Icon
Self-Sacrifice and Honor Theme Icon
Individual Identity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Outsiders, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Empathy Theme Icon

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.

Empathy ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Empathy appears in each chapter of The Outsiders. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Empathy Quotes in The Outsiders

Below you will find the important quotes in The Outsiders related to the theme of Empathy.
Chapter 2 Quotes
"Things are rough all over."
Related Characters: Cherry Valance (speaker)
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

This one line reveals Cherry as a connector between the Socs and Greasers. After Ponyboy tells her the story of Johnny's brutal attack, she argues that not all Socs are like that. They may have nicer homes and fancier clothes, but money can't solve everything. Cherry humanizes the Socs for Ponyboy for the first time, and this moment begins a friendship between the two that will continue to develop. 

Cherry and Ponyboy are very similar characters. They are both sensitive people living in a rough and dangerous space, and both feel trapped by their surroundings and their personal ties to their own communities. Here we see a moment of empathy between Ponyboy and Cherry. By opening up to Ponyboy, Cherry helps him understand that regardless of class, gang allegiance, or anything at all, the Socs and the Greasers are all people. She will continue to encourage Ponyboy to be empathetic toward others throughout the book. 

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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.

Chapter 6 Quotes
That was [Darry's] silent fear then—of losing another person he loved. I remembered how close he and Dad had been, and I wondered how I could ever have thought him hard and unfeeling. I listened to his heart pounding through his T-shirt and I knew everything was going to be okay now. I had taken the long way around, but I was finally home. To stay.
Related Characters: Ponyboy Curtis (speaker), Darry Curtis
Page Number: 98-99
Explanation and Analysis:

Ponyboy is sitting in a hospital waiting room. He has just been taken there in an ambulance. Hours before, he and Johnny found out that four children had set fire to the church they were hiding out in and were stuck inside. Instead of retreating, Johnny and Ponyboy ran through the flames to rescue them.

Darry and Sodapop arrive at the hospital in tears, hugging Ponyboy, thrilled that he is safe and devastated that he's been hurt. Ponyboy looks at Darry and sees the tears streaming down his face. He hugs him close, and in that moment Ponyboy realizes that Darry's sterness isn't doesn't come from a lack of love, but rather is his way of keeping his brother safe. Every day he must make the choice to mask the grief of losing their parents in order to be the caretaker of Sodapop and Ponyboy. He cannot afford to be the child that Ponyboy and Sodapop are—he must be the parent. This moment begins a healing process for the Curtis boys. It also reveals the level of self-sacrifice Darry has committed to in order to care for his brothers. 


Chapter 7 Quotes
"You would have saved those kids if you had been there," I said. "You'd have saved them the same as we did."
"Thanks, grease," he said, trying to grin. Then he stopped. "I didn't mean that. I meant, thanks, kid."
"My name's Ponyboy," I said. "Nice talking to you, Randy."
Related Characters: Ponyboy Curtis (speaker), Randy Adderson (speaker)
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

Ponyboy has run into Randy, Marcia's boyfriend and a friend of Bob, the murdered Soc. Randy pulls Ponyboy aside and tells him that he would have never had the guts to save those children from the burning church. He also tells him that he wouldn't have ever believed a "Greaser" could do something like that. Ponyboy challenges him, saying that being a Greaser had nothing to do with it.

Randy tells Johnny he won't be coming to the Rumble between the Greasers and Socs that evening. He tells Ponyboy that Bob was so tough because he was never disciplined. He lived in a world of privilege where his parents took the blame for all of his actions. And, even if the Greasers won the rumble, they would still be poor and the Socs would still be rich. The Bobs of the world will always exist, and violence doesn't change anything. Randy turns to leave and Ponyboy then responds with this quote. 

Here, the humanity of both the Greasers and the Socs are revealed to Ponyboy. Once again, Ponyboy reinforces the idea that anyone can be a hero, and he is reminded of Cherry's perspective that things are truly "rough all over." Through these moments, Ponyboy and readers alike begin to see that empathy and understanding are the keys to resolving the conflict between the two groups. 

Socs were just guys after all. Things were rough all over, but it was better that way. That way you could tell the other guy was human, too.
Related Characters: Ponyboy Curtis (speaker)
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

After talking with Randy about the death of Bob, Ponyboy's friends call him over, asking him what they spoke about. Two-Bit asks, "What did Mr. Soc have to say?" to which Ponyboy responds,"He ain't a Soc...He's just a guy." This is a key moment for Ponyboy. He not only understands that while they still live in conflict, the Socs are just as human as the Greasers, but he also says it aloud to his friends. He is beginning to discover the importance of empathy and words as opposed to violence. "Greaser" is just a label, the same way Soc is. While it is an important identifier in this community, it does not make up the whole of the individual. 

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 9 Quotes
Soda fought for fun, Darry for pride, and Two-Bit for conformity. Why do I fight? I thought, and couldn't think of any real good reason. There isn't any real good reason for fighting except self-defense.
Related Characters: Ponyboy Curtis (speaker), Darry Curtis, Sodapop Curtis, Two-Bit Mathews
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:
Just hours before the rumble, Ponyboy and his brothers sit around, eating and prepping for the night ahead. Here, Ponyboy asks the others why they fight. Each boy has a different reason and each reason represents something different about the nature of their gang and their social positions. Darry fights for the pride of his group and the love of his family. Soda loves a good fight. He always seeks adventure. Two-bit just follows the group. Yet when he thinks about his own reasons for fighting, Ponyboy can't figure out why or if he likes it. He realizes how different he is from his fellow gang members. He doesn't want to fight with fists, but hasn't quite figured out how to fight with words. His cohorts seem to know who they are, but Ponyboy is still lost in his search for an identity apart from just a "Greaser." 
They used to be buddies, I thought, they used to be friends, and now they hate each other because one has to work for a living and the other comes from the West Side. They shouldn't hate each other...I don't hate the Socs anymore...they shouldn't hate...
Related Characters: Ponyboy Curtis (speaker), Paul Holden
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:
The Greasers arrive at the rumble, followed by the Socs. The groups agree to only fight with fists. Darry steps forward and asks if anyone would like to fight him. Paul Holden emerges from the group. He is a Soc, who was on Darry's high school football team. The two were friends in school but now, at the rumble, are social enemies. Once again Ponyboy notices that the only difference between Darry and Paul, and thereby the Greasers and Socs, is their wealth. Paul was able to go to college after high school. Darry couldn't. This moment uncovers how easily friendships and relationships can be broken by allegiance to their respective gangs and social positions. Ponyboy follows up this moment by telling the readers that he doesn't agree with what has been happening, and he doesn't "hate Socs anymore." Because of his newfound empathy for his supposed enemies, he regrets being involved in the rumble, and now knows that fighting isn't the answer.
"We won," Dally panted. "We beat the Socs. We stomped them—chased them outa our territory."
Johnny didn't even try to grin at him. "Useless...fighting's no good..."
Related Characters: Johnny Cade (speaker), Dallas Winston (speaker)
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:
After the Greasers win the rumble, Dally takes Ponyboy to the hospital to see Johnny. When they arrive, the Doctor informs them that Johnny is dying. They go into Johnny's room and tell him that they've won the rumble. Johnny isn't impressed by this. He knows that fighting won't change anything. They will never "win" against the Socs. They will always be seen as the dirty low-lifes of the community, and there is very little that can change that. As he approaches the end of his life, Johnny also begins to realize what is truly important. It isn't gang wars or violence, but rather preserving one's identity, sense of self, and close community of friends and family. 
"Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold..." The pillow seemed to sink a little, and Johnny died.
Related Characters: Johnny Cade (speaker), Ponyboy Curtis
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

The moment before Johnny dies, he pulls Ponyboy close to him and tells him (in the book's most famous quote) to "stay gold." He is referring to the Robert Frost poem Ponyboy recited to him during their time hiding out in the church. These immortal last words are used to urge Ponyboy to maintain his idealism and heart—to try to resist the entropy Frost's poem suggests and somehow maintain his innocence. Johnny knows it's too late for himself—he has lost his "gold"—but it's not too late for Ponyboy, and so he asks Ponyboy to preserve his own childhood. Johnny has realized what is important in life during the last moments of his own. 

Chapter 10 Quotes
And even as the policemen's guns spit fire into the night I knew that was what Dally wanted...Dally Winston wanted to be dead and he always got what he wanted...Two friends of mine had died that night: one a hero, the other a hoodlum. But I remembered Dally pulling Johnny through the window of the burning church; Dally giving us his gun, although it could mean jail for him; Dally risking his life for us, trying to keep Johnny out of trouble. And now he was a dead juvenile delinquent and there wouldn't be any editorials in his favor. Dally didn't die a hero. He died violent and young and desperate, just like we all knew he'd die someday...But Johnny was right. He died gallant.
Related Characters: Ponyboy Curtis (speaker), Johnny Cade, Dallas Winston
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:

After returning with the news of Johnny's death, Ponyboy and his brothers set out to find Dally, who has run off. They meet Dally at a parking lot. He has just robbed a bank and the police are on his tail. He carries an unloaded gun and as the police get closer, he brandishes the gun and is shot by the police. Here, Ponyboy reflects on the look of satisfaction on Dally's face as he is shot down. He has always wanted to die, and now that Johnny is gone he has a reason to. 

Ponyboy then reflects on Dally's death. He will never be written up as a hero, but he died the way he wanted to, with a sense of bravery and for him, dignity. It was the last shred of honor he had. We also learn just how much Dally valued Johnny's life. Keeping him safe and out of trouble was the reason why Dally kept going. He failed at preserving Johnny's "gold"- his innocence. Without Johnny, Dally is simply a delinquent and has nothing to live for, except for the grandeur of his own death. In many ways, Dally has spent his life sacrificing himself for Johnny, and this moment is his grand finale. 

Chapter 11 Quotes
I had never given Bob much thought—I hadn't had time to think. But that day I wondered about him. What was he like? ... I looked at Bob's picture and I could begin to see the person we had killed. A reckless, hot-tempered boy, cocky and scared stiff at the same time.
Related Characters: Ponyboy Curtis (speaker), Bob Sheldon
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

Stuck in bed sick with nothing to do, Ponyboy flips through one of Sodapop’s old year books. He finds a picture of Bob, and wonders what he was really like as a person. He then tries to imagine Bob through Cherry’s eyes. What did she think of him? What did she like about him?

Once again Cherry acts as the window through which Ponyboy is able to empathize with the Socs. Ponyboy begins to see Bob as a human, realizing that while he embodied a lot of negative traits, he was scared, just like Ponyboy and just like the Greasers every single day. Once again, we see Ponyboy as a youthful voice of empathy and understanding, someone who is just discovering that problems are resolved through making an effort to humanize and empathize with others.

Chapter 12 Quotes
"Ponyboy, listen, don't get tough. You're not like the rest of us and don't try to be."
Related Characters: Two-Bit Mathews (speaker), Ponyboy Curtis
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

Since the deaths of Johnny and Dally, Ponyboy’s outlook on life has completely changed. His grades are dropping, he is forgetful and absentminded, and he doesn’t seem to care about getting into trouble anymore. After school one day, a group of Socs approach him, looking for trouble. The normally even-tempered Ponyboy breaks a glass bottle and threatens to slash them. Two-bit is shocked by this, and he tells Ponyboy to not "get tough." He realizes the beauty of Ponyboy’s sensitivity and empathy, and he urges Ponyboy to not lose that. This moment also brings up the recurring themes of preserving and losing childhood innocence. We have seen Ponyboy slowly lose the innocence he has maintained throughout the book until this point. But not all is lost, and after Two-bit tells him this, Ponyboy bends down to clean up the broken glass to keep anyone from getting a flat tire. Two-bit smirks, realizing that Ponyboy will always "stay gold."

"We're all we have left. We ought to be able to stick together against everything. If we don't have each other, we don't have anything. If you don't have anything, you end up like Dallas...and I don't mean dead, either. I mean like he was before. And that's worse than dead. Please"—he wiped his eyes on his arm—"don't fight anymore."
Related Characters: Sodapop Curtis (speaker), Ponyboy Curtis, Darry Curtis, Dallas Winston
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

Darry and Ponyboy have gotten into another argument and Sodapop can’t take it anymore. He runs off. Darry and Ponyboy then chase him down, and Soda tells them that he’s sick of being stuck in the middle of every argument. He understands both sides and feels like he's being torn apart by his two brothers. Darry has given up everything to make sure Ponyboy has the opportunities he never had, but he also can be incredibly critical and overprotective. Soda is left to manage the two of them and has reached a breaking point. 

Soda explains that they are all each other has left. He worries that they will end up like Dallas, tough and empty, with nothing to live for. They must live for each other. This is the only moment in The Outsiders where we see the bubbly, high-energy Sodapop break down. He is the link between Darry and Ponyboy, between the innocent and the father figure. He also makes it clear to Ponyboy how much Darry has sacrificed—a college education, jobs, a future—in order to protect him.

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. 

One week had taken all three of them. And I decided I could tell people, beginning with my English teacher. I wondered for a long time how to start that theme, how to start writing about something that was important to me. And I finally began like this: 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...
Related Characters: Ponyboy Curtis (speaker), Johnny Cade, Dallas Winston, Bob Sheldon
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

Johnny’s letter to Ponyboy has made Ponyboy realize that his problems, his poverty, and his struggles aren’t exclusive to him. There are other kids out there, living the same life. He decides to write about this for his English assignment—taking a risk and writing the truth. Ponyboy realizes in this moment that in order to make change happen, to give opportunities to boys like himself, he has to share his own story. He has now come full circle, just as the book itself has. He realizes that the empathy and innocence he has always struggled with can be used to do good, and that the pen is mightier than the sword (or switch blade). The book itself also comes full circle when we learn that the first line of his essay is the first line of The Outsiders. Ponyboy’s essay has become the book in our hands. His story is heard, and his voice is shared.