The Outsiders

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Individual Identity Theme Analysis

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.
Individual Identity Theme Icon

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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Individual Identity ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Outsiders related to the theme of Individual Identity.
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.


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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." 
"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 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.