The hearing is the following day. Because of Ponyboy's condition, the judge doesn't question him about anything other than his home life. Randy and Cherry testify that Johnny killed Bob in self-defense. The judge acquits Ponyboy and sends him home with his brothers.
With the court's decision and Randy and Cherry's testimony, it seems as if the two main conflicts in the novel have been resolved. All should be well...
Ponyboy, however, suffers aftereffects from his concussion that give him balance and memory problems. In addition, he finds that emotionally he doesn't care about much of anything, and it's difficult for him to get through each day. Ponyboy's grades suffer, and he once again begins arguing with Darry, who constantly has to scold him to do his homework.
...Yet all is not well for Ponyboy. He becomes depressed in the aftermath of Johnny and Dally's death, which he still refuses to cope with and accept. This depression creates new rifts in his home life with Darry, which seemed to have been healed.
Ponyboy's English teacher offers him a deal: though his work for the semester merits a failing grade, the teacher offers Ponyboy a "C" if he can write a good final "theme" paper for the semester. The teacher lets Ponyboy choose his topic and asks that the essay be based not on research but on Ponyboy's own experiences and thoughts.
The English essay offers Ponyboy an opportunity to express the independent thoughts that have been rolling around in his head over the course of these chaotic few weeks.
At lunch that day, Ponyboy, Two-Bit, and Steve go to a neighborhood store for candy and soda. While there, three Socs confront Pony and accuse him of killing Bob. Ponyboy, feeling nothing, neither fear nor anger, breaks the glass soda bottle he's holding and threatens the Socs with the jagged end until they back off. Afterwards, a concerned Two-Bit cautions Ponyboy not to get tough like the rest of the gang, saying that it's not Ponyboy's true nature. Ponyboy silently responds that he needs to get tough or he'll get hurt. He then bends down to pick up the shards of glass from the ground to make sure no one gets a flat tire. Two-Bit laughs, seeming relieved.
This scene shows how easy it would be for Pony to develop the defenses and instincts of the older greasers, and to become hard and violent. Where early in the novel he assured Cherry that he would never use the broken bottle, now he seems perfectly willing to use it. Yet when Pony picks up the broken glass, he signals that Two-Bit is right and that his gentle, sensitive nature isn't dead.
That night, Ponyboy and Darry get into a shouting match over Ponyboy's unwritten essay and his recent lack of motivation. Suddenly, Sodapop runs out of the house, dropping a letter that Sandy had returned to him unopened. Darry explains that Sandy moved to Florida because she was pregnant, but the father of her baby wasn't Sodapop. Soda had offered to marry her anyway, but she turned him down. Ponyboy feels badly that, due to his own self-absorption, he never even talked with Sodapop about Sandy. Darry and Pony run out after Sodapop.
Ponyboy realizes that he has been so wrapped up in himself lately that he has not taken the time to think about Sodapop's feelings. He has not returned the support, compassion, or empathy that Sodapop has continually given him.
Ponyboy and Darry catch up with Sodapop in the park. Soda tells them that their fighting is tearing him apart. He says that he can see both sides of the conflict: Darry's hard work and sacrifice, and Ponyboy's inability to deal with Darry's constant criticism. Sodapop begs Darry and Ponyboy to stick together, and they agree to try. The three brothers then race home, but nobody wins. "I guess we all just wanted to stay together," Ponyboy observes.
Sodapop's breakdown forces Darry and Ponyboy to confront the consequences of their continuous fighting, and to see each other more clearly. That their race home ends in a tie represents their commitment to remaining unified from this point forward.
Back at home, Ponyboy picks up Johnny's copy of Gone with the Wind while trying to write his essay. A letter from Johnny falls out of 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 that he has a lot to live for, and adds that saving the lives of the children in the church was worth his own life. Finally, he tells Ponyboy to pass these ideas on to Dally, who needs to understand them. Suddenly, Ponyboy realizes his essay topic: he wants to tell the story of the greasers so that people won't be so quick to judge, and so that all the other hoodlums in the world like Dally, won't hold onto their anger at the world and will instead see the beauty in it. Ponyboy writes the first sentence of his essay, which is the first sentence of the novel The Outsiders.
In picking up Gone with the Wind and finding the letter, Pony comes to terms with Johnny's death. As a result, he finds Johnny's letter, and the letter pushes Ponyboy to the next step: to see that his own situation is similar to that of so many other people in the world, and that he can do more than just struggle to "stay gold" himself. He can help the world "stay gold" by telling his story—and that of all the outsiders in the world—so that people start seeing them as individuals. In writing his essay, Ponyboy embraces an independent voice and perspective, and moves beyond his identity as a greaser without giving up all that his past has taught him.