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. 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.
Preserving Childhood Innocence ThemeTracker
Preserving Childhood Innocence Quotes in The Outsiders
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.
"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."
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."
Johnny didn't even try to grin at him. "Useless...fighting's no good..."