'The Outsiders' Summary

The Outsiders, by S. E. Hinton, is a coming-of-age novel about protagonist Ponyboy, his friends, and his rivals. The greasers, the gang which Ponyboy belongs to, is made up of kids from the East Side—the "wrong side of the tracks." The rival gang, the Socs, are the socially privileged kids.

Clash Between Gangs

One night, as Ponyboy is leaving a movie theater, he is attacked by some Socs, and several greasers, including his two older brothers—the paternal Darry and the popular Sodapop—come to his rescue. Ponyboy has been living with his two brothers since their parents died in a car crash, and Darry is de facto raising him. The next night, Ponyboy and two greaser friends, the hardened Dally and the quiet Johnny, meet Cherry and Marcia, a pair of Soc girls, at a drive-in movie theater. Cherry spurns (but is ultimately intrigued by) Dally's rude advances, while Ponyboy strikes up a friendly conversation with her, bonding over their mutual love of literature.

Afterward, Ponyboy, Johnny, and their wisecracking friend Two-Bit begin to walk Cherry and Marcia home, when they are stopped by Cherry's boyfriend Bob, who had badly beaten up Johnny a few months back. While Bob and the greasers exchange taunts, Cherry deescalates the situation, by willingly leaving with Bob. When Ponyboy gets home, it’s already 2 in the morning, and Darry, who was very worried about his whereabouts, is enraged and slaps him. This prompts Pony to run out and meet up with Johnny, with whom he opens up about Darry’s coldness in the wake of their parents’ death. Johnny, by contrast, is avoiding his alcoholic, abusive and neglectful parents. 

While avoiding their homes, Ponyboy and Johnny happen into a park, where Bob and four other Socs surround them. Ponyboy spits at the Socs, which prompts them to try to drown him in a nearby fountain. In order to save his friend, Johnny stabs Bob to death, and the rest of the Socs disperse. Terrified, Ponyboy and Johnny rush to find Dally, who gives them money and a loaded gun, directing them to hide in an abandoned church in the nearby town of Windrixville. 

Hiding Out

In order not to be found, they try to conceal their identities with a makeover. During their stay in the church, Ponyboy reads Gone with the Wind to Johnny, and, upon viewing a beautiful sunrise, recites the poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost.

Days later, Dally comes to check on them, revealing that violence between the greasers and Socs has escalated since Bob's death into all-out city-wide warfare, with Cherry acting out of guilt as a spy for the greasers. Johnny decides to turn himself in and Dally agrees to take the boys back home. As they are about to leave, they notice the church has caught fire and several school children are trapped inside. The greasers heroically run inside the burning church to save the children. Ponyboy is rendered unconscious by the fumes, but both he and Dally were only superficially injured. Unfortunately, a piece of church roof fell on Johnny and broke his back, and he is in critical condition. The three of them are at the hospital. Soon, Sodapop and Darry come visit Ponyboy, and Darry breaks down crying. That’s when Ponyboy realizes that Darry actually cares about him, and his cold demeanor is only a form of tough love.

The following morning, Johnny and Ponyboy are hailed as heroes in the local newspapers, even though Johnny will be charged with manslaughter for Bob's death.

Two-Bit tells them that the greaser–Soc rivalry is to be settled in a final rumble. Ponyboy and Two-Bit are approached by a Soc named Randy, Bob's best friend, who voices the futility of the Socs-greasers conflict, and refrains from participating in the showdown. 

Later, Ponyboy visits Johnny at the hospital; his condition worsened. On his way home, he spots Cherry and she tells him she is unwilling to visit Johnny in the hospital because he killed her boyfriend. Pony calls her a traitor, but after she explains herself they end on good terms. 

The Final Rumble

Dally manages to escape the hospital to participate in the rumble, which ends with the greasers winning the fight. Afterward, Pony and Dally promptly hurry back to the hospital to see Johnny, who dies moments later. Dally runs out of the room in a maniacal frenzy, while Pony returns home feeling disoriented. Dally calls the house to say that he has robbed a store and is running from the police, and the rest of the group finds him deliberately pointing an unloaded gun at the police, who shoot and kill him. This causes Ponyboy to faint, and he is debilitated for many days afterwards, also due to the concussion he endured during the rumble. When the hearing finally comes, Ponyboy is cleared from any responsibility in Bob’s death and is able to return to school.

Unfortunately, though, his grades have dropped, and, despite his love of literature, he is also about to fail English. His teacher, Mr. Syme, tells him he will pass him if he writes a decent theme. 

In the copy of Gone with the Wind that Johnny gave him while they were hiding in the church, Ponyboy finds a letter that Johnny wrote to him while in the hospital, in which he declares it was worth it to die saving the children in the church fire. Johnny also urges Ponyboy to "stay gold." Upon reading Johnny’s letter, Ponyboy decides to write his English assignment about the recent events. His essay begins with the opening lines of the novel. "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..."

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Frey, Angelica. "'The Outsiders' Summary." ThoughtCo, Feb. 5, 2021, thoughtco.com/the-outsiders-summary-4691827. Frey, Angelica. (2021, February 5). 'The Outsiders' Summary. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-outsiders-summary-4691827 Frey, Angelica. "'The Outsiders' Summary." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-outsiders-summary-4691827 (accessed June 6, 2023).