The Outsiders – Chapters 3–4

Summary: Chapter 3

Just don’t forget that some of us watch
the sunset too.
(See Important Quotations Explained)

Ponyboy, Two-Bit, and Johnny walk to Two-Bit’s house
with Cherry and Marcia so that they can give the girls a ride home.
As they walk, Ponyboy and Cherry talk about Ponyboy’s brothers.
He notices how easy it is to talk to Cherry. When Cherry asks Ponyboy
to describe Darry, he says Darry does not like him and probably
wishes he could put Ponyboy in a home somewhere. Johnny and Two-Bit are
startled to hear that Ponyboy feels this way, and Johnny says he always
thought the three brothers got along well.
After Ponyboy tells Cherry about Sodapop’s old horse,
Mickey Mouse, the two move on to discuss the differences they perceive between
Socs and greasers. During this discussion, Ponyboy and Cherry find
they have a surprising amount in common—for instance, they both
like reading and watching sunsets. Ponyboy voices his frustration
that the greasers have terrible luck while the Socs lead comfortable
lives and jump the greasers out of sheer boredom. Cherry retorts
that the Socs’ situations are not as simple as Ponyboy thinks. They
decide that the main difference between Socs and greasers is that
Socs are too cool and aloof to acknowledge their emotions and that
they live their lives trying to fill up their emotional void, while
the greasers feel everything too intensely. Ponyboy realizes that,
although they come from different classes, he and Cherry watch the
same sunset.
A blue Mustang cruises by the group. The Mustang belongs
to Bob and Randy, Cherry’s and Marcia’s Soc boyfriends. The Mustang
pulls up beside the group, and Randy and Bob get out. Ponyboy notices
that Bob wears three heavy rings on his hand. The greasers and Socs
nearly get into a fight, but the girls agree to leave with their
boyfriends to prevent violence. Before leaving, Cherry tells Ponyboy
that she hopes she won’t see Dally again, because she thinks she
could fall in love with him.
Ponyboy walks home and finds Darry furious with him for
staying out so late. In the ensuing argument, Darry slaps Ponyboy.
No one in Ponyboy’s family has ever hit him before, and Ponyboy storms
out of the house in a rage. He feels sure now that Darry does not
want him around. It is after two o’clock in the morning. Ponyboy
finds Johnny in the lot where the greasers hang out, and he tells Johnny
that they are running away. Johnny, who lives with his abusive alcoholic
father, agrees to run away without hesitating. The boys decide to
walk through the park and determine whether they really want to
leave.
Summary: Chapter 4
The park is deserted at 2:30 in the morning. Ponyboy and
Johnny go walking beside the fountain. It is cold out, and Ponyboy
is wearing only a short-sleeved shirt. Suddenly the boys see the
blue Mustang from earlier that night. Five Socs, including Randy
and Bob, jump out of the car and approach them. Presumably, the
Socs have come to get even with the boys for picking up their girlfriends.
Ponyboy can tell they are drunk. Bob tells Ponyboy that greasers
are white trash with long hair, and Ponyboy retorts that Socs are
nothing but white trash with Mustangs and madras shirts. In a rage,
Ponyboy spits at the Socs. A Soc grabs Ponyboy and holds his head
under the frigid water of the fountain. Ponyboy feels himself drowning
and blacks out. When he regains consciousness, the Socs have run
away. He is lying on the pavement next to Johnny. Bob’s bloody corpse
is nearby. Johnny says, “I killed him,” and Ponyboy sees Johnny’s switchblade,
dark to the hilt with blood.
Ponyboy panics, but Johnny remains calm. They decide
to go to Dally, thinking he might be able to help them. They find
Dally at the house of Buck Merril, his rodeo partner. He manages
to get the boys fifty dollars, a change of clothing for Ponyboy,
and a loaded gun. He instructs them to take a train to Windrixville,
where they can hide in an abandoned church. Ponyboy and Johnny get
on a train, and Ponyboy goes to sleep. When they get to Windrixville,
they hop off the train and find the church, where they collapse
into exhausted sleep.
Analysis: Chapters 3–4
In these chapters, Hinton uses symbols to represent the
tensions between the two socioeconomic groups. The Socs’ blue Mustang symbolizes
their class and power, since a greaser could never afford such a
“tuff car.” The Mustang symbolizes the economic divide between the
two groups and points to a major source of the tensions between
them. In this section, and in most of the novel, the greasers move
about on foot, leaving themselves vulnerable to the Socs, who are
protected in their cars. Bob’s ring collection is another material manifestation
of the Socs’ wealth and, by contrast, the greasers’ poverty. Ponyboy
identifies Bob, a Soc, by the large rings he wears on his fingers,
and, of course, jewelry of this kind is a traditional symbol of
wealth. But Bob also uses these rings as weapons in his attacks,
in the same way that brass knuckles are used to increase the damage
of a punch in a fight. Therefore, on a symbolic level, Bob transforms
his wealth into a physical weapon. Greasers, on the other hand,
cannot represent themselves with material luxuries. Their primary
identifying symbol is their long hair. Unlike cars or rings, hair
is a costless symbol, all the cheaper because the greasers do not
have to pay to cut or style their hair. Cars and jewelry symbolize
the Socs; hair symbolizes the greasers. These superficial features
differentiate the two gangs, reinforcing the role that material acquisitions
play in forging the novel’s group identities.
This section introduces the novel’s major crisis. When
the Socs attack Ponyboy and Johnny, but they also are not only trespassing on
greaser territory, they are starting an unfair fight and taking advantage
of the boys’ physical vulnerability. On a psychological level, this
incident presents a crisis for Ponyboy because it casts doubt in
his mind over the burgeoning conclusions he makes about the commonalities
between the Socs and the greasers. Still, Hinton makes Johnny’s
killing of Bob morally uncomplicated. If Johnny had not attacked
Bob, Ponyboy would have drowned. Although Johnny commits murder,
he does not lose our sympathy. Hinton portrays him not as a killer
but as a defender of his friend’s life and a victim of tragic circumstance.
His actions are regrettable, but his motives and values are noble—he
wants to save his friend’s life.
As a result of the murder, Johnny and Ponyboy attain
a new status in the narrative, as well as among the greasers. Initially,
both boys play passive roles in the narrative and in their social
group. Ponyboy plays the role of an observer and is seen as a “tagalong,” while
Johnny rarely even speaks. By murdering a Soc, however, Johnny becomes
an adult. He shows his strength when he remains calm after the murder
and rationally determines a course of action. Ponyboy’s proximity
to the murder makes him important, not least because he unintentionally
motivates Johnny to murder Bob. Accidentally, the two boys begin
to take an active role in the story, instigating events, exacerbating
tensions between the two gangs, and pushing the narrative forward.