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The Outsiders | Plot Summary

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Summary

Greasers versus Socs

The Outsiders highlights the social class differences and intense, often violent, rivalry between the greasers from the east side of the city, whose lives are pervaded by dysfunctional families and economic disadvantage, and the Socials (Socs) on the west side of town, whose lives are permeated with wealth, privilege, and opportunity. Ponyboy, the 14-year-old first-person narrator of the story, is a greaser whose parents have died. He lives with his two brothers. His favorite brother, Soda, is an amiable, handsome, 16-year-old high school dropout who works full time at a gas station. His oldest brother, Darry, is the head of the household at the age of 20; he works two jobs to make ends meet and is even stricter with Ponyboy than their father had been.

There are four other members of the greaser gang that serve as Ponyboy's extended family: the wise-cracking, thieving 18-year-old Two-Bit Mathews; the tough-as-nails 17-year-old Dally Winston; 16-year-old Johnny Cade, the lost puppy who "has been kicked too many times"; and Steve Randle, the 17-year-old car genius who is Soda's best friend. Steve gets very little time on the pages of the book, and Two-Bit serves mainly as part of Ponyboy's support system, while Johnny and Dally play critical roles in the story.

As the story opens, Ponyboy is walking home alone from the movies when he is jumped by a carload of Socs, but his brothers and the other greasers chase them off. The next night a bunch of the greasers visit a drive-in movie theater, where two Soc girls, Cherry and Marcia, befriend Ponyboy and Johnny. It's an innocent friendship, but the situation becomes hostile when a blue Mustang full of Socs arrives. Bob, Cherry's boyfriend, insists that the girls ride home with them, even though they are drunk and Cherry doesn't want to get in the car. Ponyboy notices the rings on Bob's fingers and the blue Mustang, signs of the same Soc who brutally beat up Johnny four months ago and left him for dead in a vacant lot. A sensitive type to begin with, Johnny has become fearful and jumpy ever since.

The Rivalry Turns Violent

To keep peace, the girls leave with their boyfriends. Ponyboy and Johnny fall asleep while talking in the vacant lot, and they don't wake up until two in the morning. When Ponyboy arrives home so late, Darry explodes out of frustration and worry and hits Ponyboy, which he has never done before. Ponyboy leaves the house again and joins Johnny, whose parents don't notice or care if he ever comes home, for a walk to the local park. The blue Mustang shows up there, with its occupants even more inebriated. The Socs intend to teach the greasers a lesson for picking up their girls. Bob orders another Soc named David to "give the kid a bath" in the fountain. David holds Ponyboy's head under the water so long that Ponyboy is on the verge of drowning. Johnny, who also recognizes Bob as the same violent Soc who beat him so savagely four months ago, knifes Bob to save Ponyboy's life. Bob dies, and Ponyboy and Johnny flee the crime scene before the police arrive.

Hiding Out

Ponyboy and Johnny go to Dally for help. He gives them money, a loaded gun, and directions to an abandoned church out in the country where they can hide. They hop a train, buy some supplies, and hunker down in the gloomy old church, passing time playing poker and smoking cigarettes. They cut and bleach their hair to disguise themselves, and Ponyboy reads aloud from Gone with the Wind. On their fifth day in hiding, Dally comes to visit. He tells them Bob had many friends and the Socs have declared all-out war on the greasers as a result of the murder. To protect himself, Dally now carries a gun, though it is not loaded. There's a rumble planned for tomorrow night in the vacant lot to resolve the dispute between the greasers and the Socs once and for all. Because she feels bad about the escalating violence, Cherry is acting as a spy, funneling information to the greasers.

The Fire

On their way back from Dairy Queen, Ponyboy, Johnny, and Dally see that the church is on fire. Ponyboy and Johnny fear they accidentally set the fire with their cigarettes and, after hearing faint screams coming from the church, they run into the burning building and rescue some children—while they were gone, two teachers had brought a class of schoolchildren up to the church grounds for a picnic. Johnny pushes Ponyboy out the window but doesn't make it out himself before a flaming beam strikes him across the back. Dally reaches though the window to pull Johnny out, burning his arm in the process. All three of them are taken to the hospital. Ponyboy is released, but Darry and Johnny are treated for severe burns. Johnny also has a broken back and will never walk again, if he even lives. Ponyboy reunites with his brothers, who are ecstatic to see him, making him realize that Darry really does have his best interests at heart.

The Rumble and Its Aftermath

Two-Bit and Ponyboy visit Dally and Johnny in the hospital the next day. Johnny is being charged with manslaughter, and Ponyboy will have to attend a hearing to decide whether or not Darry is a suitable guardian for him. Before the rumble, Ponyboy surveys his brothers and all the other greasers about why they like to fight. Two other greaser gangs come to help out at the rumble, and Ponyboy notices they are true juvenile delinquents, much more criminal than his greaser friends.

The Socs are the first to leave the rumble, meaning the greasers win. Dally and Ponyboy rush to the hospital to tell Johnny about their victory. After their announcement, Johnny dies. He will be remembered as a hero for saving the children. Overtaken by grief, Dally loses control of his emotions and robs a grocery store. Ponyboy wanders around confused and eventually makes it home. The three Curtis brothers and the other greasers want to hide Dally from the authorities, but the police show up at the vacant lot right after Dally arrives there. Dally pulls out his unloaded gun, causing the police to open fire. The police shoot and kill Dally. He will be remembered as a juvenile delinquent.

Ponyboy's Story

Ponyboy passes out and wakes up three days later. At the hearing he is acquitted and told he can continue to live with his brothers. But he is still psychologically wounded and refuses to believe that Johnny is dead, or that Johnny killed Bob. In school his grades plummet. His English teacher assigns him a semester composition on any subject of his own choosing as a requirement to pass the class. After casting around for a subject, Ponyboy starts to write the true story of the week he lost two close friends and another boy lost his life to senseless violence. He hopes to help other underprivileged kids with his story, and the act of writing it down is cathartic for Ponyboy.

The Outsiders Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675

Introduction

1 Cherry and Marcia befriend the greasers at a drive-in movie.

Rising Action

2 Socs almost drown Ponyboy, and Johnny knifes Bob.

3 Johnny and Ponyboy flee the crime scene.

4 Johnny is injured rescuing children from a burning church.

Climax

5 Johnny dies.

Falling Action

6 Dally robs a grocery store and is killed by police.

Resolution

7 Ponyboy is acquitted and begins to write his story.

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