Ponyboy Curtis – Ponyboy is a fourteen-year-old member of a gang called the Greasers. His parents died in a car accident, so he lives alone with his two older brothers, Darry and Soda. He is a good student and athlete, but most people at school consider him a vagrant like his Greaser friends.
Sodapop Curtis – Soda is Pony’s handsome, charming older brother. He dropped out of school to work at a gas station, and does not share his brothers’ interest in studying and sports.
Darrel Curtis – The oldest of the Curtis boys, Darry is also the acknowledged leader of the Greasers.
Johnny Cade – Johnny is Pony’s closest friend and the gang’s pet. They are especially protective of him since he is smaller than the rest, his father beats him, and he is afraid to walk the streets alone after being attacked by a group of Socs.
Cherry Valance – Cherry is from the richer part of town and associates mainly with the Socs, but she befriends Pony and the other Greasers and gives them information about the Socs.
Bob Gardner – Bob is Cherry’s boyfriend. Johnny murders Bob to stop him from killing Pony.
Dallas Winston – A member of the Greasers, Dally has spent time in prison. He helps Johnny and Pony by telling them to go to Jay Mountain to hide out and by giving them money.
Two-Bit Mathews – The Greasers’ oldest member. He acts like a mentor or mascot to the Greasers.
Steve Randle – Soda’s best friend and another member of the Greasers.
The Outsiders is a coming-of-age story about a group of boys engaged in a dangerous feud with the wealthier residents of their town. The narrator, Ponyboy Curtis, is a teenager who lives alone with his two brothers. He is interested in academics and sports, but does not receive the same respect and treatment granted to the wealthier kids, who belong to a different gang called the Socs. Pony has long hair, which he greases; he knows that people consider him a juvenile delinquent based on his appearance.
Pony is not content with his situation; he worries that his brother does not want to take care of him and constantly fears attacks by the Socs. Things get much worse, however, when he and his friend Johnny go to a park late at night. The Socs attack them there and dunk Pony’s head in a fountain, long enough to make him unconscious and almost drown him. When he wakes up, he realizes that one of the Socs is dead, and that Johnny killed him.
The two boys run away with the help of their friend Dally, who tells them to go to an abandoned church on Jay Mountain. They hide out for a week, and then Dally comes to find them. Johnny wants to go back to turn himself in, but as they head back to the church they see that it has caught fire. A group of schoolchildren is there on a field trip, and a few of the children remain locked inside the burning church. Pony and Johnny break the window and rescue the children as the fire spreads. Pony is able to climb back out, but Johnny is hit with a piece of falling timber and burned severely.
The boys are written up as heroes in the newspaper, even though they are still wanted for murder. Johnny is badly injured and will never walk again, if he lives. Meanwhile the Greasers are scheduled to fight the Socs. The Greasers win the fight, and Dally and Pony go to the hospital to tell Johnny the good news. He dies during their visit. Dally runs off heatedly, and later calls Pony’s house to say that he has robbed a store and is being chased by the police. They go to meet him, but watch him pull a gun on the cops and fall back and die as they fire at him.
Pony moves on with his life, after being acquitted in the Soc’s murder case. He is never the same, however, and the memories of past events still haunt him. Finally, as an assignment for English class, he writes down the story of what happened.
The Outsiders is a story of rebellion, youth, and heroism. It focuses on an endless, senseless conflict between two groups of young people and the problems that result. Its main character, Ponyboy, watches his world slowly fall apart as the battle between the groups rages around him.
The use of a first-person narrator gives the reader a sense of belonging to the greasers, encouraging sympathy for their struggle. Ponyboy is a strong, sensitive, intelligent young person who cares very deeply about his friends and brothers. He often faces danger, and what he wants most is a sense of security and stability. Instead, events spiral towards an inevitable tragedy, and Ponyboy must accept his own powerlessness.
The Greasers are young men who refuse to accept the subordinate position that society has given them. The Socs mock the Greasers and the adults in town overlook them: rather than accept their status and live in peace with the wealthier citizens of town, the Greasers seek respect and rebellion. They are proud, strong-willed people who know they deserve better. The result is a life of constant conflict and ever-present danger.
At the end of The Outsiders, Pony is transformed from greaser into a writer. He learns to express his resentment and anger through more creative means, no longer resorting to violence. He is able to share his story with an authority figure, his English teacher, who does not belong to his crowd. The universal message of The Outsiders is that peace can come through understanding, communication, and a willingness to move beyond violence to resolve conflicts.