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Annie Ernaux

Ponyboy

Thoughtful, sensitive, and the youngest of the gang (only 14 when the story opens), Ponyboy is guileless, eager to please, and detests fights. Different from the others in that he likes reading, nature, and solitary activities, he and Johnny share the same interests and are often able to talk to each other without conversing. Eager to forgive and understand others, Ponyboy seems to be the one whom others frequently turn to for counseling. Ponyboy admires his brother Sodapop, not realizing that he is just as handsome and courageous as his brother. He also seems to have his older brother Darrell's conscientiousness and intelligence. Of all of the boys, with the exceptions of Johnny and possibly Darry, Ponyboy is least characteristic of the gang and has the greatest potential to graduate to "higher stuff." He is also a runner who has made it to the Track A team in school. Johnny sees in Ponyboy the "gold." The other gang members largely protect him. Although initially disliking Darry, Ponyboy is similar to his older brother in many regards, and has his brother's potential without being hardened by his responsibilities.

The novel tracks Ponyboy's development from an easily startled, angry boy who dislikes his brother to someone who is more comfortable with himself, secure in his future, and more understanding and accepting of differences in general. Ponyboy becomes more driven, more alert to nuances, and more patient and understanding of the differences and complexities of life as the novel progresses.

Darrel

Twenty when the story opens and called "Superman" or "Muscles" by the gang for his strength and ruthlessness, Darrel (otherwise known as "Darry") is the hardworking oldest boy of their family who has taken it upon himself to care for his two younger brothers in order to keep the family together. His parents had been killed in a car crash several years ago. Working two jobs while managing his schoolwork, Darrell could have progressed to college and made something of himself. He longs to go to college. He had been popular in school, had been captain of the football team, and had been voted Boy of the Year. He was not—as Ponyboy realized toward the end—greaser material. He could just as easily have been a Soc. Darrel, like Sodapop, has the qualities of the Southern gentlemen that Ponyboy saw in Gone with the Wind. He endeavors to protect Sodapop and Ponyboy, and to keep them away from the gang. If not for Darrel, they too would have been involved with petty thievery and murder. Darry's life is tough; his responsibility even harder. He takes his responsibility very much to heart and it is this that ages him far beyond his years, making him demanding to his younger brothers. This leads Ponyboy to mistake Darrel's tough demeanor for dislike toward Ponyboy, and results in the family fights that so disturb Sodapop.

Darrel is cleverly described by the author as possessing eyes that "are like two pieces of pale blue-green ice" (14). The rest of his physiognomy looks like his father, with whom he had been close. It is his eyes—his bitterness of life and resolve to make it—that distinguish him.

Sodapop

Easygoing, phlegmatic, and charismatic, he is liked by all. He has a movie star kind of handsomeness and appeal that attracts people to him, as well as a fun-loving, reckless kind of charm. His eyes, just as those of Darrel, indicate his character. His eyes are "lively, dancing, recklessly laughing that… can be gentle and sympathetic one moment and blazing with anger the next" (16). Becoming drunk was common among adolescents, whether greasers or Socs, but Soda was no alcoholic. In this, as in various other ways, he too could have developed into a Soc. Though a high school dropout, he works for his living in the gas station and abhors petty theft. His girlfriend, too, is more refined than the typical girlfriend of the quintessential greaser. Sodapop is generous and sensitive to a fault. He longs for the traditional family life in which he can marry and raise a child. Girls love Sodapop, and his personality is simply magnetic: "He gets drunk on just plain living. And he understands everybody" (16).

Dallas Winston

Embittered and hardened by his tough life on the streets of New York by and his jail experiences from when he was just 10 years of age, Dallas (otherwise known as Dally) sees brutality and hardness as instruments of survival. Ponyboy never liked him, but admired him for his street smarts and courage. There was a difference between Dally and the hoods—namely, Tim Shepard's gangs, who were hardened convicts. Dallas was tougher than the rest of the greasers and had been arrested, time and again, for involvement with all sorts of crimes.

Nonetheless, Dallas has a streak of "gold" that we fail to see in most of the Socs. A leader to the core and loyal to his followers, Dallas, in contrast to Bob, the leader of the Socs, has his code of honesty and unshakable self-discipline. He will steal and rob stores, but never gamble. His principles of fighting, contrary to those of the Socs, include fair play. With passionate dismissal of society, he prefers to die a reputed thief than a hero. Attraction toward social conventions and acclaim add up to zilch. Nonetheless, Johnny recognizes in Dallas the quintessential Southern gentleman who unresistingly allows himself to be punished for the crimes of his followers, even when he least deserves it.

Sandy

Sandy, Sodapop's girlfriend, moved to Florida to be with her grandmother and became pregnant with another man's child. Her rejection of Sodapop hurts him terribly, particularly since he had dreamed of marrying her. Sandy's background and living conditions were no different from those of the other greasers, but she had a more genuine, refined personality.

Cherry Valence

Cherry is the stereotypical feisty, spunky redheaded girl. Part of the Socs, she was Bob's girlfriend. Cherry has a penchant for dangerous boys, and was just as easily in love with Bob as she could have been to Dallas. In both cases, her love would have remained unrequited and both would have taken advantage of her. She seems to have been attracted, perhaps unconsciously so, to the greaser way of life possibly because, as she herself remarked:

We're always going and going and going, and never asking where. Did you ever hear of having more than you wanted? So that you couldn't want anything else and then started looking for something else to want? It seems like we're always searching for something to satisfy us, and never finding it. Maybe if we could lose our cool we could (46).

Put off by the drunkenness and superficiality of her own milieu, she was attracted to the comradeship, authenticity, and fair play of the other group and became their spy. She and Ponyboy shared similar interests.

Marcia

Marcia, too, seemed to be out of her element, sharing more similarities with Two-Bit than she may have with her own crowd. She and Two-Bit identified with one another and had their own language. She handed Two-Bit her phone number.

Had Two-Bit been of her own milieu, they would have likely gravitated to a more serious religiosity. As it was, Two-Bit recognized their social difference and ripped up her contact information.

Two-Bit Mathews

Otherwise called Keith, Two-Bit is the comedian of the group. Having a similar sense of humor as Marcia, he gets along well with her, evoking the hostility of the Socs. He shoplifts frequently and is attached to his black-handled switchblade, which he prizes more for looks than for utility. Keith likes fights, blonds, and school, which he attended "just for kicks." His irresistible good humor spreads to everyone. Life was one big joke for him.

Johnny Cade

The youngest boy of the gang, he is most friendly with Ponyboy, with whom he shares similar interests. The narrative follows his progression from a timid, scared youngster, traumatized by the Socs, to a fearless and heroic boy who saved children from a fire and forbids his mother to visit him. Johnny adulates Dallas and is protected by the gang mostly because he frequently flees home, where he is neglected by his mother and beaten by his alcoholic father. It is the gang that provides him with love, affection, and refuge. As it was, Johnny had never been out of his neighborhood before he was compelled to flee.

Steve Randall

Steve, at age 17, is Sodapop's best friend since grade school and works alongside Sodapop in the gas station. He is expert with cars and with stealing hubcaps. He is tall and lean, as well as intelligent, cocky, and tough. His behavior toward Ponyboy varies—sometimes protective, while other times rejecting him as a tag-along.

Randy Adderson

Marcia's boyfriend and Bob's best friend, he is handsome and fair, at first delighting in conforming with the Socs and victimizing the greasers, but later attempting to please his fair-minded and scrupulous father. He develops a disgust for fighting, seems to be more reflective than Bob and the other Socs, sees the weaknesses in the Socs, has empathy for and a greater understanding of the greasers and the complexities of their lives, and resolves to do what is right regardless of the result. He "chickens out" from the rumble even though it may be discomforting for him, and resolves to tell the truth at the hearing.

Bob Sheldon

Cherry's handsome boyfriend, Bob is the leader of the gang and a corollary in many ways to Dallas. His parents failed to discipline him, turning him into a spoiled alcoholic tyrant who overcomes his unhappiness by tormenting others. He wears three heavy rings when victimizing the greasers and drives showy cars. He is killed by Johnny in self-defense when he attempts to drown Ponyboy and beat Johnny.

Paul Holden

Paul is a handsome strong college youth who steps forward to challenge Darrel during the "rumble." A Soc, Paul had been Darrel's buddy and football teammate in high school. He despised and pitied Darrel for having stepped in a "lower" direction.

Tim Shepard

Tim is the leader of a band of hoods from Brumley. Dissimilar from the greasers in that the greasers never deliberately hurt anybody and only engaged in petty crime, the hoods were hardened and skilled convicts. Tim is described as having the "tense, hungry look of an alley cat" (146) and as someone who is constantly restless. He is a friend of Darry, but Ponyboy knows that Darry will never be like him; Darry will climb out of his rut someday and make it to a better life. Tim Shepard and his gang never would, since they enjoyed being convicts.

Mr. Syme

Mr. Syme is Ponyboy's English teacher, a man who appears to be genuinely concerned for the welfare of the boys and seems to be a skilled educator. He offers to raise Ponyboy's grade to a C if Ponyboy turns in an original essay that is at least five pages. This stimulates Ponyboy to produce this book.

Buck Merril

Buck is Dally's rodeo partner and is proficient in bootlegging and gambling. Ponyboy has been warned by his brothers to keep away from Merril, whom he, anyway, detests. Yet, he is compelled to go to his home in order to seek out Dallas so that Dallas can help Johnny, and he flees the police.

Jerry Woods

A schoolteacher, Mr. Woods is tolerant person who accepts Ponyboy and their gang for what they are. In another life, Jerry might have been a skilled social worker working with and understanding delinquents. He looks after Ponyboy's welfare, remonstrating with him about his smoking. He is empathetic and non-judgmental

The Doctor

The doctor is a man hardened by his job who was direct in his statements. On the other hand, he cared for his patients and went out of his way to inform the judge about Ponyboy's predicament. He also realized Johnny's attachment to the gang and allowed them to see him before he died.

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