Une lampe, le soir


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Erskine Caldwell

The narrative is an account of two gangs, the greasers and the Socs. The greasers are the down-and-outs who are less socially advantaged and are described by the Socs as being more "emotional." They are distinguished by their long, greasy hair, leather jackets, and worn clothes. Many of them have dropped out of school due to an inability to afford its tuition, or are otherwise living under straitened conditions. The Socs generally come from wealthy backgrounds. They wear semi-Beatle haircuts, dress in showy ski jackets, and drive expensive cars. Even their girlfriends, being more refined, are different from those of the greasers. Cherry describes them as being more "sophisticated—cool to the point of not feeling anything" (46).

The two groups have an ongoing feud with the Socs, traumatizing Johnny before the opening of this story. Their almost drowning him had an enduring impact on Johnny and psychologically changed him into a fearful, often cowering boy.

Ponyboy Curtis is the youngest of three orphaned brothers who are allowed to stay together as long as they keep out of trouble with the law. Their parents have been killed in a car crash. Darrel, the oldest and their assumed protector, seems tough to Ponyboy, but as the story progresses, Ponyboy discovers that Darry's rough veneer exists out of concern for his brothers—particularly for Ponyboy, whom he believes can graduate if he would only try.

Sodapop, the second oldest, is Ponyboy's special brother. He is handsome and courageous. Ponyboy admires him. Sodapop has a girlfriend whom he adores but who jilts him somewhere along the way.

At the beginning of the narrative, Ponyboy is walking home by himself one day when he is jumped by the Socs. Not long afterward, he encounters Cherry and Marcia, two beautiful Soc girls, and finds that their experiences are ultimately not so different from his. Their socioeconomic conditions might be dissimilar, but their fundamental experiences are the same.

Ponyboy is jumped in a Soc ambush. Johnny defends him and kills Bob, the aggressor. Darrel hands the boys a gun and some money, with which the boys flee to an abandoned church. There, they cut and bleach their hair. Johnny is also introduced to Gone with the Wind and to Robert Frost's poem, "Nothing Gold Can Stay," both of which inspire him.

The church burns. Johnny saves some schoolchildren and is fatally hurt himself in the process. Johnny is glorified by the local newspapers and, while hospitalized, dies. Before dying, he tells Ponyboy that he is "gold" and urges him to make something of himself.

After Johnny's death, an anguished Dallas commits a robbery and, threatening to attack the police with an unloaded gun, is killed. Ponyboy suffers a concussion and is hospitalized for shock.

A few days later, during the boys' hearing that is held to determine whether or not the Curtis boys should be separated, the court resolves that Ponyboy is not to be held liable for killing Bob. He returns home, where he lies in a slump for several days. His grades suffer, and Dallas and Ponyboy fight, with Dallas insisting that Ponyboy can, and should, continue with his life and stop quitting. A tearful Sodapop begs them to stop feuding. Resolved to better his grades, Ponyboy accepts the challenge of producing an original essay for his teacher, Mr. Syme, and commences writing about his experience between the greasers and the Socs. His opening sentence starts off with the following words:

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… (188).

These are the opening words of the book.

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