The Outsiders



Johnny is the scapegoat of society at large and the one who most clearly evokes the unfairness of life. He is neglected by his mother and beaten by his alcoholic father. If not for the gang, he would never have known love, affection, and refuge. As it is, he has never been out of his neighborhood before his flight, is crippled by the fire, and dies at just 16. "I don't want to die now," Johnny tells Ponyboy as he is gravely ill, "It ain't long enough. Sixteen years ain't long enough. I wouldn't mind it so much if there wasn't so much stuff I ain't done yet and so many things I ain't seen. It's not fair" (129).

Johnny represents Jesus Christ in more ways than one, and it is ironic that his salvation occurs in the context of the church. He is an innocent, unintentional sinner whose refuge and affection have come from the gang and who has been fleeing all his life.

Johnny's turnabout in the book has arguably been the most dramatic of them all. Originally defensive and easily startled, Johnny received his greatest satisfaction from saving the lives of small children and ended up commanding his mother not to see him. He exhorts Ponyboy to "stay gold" and to continue growing. Fighting, he tells his hero, is futile. The real lessons from life, he later implies, are to retain the freshness and optimism of youth and to try to see the good in all, for the world does contain goodness.

Johnny dies far too young but is glad that at least he had done something heroic before being killed. Saving those children, he says, redeemed his existence.

Johnny serves as instruction to educators, too. Used to being called retarded ("his teachers thought he was just plain dumb" (83)), Johnny was far from that. He was analytical and deep-thinking. His teachers misunderstood him. The system underrated him. Johnny was neglected by his parents and teachers, but he died "gold."

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Essays About The Outsiders