The Outsiders

Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4

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Summary

It's two-thirty in the morning, and Ponyboy and Johnny are heading home from the vacant lot, complaining about how cold it is, when they see the blue Mustang that belongs to the Socs circling the park. Five of them, including Bob and Randy, start approaching the two boys, and Ponyboy can tell they are drunk. Johnny pulls out his switchblade as they are backed against the fountain. Ponyboy and Johnny are both terrified, but they try to look tough.

The Socs start taunting them, calling them "White trash with long hair," and Ponyboy responds by spitting at them. Bob tells Ponyboy, "You could use a bath, greaser," and tells David, another Soc, to "give the kid a bath." David grabs Ponyboy and holds his head under the water of the fountain. Just as Ponyboy thinks he's about to die, he wakes up on the pavement next to the fountain, "coughing water and gasping."

Johnny is sitting next to him, and next to them lies the body of Bob, in a pool of blood. Ponyboy sees that Johnny has killed him with the switchblade, and vomits. Johnny tells him that the other Socs ran away when he stabbed Bob. Ponyboy starts to panic, screaming, "What are we gonna do?" and Johnny tries to calm him down, deciding they'll need money, a gun, and a plan. They decide to find Dally and ask him for help.

They go to Buck Merril's house to find Dally, because they remember there is a party there that Dally said he was going to. Buck answers the door, clearly drunk, but goes to get Dally when the boys ask for him. Dally appears in the doorway, pretty sober, and listens to what happened. Dally has been in a fight with Tim Shepard, and has "cracked some ribs." He lets them inside when he sees that they are cold and wet, and gives them fifty dollars and a loaded gun. He also gives Ponyboy one of Buck's shirts and his own brown leather jacket. He gives them instructions to get on a freight train to Windrixville, then find an abandoned church on top of Jay Mountain.

The boys sneak into an open boxcar on the train, avoiding being caught by one of the railroad workers. It hits Ponyboy for the first time that they are in real trouble, that Johnny has murdered someone and now they are running away. They are exhausted, and Ponyboy falls asleep.

The boys jump off the train at Windrixville, and Ponyboy is barely awake. He realizes they are in the country, and vaguely remembers his daydream about how wonderful the country is. They want to get to Jay Mountain, but don't know where to go. They want to ask someone, but Ponyboy realizes they look nothing like farm boys, and is afraid people will judge them, thinking "They'll know we're hoods the minute they see us." Johnny's legs are still asleep from Ponyboy leaning on them as he slept, so he tells Ponyboy to "quit slouching like a thug" and go ask someone for directions.

As Ponyboy walks off, he thinks about how Darry and Sodapop will react when he doesn't come home. He can't believe it was only the night before that he met Cherry Valance at the drive-in. He worries about being on the run forever, and maybe being sent to a reformatory. He runs into a farmer driving a tractor, and politely asks where Jay Mountain is, lying and saying that they are playing army and he is supposed to "report to headquarters there." He scares himself because it's so easy for him to lie.

The boys climb up to the church, feeling beyond exhausted. Ponyboy remembers how he used to go to church all the time, but one Sunday he talked Soda and Johnny into going with him. The whole gang showed up, and embarrassed Ponyboy by acting up and drawing attention to themselves. Now Ponyboy and Johnny flop down on the floor of the church and fall asleep immediately.

Analysis

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Hinton's prose is its effort to faithfully replicate a certain way of speaking and writing among "tough" youths. Ponyboy's role as narrator casts the proceedings and colors the language; what emerges is a specific vernacular. At points, his narration borders on stream of consciousness. In this chapter, the repetition of certain lines lends the reader the impression of drifting inside Ponyboy's head. For example, after Ponyboy realizes Johnny has killed Bob, Hinton writes (or Ponyboy thinks): "This can't be happening. This can't be happening. This can't be..." He is dizzy, so the thought trails off.

Eyes are prominent in this chapter, and especially Johnny's. As the five Soc boys approach him and Ponyboy, "his eyes were wild-looking, like the eyes of an animal in a trap." After Bob calls the boys "White trash with long hair," Ponyboy notices that Johnny's "eyes were smoldering." When Ponyboy comes to after almost being drowned, he notes Johnny's expression, fresh from Bob's kill: "his eyes were huger than I'd ever seen them."

The theme of appearances comes into play when the Socs approach Johnny and Ponyboy: the two young boys try to look tough. "Johnny had a blank, tough look on his face - you'd have had to know him to see the panic in his eyes. I stared at the Socs coolly. Maybe they could scare us to death, but we'd never let them have the satisfaction of knowing." Later, when the boys are going to ask for directions to Jay Mountain, Ponyboy sees Johnny "as a stranger might see him," and realizes that they will never pass for farm boys. He thinks, "They'll know we're hoods the minute they see us."

Dreaming of the country segues into a disappointing reality when the boys jump off the train in Windrixville. Ponyboy notices that "the clouds were pink and meadowlarks were singing," and thinks to himself that finally he has arrived in the country. But later, as he looks for someone to ask directions, he thinks to himself, "I was in the country, but I knew I wasn't going to like it as much as I'd thought I would."

Linked to the theme of dreaming of the country is that of pretending, which Ponyboy does to escape situations he can't deal with. The line between "pretending" and "lying" is blurred; both come easily to Ponyboy. "I can lie so easily that it spooks me sometimes," he concedes. It's both a boast and a confession, and, indeed, a sense of guilt permeates his descriptions of his own dreams and his own ruses.

The end of the chapter includes a bit of foreshadowing, when Ponyboy says that "this church gave me a kind of creepy feeling. What do you call it? Premonition?" Here, with these questions, Hinton uses the technique of direct address, when the narrator speaks to the reader personally. The foreshadowing is self-conscious, since Ponyboy makes a point of calling it a premonition.