Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold. . . .
Feeling sick before the rumble, Ponyboy swallows five aspirin and struggles to eat his dinner. The boys have bathed and made themselves look “tuff,” and leave for the rumble excitedly. Ponyboy feels a sinking feeling when he sees the other greasers. Tim Shepard’s gang and the others seem like genuine hoods. Twenty-two Socs arrive in four carloads to fight the twenty greasers. Darry steps forward to start the fight, and Paul Holden, Darry’s high school friend and football teammate, steps up to challenge him. As Paul and Darry circle each other, Dally joins the group. As Dally arrives, the fight breaks out in full. After a long struggle, the greasers win.
When the rumble ends, Dally and Ponyboy go to the hospital to see Johnny. A policeman stops them, but Ponyboy feigns an injury, and the officer gives them an escort to the hospital. Ponyboy and Dally find Johnny dying. Johnny moans that fighting is useless, tells Ponyboy to “[s]tay gold,” and then dies. Dally is beside himself with grief and runs frantically from the room.
After Johnny’s death, Ponyboy wanders alone for hours until a man offers him a ride. The man asks Ponyboy if he is okay and tells him that his head is bleeding. Ponyboy feels vaguely disoriented. At home, he finds the greasers gathered in the living room and tells them that Johnny is dead and that Dally has broken down. Dally calls and says he just robbed a grocery store and is running from the police. The gang rushes out and sees police officers chasing him. Dally pulls out the unloaded gun he carries, and the police shoot him. Dally collapses to the ground, dead. Ponyboy muses that Dally wanted to die. Feeling dizzy and overwhelmed, Ponyboy passes out.
When Ponyboy wakes, Darry is at his side. Ponyboy learns that he got a concussion when a Soc kicked him in the head during the rumble, and that he has been delirious in bed for three days.
Underlying the struggle between the Socs and the greasers is the struggle between the instinct to make peace and the social obligation to fight. Hinton turns the rumble into a moral lesson. The fight begins when Darry Curtis and Paul Holden face off; the fact that Darry and Paul were high school friends and football teammates suggests that their rivalry need not exist—that money makes enemies of natural friends. Ponyboy’s comment that they used to be friends but now dislike each other because one has to work for a living while the other comes from the leisurely West Side emphasizes the artificial and unnecessary nature of their animosity. While this animosity seems pointless, each gang member who fights still feels a responsibility to his gang to hate the other gang.
Ponyboy feels this tension within him before the fight. His instincts tell him to skip the rumble, as he knows in his heart that violence won’t solve anything. His hesitation after speaking with Randy and his decision to take five aspirin before the fight show that he is emotionally and physically unprepared for the ordeal. Nevertheless, Ponyboy ignores his instincts and goes through with the fight because he wants to please his social group. His participation in the rumble cements his place in the gang; he is no longer a tagalong little brother but rather a fighter in his own right.
The greasers prepare for the rumble as if preparing for a high school dance. They bathe, do their hair, and dress carefully. The rumble is a social event, an occasion to defend and celebrate one’s identity. While other teenagers celebrate their identities by attending dances and parties, the greasers celebrate theirs by fighting. After the fight, however, the glamour of the event wears off. Despite their victory, the greasers understand the uselessness of violence. Nothing has really improved for them: greasers are injured, separation still threatens the Curtis brothers, and Johnny still lies dying.
Though everyone looks forward to the rumble as a culmination of tension, the rumble actually proves anticlimactic. Immediately after the rumble, Ponyboy and Dally rush to the hospital to see Johnny. Their actions suggests that the rumble is a minor event interrupting their real concerns. The rumble leaves the other greasers depressed too. Victory does not thrill them as they thought it would. The Socs retreat, but the greasers do not cheer. They bleed, double over, and examine their wounds. When Darry announces their victory, his voice is tired, not celebratory.
The events of these chapters mark the culmination of Ponyboy’s trauma. Constant disaster has kept Ponyboy from feeling pain. Over the course of a few days, Ponyboy almost drowns, learns that his friend has committed murder, runs away and hides, saves children from a burning church, and learns that the state may take him away from his brothers. However, the emotions that surround these events have been pushed to the side by both by the constant onslaught of new trauma and by Ponyboy’s worries about Johnny and the greaser-Soc rumble. Ponyboy’s hospitalization suggests that the string of disasters has ended and that a period of reflection can finally begin.