Ponyboy Curtis is the protagonist of The Outsiders. He is also the novel’s narrator, which means that he shares his story of maturation from his own perspective.
Ponyboy’s struggle to reconcile his social class standing and gang membership with his individuality guides the entire novel. At the very beginning, Ponyboy describes how the Socs beat him up as he’s walking home from a movie, establishing the world in which he lives—a world where an innocent walk home is fraught with danger. However, Hinton does not depict Ponyboy as a tough street thug. Right before the Socs violent act, Ponyboy details his love for books and other artistic forms, and mentions how much he loves his brother Sodapop. Even when he participates in gang-related violence throughout the novel, Ponyboy is not merely a greaser, but an individual caught in the clash between the class divisions.
Throughout the novel, Ponyboy wrestles with his longing to be known for more than just “the amount of hair oil” he wears. After his first conversation with the sympathetic Cherry Valance, Ponyboy begins to learn that the Socs are also more than just their madras shirts and fancy cars, especially when he and Cherry realize that they enjoy watching the same sunsets and Cherry reminds Ponyboy that “things are rough all over.” Later, when he’s in the car with Randy, Ponyboy learns that “Socs [are] just guys after all” when Randy sobs about how the class divisions and recklessness ultimately killed his best friend Bob.
Ponyboy wrestles with his loyalty to the greaser gang, and with the freedom he feels upon hiding out in Windrixville, a place where he is labeled a “hero” instead of a “hood,” and no one knows who the greasers are. After Johnny’s death, Ponyboy realizes that he needs to tell the stories of misunderstood, poor youths everywhere, those who look “at stars and [ache] for something better.” He decides to write about how his city’s social structure took the lives of Johnny, Dally, and Bob, and how it doesn’t always have to be this way.