They had caught him and one of them had a lot of rings on his hand—that’s what had cut Johnny up so badly. It wasn’t just that they had beaten him half to death—he could take that. They had scared him.
The brutal beating that Johnny takes from the Socs leaves him half dead. Ponyboy explains that the beating breaks Johnny both physically and emotionally. While Johnny routinely takes abuse from his father at home, now he feels vulnerable out on the street as well. Nowhere is safe for Johnny. The very real physical violence in the novel reveals the emotional harm it causes to the characters.
A rumble, when it’s called, is usually born of a grudge fight, and the opponents just happen to bring their friends along.
As Ponyboy gives an overview of the world of greasers and Socs, he tells the reader that the biggest warfare exists between the social classes, not within them. Violence simmers everywhere, usually starting as a simple grudge between two people from different social classes, then boiling over into a full rumble as each side bands together for the fight. Violence and loyalty are tightly knit into the social fabric of the classes and bind them together.
“Skin fighting isn't rough. It blows off steam better than anything.”
While describing the rules of greasers and Socs to Cherry and Marcia, Two-Bit explains that not all fighting qualifies as violence. To his thinking, some fighting that doesn’t involve weapons is a healthy outlet and a natural part of being male. Two-Bit’s statement makes a distinction between violence and fighting for sport and suggests the two gangs’ rumbles are simply a normal part of growing up.
Big deal. I busted the end of my bottle and held on to the neck and tossed away my cigarette. “You get back into your car or you’ll get split.”
Ponyboy, emotionally broken from Johnny’s death and exhausted from the never-ending cycle of violence in his life, reacts to the Socs’ threat of violence toward him over Bob’s death. Ponyboy’s dilemma seems impossible: Violence appears to be the only way to end violence.
Suddenly it was deathly quiet. We had all frozen. Nobody in my family had ever hit me.
Violence, an everyday reality on the streets of the greasers and Socs, becomes a different issue once it seeps into the home. Ponyboy here reflects when, during an argument, Darry slaps him so hard he’s knocked against a door. This breach of trust and loyalty convinces Ponyboy that Darry really doesn’t want him around. Darry’s violent gesture brings about a key moment in the novel when Ponyboy decides to run away with Johnny.