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Pony is a fourteen-year-old boy with greenish gray eyes and light brown hair, which he wears long. His parents were killed in a car accident, so he lives with his two brothers, Soda and Darry. All three of them belong to a gang known as the Greasers, which is comprised of teenagers from the poor east side of town.
Unlike most of the Greasers, Pony is a sensitive teenager. He often likes to be by himself to think or to read. He also enjoys going to the movies alone. His older brother, Darry, often screams at him for being by himself outside the house; he feels it is too dangerous, for the Socs, the rival gang, are always looking for a Greaser to jump. Darry also worries about Pony's grades. Although he is a good student, Darry wants to make certain that Pony does his best in school so that he can rise above being a Greaser and make something of himself. Darry had to drop out of school in order to support his brothers after the death of his parents. Through much of the book, Pony resents Darry's constant criticism and intrusion into his life. In contrast, Pony worships his middle brother Soda, largely because he has a happy-go-lucky attitude towards life and acts as a buffer between him and Darry. Because Pony does not want to be separated from his brothers and put in a boy's home, he avoids getting into any kind of trouble, especially with the police.
Pony is acutely conscious that he is underprivileged and scorned. The Socs look down upon him and the rest of the Greasers as though they are dirt and treat them as hoods. Pony is bitter about the fact that people never blame the Socs for any trouble because they look decent with their short hair, nice clothes, and expensive cars; instead, the Greasers are always blamed because they have long, oily hair and wear scruffy clothes. Pony knows that it is ironic that most of the Greasers are quite decent people who want to be left alone, while most of the Socs are cold-blooded and mean trouble makers.
Pony becomes friends with Cherry Valence, one of the Socs' girls, when he stands up for her against Dally's abusive language and rude behavior. Through her, he realizes that not all of the Socs are alike, for she is a nice, kind, understanding girl. He discovers that she is a dreamer and enjoys watching sunsets, just like he. As a result, Pony feels close to her and tells her things he does not tell anyone else. He talks to her about how nervous Johnny has been since he was beaten up by the Socs and how sad Soda was to be separated from Mickey Mouse, a horse that he "adopted." He even realizes from his conversation with Cherry that the Socs also have problems in spite of their money, nice clothes, and fancy cars. Then when he gets to know Randy Adderson, one of the Socs, he realizes that "Socs were just guys after all."
Pony is often afraid in the novel. When he walks home from the movie theater alone and is attacked by the Socs, he screams loud and long for help from his brothers or anyone else close by. When he sees Bob lying dead on the ground, he is paralyzed with shock and fear, unable to think or act; Johnny must tell him exactly what to do. When Johnny is in the hospital and dying, Pony is again speechless with fear. Then when he sees Dally shot by the police, his fear totally overcomes him; he faints and is unconscious and delirious for over three days. The only time that Pony acts in a courageous, heroic manner is the time when he rescues the children from the burning church.
Through most of the book, Pony misunderstands his oldest brother, Darry. Because he often criticizes him, Pony thinks that Darry does not like him at all. Then when Darry rushes to see him in the hospital, nurses him for three days while he is delirious and unconscious, and calls him little buddy, Pony begins to realize that Darry truly loves and cares for him. He has been strict with Pony because he does not want him taken away and put in a boy's home; in addition, he wants Pony to make something out of himself in life. Soda then makes Pony realize that he has always selfishly expected Darry to be understanding, without ever trying to understand Darry in return. As a result, Pony tries much harder to get along with his oldest brother.
After his full reconciliation with his brothers and his acquittal at the hearing on Bob's death, Pony is still not whole. Disturbed over the deaths of Bob, Johnny, and Dally, he cannot get his life together; he has trouble eating, sleeping, concentrating, doing schoolwork, or accepting that Johnny is dead. As a result of his troubled spirit, his grades suffer, and he is in danger of failing English if he does not produce a good semester theme. Then as he tries unsuccessfully to get his thoughts down on paper, Pony finds a letter that Johnny wrote to him prior to his death. In it, Johnny encourages him to stay gold and to break out of the pattern of violence offered by gang life. The letter provides the healing touch that Pony so needed. He decides that he will spend his time and effort in telling everyone about the problems that underprivileged children, like himself, face in life and seek help for their betterment. He will begin his mission by writing his English theme about it.
At the end of the book, Pony has emerged from his voyage of self- discovery as a much better person. He no longer pities himself or has a chip on his shoulder; instead, he looks into the future with optimism, knowing that he can rise above gang life and poverty and do something constructive in the world.