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Dally, the meanest and most cynical member of the Greasers, has an elfish face, high cheekbones, a pointed chin, small, sharp animal-like teeth, and ears like a lynx. His long blond hair is not greased, and his cold blue eyes capture the hatred and resentment that he feels for the whole world. Dally's life has been particularly hard. He drinks excessively, lies, cheats, steals, rolls drunks, and jumps small children. His life of crime began very early, for he was jailed at the age of ten and has spent many days in prison for robbery and assault; he also spent three years living on the wild side in New York. It is no wonder that he is "tougher, colder, meaner" than the other Greasers. In fact, Dally states that he is hardened to life and even admits that he has no respect for the law. He thinks nothing of entering a drugstore and stealing two packages of cigarettes or of sneaking over the fence into the drive- in theater. In fact, the only thing that he seems to be honest about is automobile racing, which he enters and wins fairly.
In spite of his bad reputation, the Greasers can always count on Dally. When Two-Bit breaks the school windows, Dally takes the blame and goes to jail. When Pony and Johnny approach him for help after Bob is killed, he unhesitatingly does all he can for them; he gives them dry clothes, money, a loaded gun, and instructions for going to a hide-out. When the police question him about the whereabouts of Pony and Johnny, he misdirects them to Texas in order to protect his friends. He comes to visit them in the abandoned church to make sure that they are all right and do not need anything.
When Johnny says he is going to surrender, he tries to talk him out of it, for he does not want his friend to become hardened in prison. When Johnny is trapped inside the burning building, he hits Pony across the back to keep him from going inside and saves Johnny himself, without thinking of his own safety. When Johnny, his "pet," dies, Dally goes crazy. He robs a store and then points an unloaded gun at the police, inviting them to shoot him. It is as if life has become too much for him to bear.
The reader has to go beneath the surface in order to appreciate and understand Dally. He was a true victim of his circumstances -- a product of deprivation, neglect, poverty, and indifference. He never knew any good in his short span of life and had no role models to help him escape his life of crime. Johnny, however, realized that there was good in Dally beneath the rough exterior. Pony realizes the same thing. He writes, "I remembered Dally pulling Johnny through the window of the burning church; Dally giving us his gun, although it could mean jail for him; Dally risking his life for us, trying to keep Johnny out of trouble...But Johnny was right. He died gallant."