Summary and Analysis
Ponyboy and Johnny reach the park around 2:30 a.m. A blast from a car horn alerts them that the blue Mustang is near. The boys realize that they are outnumbered as five Socs climb out of the car, including Bob and Randy, Cherry's and Marcia's boyfriends. These Socs had threatened Two-Bit, Johnny, and Ponyboy earlier in the evening when they found them walking with Cherry and Marcia. Johnny pulls his switchblade, but a weaponless Pony is grabbed before he knows it and shoved face first into a chilling fountain. In fear, Pony gasps for air but realizes too late that he is sucking in water and drowning.
Ponyboy awakens on the pavement gasping for air. Johnny is next to him and tells him, "I've killed that boy." Johnny is stained with blood and is still clutching his switchblade. Ponyboy sees the Soc, Bob, lying in a pool of blood. Johnny is cool, as Ponyboy has never before seen him, and states that they need money, a gun, and a plan. Knowing that Dally is the gang member with the resources to help them, they go in search of him to a party at the home of Buck Merril, Dally's rodeo partner. They find Dally there, and he provides them with $50, a gun, warm, dry clothes for Pony, and a plan that includes a safe hiding place. Dally instructs them to hop a train to Windrixville, hike up Jay Mountain, and stay in an abandoned church until he comes for them.
Ponyboy and Johnny follow Dally's instructions. On their walk up the mountain to the church, they notice that their appearances contrast sharply with the country culture. The church gives Ponyboy a creepy feeling, perhaps a premonition, but sleep overtakes both boys and any fears or premonitions are lost to exhaustion.
Chapter 4 contains one of the novel's primary climaxes, the decisive turning point to which many of the preceding chapters' foreshadowing alludes. When he kills Bob, Johnny loses the look of a wild animal caught in a trap and instead he "looked as cool as Darry ever had." By killing Bob, Johnny takes control of his life in the only way that he thinks is possible. This single action starts a series of events that leads Ponyboy on a path of self-examination, characterized by his statement, "There are things worse than being a greaser."
Ponyboy blames Darry for starting this string of events just as many children — and adults — blame their parents for all of their misfortunes. As a result of frustration and fear for Pony's safety, Darry had slapped him when he returned home well after curfew. This slap did make Pony run away, thus in Ponyboy's mind starting this whole nightmare: "I bet Darry's sorry he ever hit me."
When Johnny and Ponyboy turn to Dally for help, Dally reacts to Ponyboy the same way that Darry did, questioning Ponyboy's common sense. It is ironic that as Pony turns his back on Darry, another person steps in to question his judgment, and thereby prompts Pony to see Dally's perspective, and maybe Darry's, of himself.
The belief that one's parents are responsible for their children's misfortunes does not enter into Johnny's rationale for his actions. Johnny's abusive parents could easily have been blamed for their son murdering another person, but that thought doesn't occur to Johnny. His thoughts are self-motivated. Recall that in the previous chapter, Johnny said, "I can't take much more." This quote highlights Johnny's taking responsibility for his own actions. He doesn't blame his parents for making him live on the street, perhaps placing him in situations where trouble could occur. He accepts his fate, and decides to change it. This contrasts with Ponyboy not acknowledging that his own irresponsibility may have led to this situation.
The fantasy of life in the country hits Pony square in the face as he and Johnny hop off the freight train. The boys' appearance contrasts sharply with the natural beauty around them: "The dawn was coming. It was lightening the sky in the east and a ray of gold touched the hills. The clouds were pink and meadow larks were singing." They realize that their much struggled for "look," a style that guaranteed them the ability to fit in, now works against them. Johnny, with his black T-shirt, blue jeans, and greased long hair, and Pony, with his worn jeans and Dally's leather jacket, realize that "They'll know we're hoods the minute they see us." Both boys know they need to shed that applied appearance to match the culture around them because once again they are outsiders.
Colors play an important role in this chapter. Johnny is white with fright, "white as a ghost." White contains all of the visible rays of the color spectrum. It is a crossover color that cannot be affiliated with anyone. It combines all colors, and therefore is not a greaser or a Soc color. The color white can be used to describe any character, thus allowing readers to recognize that there are similarities between the two gangs. Some things, such as fright, are universal.
That life is easier and better for others than for themselves is easy for Johnny and Ponyboy to believe. The Socs' lives had appeared to be better than theirs, and now the country life appears wonderful with gold-touched hills and meadowlarks singing.
pickled [Slang] intoxicated; drunk.
Hank Williams (born Hiram Williams) (1923-53) U.S. country music singer and composer.
corn-poney [Slang] unsophisticated, cornball.
premonition 1 a warning in advance; a forewarning 2 a feeling that something, especially something bad, will happen; foreboding; presentiment.