Johnny Cade in The Outsiders: Character Analysis & Quotes

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will learn about the character Johnny Cade from the novel 'The Outsiders' by S.E. Hinton. Specific attention will be drawn to the transformation that occurred in Johnny while hiding out at the church.

Johnny's Background

'Johnny Cade was last and least.'

At the beginning of the novel The Outsiders, Johnny was a pathetic creature that was nurtured by the rest of his group. He had grown up in a violent, abusive home with parents that really did not care about him. He also lived in a violent city where Socs and Greasers were in constant conflict. Johnny had been jumped and beaten so badly by a group of Socs that he had become jumpy and fearful. He was 'afraid of his own shadow.' Even so, he often slept in the vacant lot where he was jumped because that felt safer than going home.

Despite his need to be taken care of and his crippling fear, Johnny could be depended on to do what he needed to do to take care of his friends in a rumble. Johnny admired Dallas because 'Dally' had grown up in the same type of environment, but never seemed to be afraid of anything. Johnny was sensitive and Dally was hard. At the beginning of the story, Johnny was so hopeless that he was on the verge of committing suicide. He just did not think he could take the misery of his life any longer.

Johnny's Transformation

After Bob's murder, as Johnny and Ponyboy hid out at the church in Windrixville for nearly a week, Johnny had a chance to reflect. Ponyboy and Johnny had conversations about the gallant Southern gentlemen who fearlessly faced battles head-on. It reminded Johnny of Dally. Johnny and Ponyboy also had conversations about Robert Frost's poem 'Nothing Gold Can Stay.' This poem about inevitable change stuck with Johnny and seemed to offer him hope.

Johnny and Ponyboy watched the sunrise, which reminded Johnny of how beautiful life can be. When Dally came to visit, he confirmed that Johnny's parents had not even asked about him. This hurt Johnny, but also seemed to be a turning point as he realized that he would never get from them what he needed - he had to let it go. Johnny came to the conclusion that being afraid and running away was not going to give him the life he wanted. He made the courageous decision that it was time to turn himself in to police.

However, his plans were interrupted by a fire at the church where they had been staying. There were children stuck inside the burning building. Johnny did not let Dally stop him and showed no fear as he ran inside to save them. Even though he had always listened to Dally in the past, Johnny had learned he needed to trust himself to make the right decisions. Saving the children turned him into a hero, but ultimately cost him his life.

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