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The Outsiders Burning of the Church

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  • 0:03 Finding Shelter in the Church
  • 0:59 The Premonition
  • 2:06 The Fire
  • 2:51 Johnny Loses His Fear
  • 4:11 Heroes
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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'll discuss the significance of the burning of the church in the novel 'The Outsiders' by S.E. Hinton. This event marks a turning point for some of the characters.

Finding Shelter in the Church

In The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, the old, abandoned church on top of Jay Mountain is the place that Johnny and Ponyboy (both members of the Greasers gang) go to run away. Here, they hide out and gain perspective after Johnny kills Bob, who is part of the Socs (the Greasers' rival gang), in self-defense.

The church provides shelter, water, and a spiritual safe haven as the boys go through their transformation. Ponyboy sheds his trademark Greaser hair for a more wholesome look that will be less detectable. The boys spend their days reading Gone with the Wind and admiring the novel's gallant Southern gentlemen that bravely face their fears. Away from the distractions of the city, the boys are able to enjoy the beauty of nature. But this calm doesn't last for long, as chapter 6 of the novel reveals a momentous event: the burning of the church.

The Premonition

Have you ever known that something bad was about to happen? Ponyboy and Johnny didn't mind church. They tried to go to church together before, but when their friends got bored and started acting obnoxiously, it embarrassed Ponyboy and Johnny to the point that they never went back. However, the abandoned church on Jay Mountain gave the boys a feeling that something bad was about to happen. Ponyboy puts it this way, 'But this church gave me a kind of creepy feeling. What do you call it? Premonition?'

This was not the first time that Ponyboy had a random thought that foreshadowed the fire. After meeting Cherry and Marcia, Ponyboy and Johnny hang out in a vacant lot. Ponyboy says, 'I saw Johnny's cigarette glowing in the dark and wondered vaguely what it was like inside a burning ember.' Ponyboy states this in such an off-handed way that it is almost undetectable until he remembers it while in the midst of the church fire: 'Suddenly, in the red glow and the haze, I remembered wondering what it was like in a burning ember, and I thought: Now I know, it's a red hell. Why aren't I scared?'

The Fire

Johnny and Ponyboy receive a visit from Dally, their Greaser friend who told them the location of the church. Dally takes them on a trip to Dairy Queen, and the three talk about the situation back home, where the police have been asking about Bob's murder and open warfare has been ongoing between the Greasers and Socs. Johnny and Ponyboy decide it's time to go home and face reality. As all three make their way back, they pass the church and notice that it's on fire.

As they stop to investigate, they find that a group of schoolchildren are on the grounds for a picnic. Then, they hear the screams of children coming from the church. Ponyboy runs toward the fire and climbs through a window to save the children and, to the reader's surprise, Johnny follows.

Johnny Loses His Fear

The reader knows that Johnny is 'scared of his own shadow' because of years of abuse from his father, followed by a near-death beating at the hands of some Socs. However, during the fire, he has the same instinct as Ponyboy--to run in for the children. They take responsibility for the children's safety, especially since it's likely that the fire was started by one of the their cigarettes.

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