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Ponyboy Curtis, the fourteen-year-old narrator, lives with his older brothers Sodapop and Darry, since their parents passed away in a car accident.
After escaping the hospital, Dally shows up just in time for the rumble. Afterward, Pony and Dally hurry back to the hospital to see Johnny, but he dies moments later and a maniacal Dally runs out of the room.
Pony returns home that night feeling confused and disoriented.
Overwhelmed, Ponyboy faints and is sick in bed for many days due to the resulting concussion from the rumble. Syme, says he will pass him if he writes a decent theme.
When the hearing finally comes, the judge frees Ponyboy from responsibility for Bob's death and allows Pony to remain at home with Darry and Soda. In the copy of Gone with the Wind that Johnny gave him before dying, Ponyboy finds a letter from Johnny describing how he will die proudly after saving the kids from the fire.
One night at the drive-in theater, Ponyboy, Johnny, Two-Bit, and Dally meet Cherry Valance and Marcia, two Soc girls whose boyfriends have left them there.
Ponyboy makes a connection with Cherry because they can both appreciate sunsets; it is a bond that crosses their social boundaries and links their worlds.Ponyboy gets home at two in the morning, enraging Darry until he suddenly slaps Ponyboy.Pony runs out the door and meets up with Johnny, expressing his anger at Darry's increasing coldness in the wake of his parents' recent deaths in a car crash.Running away from home, Ponyboy and Johnny wander into a park, where Bob and four other Socs surround them.After some heated talk, Ponyboy spits at the Socs, prompting them to attempt to drown him in a nearby fountain, but Johnny stabs Bob, killing him and dispersing the rest.Days later, Dally comes to check on them, revealing that violence between the greasers and Socs has escalated since Bob's death into all-out city-wide warfare, with Cherry acting out of guilt as a spy for the greasers.Johnny decides to turn himself in and Dally agrees to take the boys back home.Afterward, Ponyboy, Johnny, and their wisecracking friend Two-Bit begin to walk Cherry and Marcia home, when they are stopped by Cherry's boyfriend Bob, who badly beat up Johnny a few months back.Bob and the greasers exchange taunts, but Cherry prevents a fight by willingly leaving with Bob.As they attempt to leave, they notice the church has caught fire and several local schoolchildren have become trapped inside.The greasers run inside the burning church to save the children, but Ponyboy is rendered unconscious by the fumes.