|“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."|
|— Ponyboy's book beginning in The Outsiders, page 1 & 180|
Ponyboy is a fourteen-year old greaser who lives with his two older brothers, Sodapop and Darry on the lower-class east side of Tulsa, Oklahoma. His parents were killed in an automobile accident just eight months before The Outsiders takes place. Ponyboy, like Sodapop, is under Darry's legal custody and must stay out of trouble in order to remain with him. He gets good grades in school and is a superb athlete but pals around with the local hoods, his gang of greasers consisting of him, his brothers Soda and Darry, Steve Randle, Johnny Cade, Dally Winston, and Two-Bit Mathews. At the beginning of the story, he hates Socs because they hate him, but his perspective on them changes by the conclusion of the story.
Ponyboy is the youngest of the greaser gang. In the novel, Ponyboy has light-brown hair and greenish-gray eyes. He has a good build for his size and is a fast runner. At the beginning of the novel, Ponyboy's hair is long and squared in the back, but after his haircut in Windrixville, his hair is short and bleached blond. He is described as good-looking and resemblant of Sodapop by several characters, though he disagrees. In the film, Ponyboy's appearance is faithful to his novel appearance, with the exception of his hair, which is much darker than it is described as being in the book, although it is still brown.
Darry characterizes Ponyboy as lacking common sense. Ponyboy agrees with this assessment. He is smart at school, but sometimes he just doesn't think properly. These occasions get Ponyboy into trouble that he could avoid. This aspect of his character evolves throughout the story into maturity. He is fairly quiet (though not as much as Johnny), and only opens up to a few people, those being the other greasers and Cherry Valance. Cherry Valance describes Ponyboy as sweet and dreamy, much to Ponyboy's delight. He is more compassionate than some of the other greasers, pitying and even empathizing with the Socs several times in the novel and questioning the purpose of fighting between the two social classes. He is also willing to help others, as shown when he runs into the burning church to save the schoolchildren, or when he picks up broken glass bottle pieces off the ground so that a car doesn't get a flat tire.
After The Outsiders, Ponyboy is featured in That Was Then, This Is Now, another book by S.E Hinton that takes place 1 year after The Outsiders. In the book, he is Mark and Bryon's acquaintances. Later, he begins dating a girl named Cathy, who is protagonist Bryon's ex-girlfriend.
Ponyboy Curtis walks from the movie theatre one day. He is followed and jumped by a group of Socs, the rich gang from the other side of town, who threaten to cut him up. Ponyboy struggles to escape the Socs' clutches and gets cut in the process. Now facing the very real prospect of dying, he shouts for his brothers and is rescued by Darry, Soda and the rest of his gang, who chase the Socs away. Darry asks Pony if he is alright, to which Ponyboy, though in reality shaken up, answers yes. Sodapop runs to check up on Ponyboy and makes sure he is okay. Then the rest of the greasers return and the seven chat for a bit. Ponyboy makes plans to go to the drive-in with Johnny and Dally the following night, and then the greasers part ways.
That night, Ponyboy lies in bed awake, recalling his encounter with the Socs. Sodapop tries to convince him that Darry indeed cares for Ponyboy very much, which Ponyboy does not believe. Sodapop then shares with Ponyboy his plan to marry Sandy, his girlfriend. Sodapop falls asleep and leaves Ponyboy awake to wonder.
The next day, Johnny and Ponyboy meet up with Dally at a lampost, and the three goof around for awhile before heading to the drive-in. The three sneak in and sit down behind two soc girls, whom Dally harasses until Johnny tells him to back off. Dally storms off, and Ponyboy and Johnny befriend the two Soc girls, named Cherry and Marcia. Two-Bit joins shortly after and likewise gets along with the Soc girls (particularly Marcia, who gives him her number). Ponyboy and Cherry become comfortable with each other and discuss the social class situation between the Socs and greasers, a situation both find unfair.
After the movie, the boys offer to drive Cherry and Marcia home in Two-Bit's car, but their boyfriends, Bob and Randy, respectively, show up and claim their girlfriends. Bob and Randy insult the greasers which cause Two-Bit to take out a knife. He busts the end of a bottle off and hands it to Pony and challenges the Socs to a fight - Randy and Two-Bit talk over each other, but Cherry doesn't like fights so she and Marcia just decide to go with their boyfriends to avoid any trouble. Cherry tells Pony that if she see him at school and ignores him, to not take it personal.
A while later, Two-Bit parts ways with Pony and Johnny. Pony and Johnny go to an empty lot where Johnny sleeps on a regular basis (since his parents abuse and neglect him) but Pony accidentally falls asleep as well which causes him to go to return to his own houses. When he gets home, Darry yells at him for staying out till 2 in the morning. Soda, Darry, and Pony argue and Darry ends up hitting Ponyboy and screams that he didn't mean it but Ponyboy runs off, finds Johnny, and they run to the local park to cool off for a bit. While sitting on a play structure they notice the blue Mustang from earlier pulling up. The Socs are the same ones, Bob and Randy plus others who arrive. Johnny recognizes Bob as the one who attacked him prior to the beginning of the story. Pony and Bob insult each other before the Socs run after Pony and Johnny. First they drag Johnny to one side and kick him. Then they take Pony to the fountain and keep his head under water for their enjoyment and satisfaction. Pony starts to lose air and passes out. Just then Johnny gets up and, not knowing what to do, draws his switchblade from his pocket and stabs Bob, killing him almost instantly, and the other Socs run away.
Even though Johnny's action in a way was justified since the Socs could have killed Pony, Pony and Johnny run knowing those who are charged with murder in Oklahoma will receive the death penalty. They run to Buck's place where Dally is attending a party and ask for help. Dally tells them to get on a freight train and hide in an abandoned church on Jay Mountain near Windrixville. He gives them a loaded gun and money to buy food. He then sends them off saying he'll check on them after a week or so. Johnny and Pony cut their hair as to not fit the descriptions printed in the newpapers, and Pony dyes his blond. Dally visits them a few days into their stay in Windrixville, and they go out to eat at a Dairy Queen, during which Johnny announces his intentions to turn himself and Pony into the police, to Dally's disapproval. Dally drives them back to the church, only to see it has caught fire. Pony jumps out of the car and runs into the church, and Johnny follows him - several schoolchildren are missing, and Pony and Johnny break through a boarded-up entrance and rescue them, but Johnny's back is broken by a flaming piece of timber that falls from the church's roof. The back of Pony's brown leather jacket catches fire, and Dally hits him hard enough to put out the fire, but unintentionally knocks him unconscious.
Pony wakes up in an ambulance, and is later reunited with his brothers in the hospital. For the first time, Pony realizes that Darry does care about him, and that he's only strict on him because he wants Pony to have a good future. The next day, as Ponyboy is cooking eggs, Two-Bit and Steve arrive, Two-Bit grabbing him by the waist and spinning him in the air, causing him to instinctively grab the pan, and drop the eggs on the floor. Steve refers to him as a "blonde-headed monkey", and asks what it's like to be a hero, showing him the newspaper article about how he, Johnny and Dally saved the kids, and how the Curtis brothers didn't deserve to be split up after everything they'd been through to stay together. Darrel, Steve and Soda leave Ponyboy at their house with Two-Bit. They later see the dreaded blue Mustang following them, and several Socs, including Randy, exit - but this time, the Socs aren't looking for a fight. Two-Bit insults the Socs while Ponyboy talks with Randy - the insults are so loud that they interfere with the conversation and force the two to talk inside the quietness of the Mustang.
Randy reveals that he's finally had an epiphany on how pointless the fighting is, and how he doesn't have a good feeling about the rumble. This provokes a rather interesting thought within Ponyboy - he thinks about how Bob probably would have just kept on fighting if Randy died, and whether Steve would be like Randy or Bob if Soda died. He realizes what Cherry meant when she told him that "things are rough all over", and has a realization that the greasers and Socs face similar problems, despite their differences in economic and social class.
Later, Two-Bit and Pony visit Johnny in the hospital. He asks for another copy of Gone With The Wind. Two-Bit runs down to the gift shop downstairs to buy it, and Johnny passes out shortly after the nurse says that his mother was there to see him - he angrily states that "she probably just wants to come down here and tell me about all the trouble I'm causin'!" and says that he doesn't want to see her. He passed out soon after, and the nurse is given the book by Two-Bit who asks her to make sure she gets it. Johnny's mother is outside, angry that her son would rather see "these no-good punks" instead of his own mother - a furious Two-Bit begins to berate the small woman, before being stopped by Ponyboy.
They visit Dally, and he asks how Johnny's doing - upon being told that he isn't doing well, he asks for Two-Bit's switchblade, and says that they have to win the rumble for Johnny.
They see Cherry, who confirms that the Socs will fight fair as long as the greasers do - no weapons. Two-Bit thanks her, and Pony talks with her - she says that she couldn't visit Johnny when Pony asks her if she would, because he killed Bob. She knows that Bob asked for it, but she reveals that there was another side to him, like Randy said - he was sweet, and he was different from the others. Pony is angered by this, and says that they don't need her "charity" - but realizes when he's about to walk away that she was about to cry. He stops, and Cherry says that she just wanted to help, and asks if he would help her if he could. He asks if she can see the sunset real good from her side of town - she says that she can, and he says he can see it from his side of town too.
The greasers go home, and prepare for the rumble. After leaving the house, Darry warns Pony and Soda to flee from the scene if the police showed up - he and the older greasers will get jail time, but Pony and Soda will get sent to a boys' home. Dally arrives suddenly at the rumble, causing the greasers to be distracted and allowing the Socs to land the first blows. Pony is outnumbered and knocked to the ground, being beaten by multiple Socs. Dally take him to the hopital following the defeat of the Socs, and Johnny dies after telling Ponyboy to "stay gold". A crying Pony is left alone in the room after Dallas storms out after pleading for Johnny not to die. Pony gets home, and is immediately asked by Darry "where you been?", but Darry recognizes the despair and grief in Pony's face, and asks him what's wrong. Pony informs the gang of Johnny's death, and says that Dally couldn't take it, and that he's "gonna blow". Dally soon calls the Curtis phone, and tells Darry that he's just robbed a store, and that the cops are looking for him. He asks the gang to meet him in the park, but they arrive too late - Dally is surrounded by the police, and draws an empty gun from the waistband of his jean after screaming "You're never gonna get me alive!", being gunned down under a streetlight, a look of "grim triumph" struck across his face as he crumpled to the ground. Pony falls sick for a whole week, and attends a court hearing regarding Darry's guardianship over him. It is ruled that Pony will stay with Darry. At school, his English teacher Mr. Syme tells Pony that he's flunking, giving him the option of writing a theme based on the events of the past few weeks in order to pass the class with a C. This theme is revealed to be the story that becomes The Outsiders, and it starts with: "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight, I had only two things on my mind - Paul Newman, and a ride home..."