Ponyboy tells a tragic tale – a tale of violence, of poverty, and of young men dying in the streets. But, luckily, The Outsiders manages to end on a happy note, with most of Ponyboy's major problems resolved. He isn't sent to a boys' home, or brought up on charges. When he and Darry realize what their renewed fighting is doing to Sodapop, Pony understands that he does have the power to help make this a happy or an unhappy home.
What's more, we find out that Ponyboy isn't actually delusional (or so he says) and he begins recover from the recent traumas. He's just been pretending to think that he's the one who killed Bob, and that Johnny isn't dead. So, that's a relief, because we were really starting to worry about the kid.
So far so good, right? Well, it doesn't stop there. S.E. Hinton isn't content to simply tie up loose ends. Her main character experiences a transformation. After reading Johnny's disturbing deathbed note (discussed in Johnny's "Character Analysis"), Ponyboy has an epiphany, or sudden and intense surge of understanding. It comes in several stages.
First, he has a vision of "hundreds and hundreds of boys living on the wrong sides of cities, boys […] who jumped at their shadows" (12.65). He sees boys dying on the streets in the nights.
And now for the epiphany part. He thinks,
It was too vast a problem to be just a personal thing. There should be some help, someone should tell them before it was too late. Someone should tell their side of the story, and maybe people would understand then and wouldn't be so quick to judge […]. (12.65)
Wow! A powerful feeling has obviously gripped Ponyboy – he feels intimately connected with a vast group of outsiders, and wants to bring them inside by bringing them into the light, so to speak. Holding his pen, preparing to write, he remembers the three boys who died over the course of a single week.
Then he tells us, "And I decided I could tell people, beginning with my English teacher" (12.71). By italicizing I, Pony is expressing just how amazing and new this idea is to him – that he himself can do it, that he can single-handedly make a difference in the lives of many through his writing. He's energized and empowered. He's stepping through a doorway into a new life. He can be fearless with his pen.
Ponyboy makes a brief appearance in Hinton's second novel That Was Then, This is Now. But this isn't a sequel, because it doesn't otherwise continue the story of The Outsiders. And if you're hoping for a sequel, prepare to be disappointed. Hinton has no plans for an actual sequel. She says,
"What fans always ask me for is a sequel to The Outsiders. I get that constantly. I'm not in that time of my life. Even at the time I wrote The Outsiders, I thought that was the end. I couldn't have written a sequel to The Outsiders. I'm just not there anymore, and I don't intend to [be]." (source)
An interesting thing about the very last line of the novel is that it's also the very first line of the novel – did you catch that? This gives the story a circular feeling, as if it's a self-contained universe, as if it will play out over and over for all eternity. This might explain the reluctance for a sequel. This way, each reader can also make his or her own guesses about what might happen to the Curtis boys and their friends in the future. The last line also makes it quite clear that all this time, we've been reading Ponyboy's English homework!
So, do you like the ending? Why or why not?