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The rough, rugged and haunted Dallas fascinates Pony. Even before Pony becomes an ace storyteller, Dallas acts as his muse, or inspiration. Pony says,
I used to like to draw his picture when he was in a dangerous mood, for then, I could get his personality down in a few lines. (1.46)
Notice the "used to." This is some subtle foreshadowing. Pony no longer sketches Dally because Dally's already dead when Pony's writing. His death is one of his reasons Pony's writing this piece in the first place.
Pony makes it clear early on that Dally really is a criminal. He's been to jail and was even involved in serious gang activity in New York City. Pony says,
[...] he got drunk, he rode in rodeos, lied, cheated, stole, rolled drunks, jumped small kids—he did everything. I didn't like him, but I had to respect him. (1.48)
Last we checked, riding in rodeos was no crime, but jumping little kids is pretty bad. We were also a tad shocked when Dally got out of the hospital by holding a knife to a nurse's throat.
But Dallas is much more than his criminal face, and Pony does a good job of expressing his friend's complexity. Pony never condones the things Dallas does, but he shows us another side as well. Dally doesn't have any interest in saving the little kids from the fire—but he doesn't hesitate to try to save Johnny.
In fact, Johnny's life is so valuable to him that he doesn't think he can live without Johnny. Pony deals with his grief over Johnny's death by pretending Johnny isn't dead, but Dally goes on an all-out suicide mission (or at least this is how Pony sees it).
Dally robs a grocery store, waves a (probably) unloaded gun at armed police officer, and goes down in blaze of gunfire.
He was dead before he hit the ground. But I knew that was what he wanted, even as the lot echoed with the cracks of the shots, even as I begged silently – Please not him […] I knew he would be dead because Dallas Winston wanted to be dead and he always got what he wanted. (10.33)
Dallas was smart, and he knew full well what would happen if he showed the cops his gun: they would shoot him and he would die. Pony's analysis seems right on. But why did Dally want to die? Couldn't he face life without Johnny? We can't answer that for sure, but we imagine that Dallas was overcome with guilt, and this guilt is probably what drove him to seek out the cops' bullets.
Dally might have been thinking that if he hadn't helped Johnny and Pony hide out, then none of this would have happened. He might have figured that if he'd been there to protect Johnny in the park, Johnny wouldn't have killed Bob. He might have been thinking that if he'd gone into the church to help Johnny and Pony, then perhaps they would've gotten out sooner, and Johnny wouldn't have been fatally injured by the burning timbers.
But since we don't get the story from Darry's point of view, we really can't say what was going through his mind. What do you think? Should we look at Dally's death as suicide?