(Note to the reader: Although we use the present tense in this summary, Ponyboy tells the story in the past tense. He has a good reason for doing this, but it won't make sense until the ending. Now, on with the show…)
The narrator (whose name we learn in a minute) comes out from a movie theater, into the sun.
He wishes he looked like Paul Newman, and wishes he had a ride home.
He's got "greenish gray eyes" (1.1) and is very focused on his hair: My hair is longer than a lot of boys wear theirs, squared off in back and long at the front and sides, but I am a greaser and most of my neighborhood doesn't bother to get a haircut. (1.1)
(You'll learn more about "greasers" as the novel goes on.)
He prefers going to the movies alone so he can "get into them and live them with the actors."
His love of movies, books, and art makes him feel "different" from the other guys he knows, including his own brothers.
Soda, his brother who's almost seventeen, isn't into books. His oldest brother, Darrel, called "Darry," is too busy working to be interested in those things.
So our narrator "lone[s] it" (1.2), meaning that he spends lots of time alone.
Soda "understands everything, almost" (1.3) about the narrator.
Not like Darry, who yells and treats the narrator like a kid, even though he's fourteen.
The narrator loves his brother Soda "more than [he] ever loved anyone, even Mom and Dad" (1.3).
Soda is always smiling and happy, and Darry never is. Twenty-year-old Darry has had to take on adult responsibilities too early, while Soda will always be a kid.
As the narrator walks, he wishes somebody from the gang was with him. It's not safe to walk alone often.
He explains that Greasers, like him, are often attacked by the Socs: […] Socs [is] […], an abbreviation for Socials, the jet set, the West-side rich kids. It's like the term "greaser," which is used to class all us boys on the East Side. (1.4)
He says that greasers have less money than the Socs, and less money than "the middle class" (1.5).
Socs and Greasers have different styles.
Socs attack Greasers, destroy property, and "throw beer blasts" (1.5).
Greasers steal, rob gas stations, and "have a gang fight once in a while" (1.5).
Not that the narrator does those things.
His parents died in a car crash and if he and/or Soda get in trouble, they might not be allowed to continue to live with Darry.
Now the narrator's starting to wish he had waited for Darry or Soda to come to the movies with him, or that he'd asked one of the guys from the gang.
Besides Darry, Soda, and the narrator, there are four other guys in their gang, guys the brothers grew up with.
Two-Bit Mathews, one of the gang, would have come.
The narrator makes good grades, but sometimes he doesn't do the smart thing outside the classroom.
Walking home by himself like this is exactly the kind of thing that makes Darry get mad at him.
He's a few blocks from home, but notices he's now being followed by some guys in a red Corvair.
He walks faster.
The narrator hasn't ever "been jumped" (1.7), but Johnny (from the gang) got jumped when he was sixteen, and he's never been the same since. The Socs hurt Johnny badly, and now he's afraid all the time.
The Corvair parks near him and five Socs get out.
The narrator wonders if he can run, thinking of the condition in which they'd found Johnny after the Socs got him.
He was all beat up, "half conscious" (1.8), and crying.
The narrator is sweating with fear, wishing he had some kind of weapon, but there's nothing around that he can use.
The Socs surround him, and one of them tells the narrator he wants to cut his hair, and pulls out a knife.
The narrator backs away, right into another Soc.
They push him to the ground and hold him down. One guy sits on his chest.
When he tries to get free, that guy punches him.
One guy has the knife to the narrator's throat, and is threatening to cut him with it.
The narrator stars screaming as loud as he can, hollering for his brothers.
The Socs punch the narrator and try to keep him quiet.
The push a handkerchief in his mouth.
All of a sudden, the Socs are leaving, and someone's helping the narrator to his feet. It's his older brother, Darry.
Darry shakes the narrator, and calls him "Ponyboy" (now we know his name!), and asks him if he's okay.
Ponyboy says he's all right, even though he really isn't.
He wants to cry, but isn't about to tell Darry.
Ponyboy's brother, Sodapop, tells him he's bleeding, and asks if the Socs had a knife.
He's about to cry, but still doesn't want to cry in front of Darry. He's not hurt badly enough for that.
Soda comforts him.
The gang had chased off the Socs and now they're all with Ponyboy.
(Now, there's a little break from the action, while Ponyboy describes the members of his gang.)
These guys are "tough as nails, and [look] it" (1.43).
Ponyboy is the youngest, but the gang let shim hang around because of his brothers and because he "[keeps] his mouth shut" (1.43).
Steve Randal is seventeen, and he's an expert in cars—stealing parts, working on them, and driving them. He works with Soda at the gas station; they both attract lots of girls. Steve doesn't really like Ponyboy, because he thinks he's a kid.
Two-Bit Mathews is the oldest, and nobody in town calls him by his first name, Keith. They call him "Two-Bit" because he's always kidding around, making jokes and giving his opinion. Ponyboy tells us, "You couldn't shut the shut up that guy; he always had to get his two-bits worth in" (1.45). Two-Bit is an expert shoplifter, carries "a black-handled switchblade." (1.45), and really likes school—going to school, that is, not doing schoolwork. Two-Bit is a junior in high school at eighteen years old.
Dallas Winston, called Dally (not to be confused with Ponyboy's brother Darry), is the most striking "character of the gang" (1.46). Ponyboy likes sketching Dally when "he [is] in a dangerous mood" (1.46).
Dally's "spent three years on the wilder side of New York" and was arrested at the ripe age of ten. Dally is "tougher, colder, [and] meaner" (1.47) than the rest of the gang. There are many more organized gangs in New York than there are here (we still don't know exactly where "here" is). So, Dally releases some of his pent-up energy by being in gang fights. Ponyboy tells us that, here, "there are just small groups of friends who stick together, and the warfare is between the classes" (1.47).
The Socs are the closest thing to a real gang, and they're impossible to beat, because they have "all the breaks" (as in, wealth, power, and privilege).
Dally isn't a good guy—he even steals from little kids. Ponyboy tells us, "I didn't like him, but he was smart and you had to respect him" (1.47).
The fourth member is Johnny Cade. Other than Ponyboy, Johnny is the youngest member of the gang. Ponyboy suggests we picture "a little dark puppy that had been kicked too many times and is lost in a crowd of strangers" (1.49), if we want to get a better sense of Johnny. Everybody in the gang treats him like a little brother.
He has a rough home life. His father beats him, and his mother ignores him except when she's screaming at him. Johnny only knows "love and affection" (1.49) from the guys in the gang.
(Now that we know who's who, Ponyboy continues telling us about the time he gets jumped after going to the movies.)
Ponyboy asks if they caught the Socs, and Two-Bit says they didn't.
Ponyboy tells Dally he didn't know he was out of "the cooler" (1.53) (i.e., the jail).
Dally says, "Good behavior. Got off early" (1.54).
He lights a cigarette and admires Ponyboy's growing bruise, and the cut from the knife. He says, "Makes you look tough" (1.56).
Ponyboy explains that "tough" means "rough"; and "tuff" means "cool" or "sharp" (1.57), and that "both are compliments" (1.57).
Steve asks Pony why he was by himself in the first place, and Pony explains that he made a mistake by walking home from the movies alone.
Darry starts getting mad at Pony, asking him how it is that he can get good grades, but not have any "common sense" (1.60). He says Pony should carry a knife if he's going to walk alone.
Pony thinks that Darry yells at him no matter what he does. Darry doesn't yell at Soda, even when he quit high school.
Soda tells Darry to step yelling at Pony. It isn't Pony's "fault" (1.62) that it's dangerous to do a simple thing like walk home alone by himself.
Darry stops. He usually does what Soda asks.
Two-Bit tells Pony that any members of the gang are happy to go the movies with him.
Dally says he plans to go to the Nightly Double (a drive-in movie theater) the next night, to look for girls.
He asks who'll come with him.
Steve and Soda are taking their girlfriends, Evie and Sandy, for the game.
Two-Bit has to work.
Pony and Johnny agree to go, and Darry says it's okay.
Dally has his ring on, because he broke up with his girlfriend Sylvia upon finding out that she was cheating on him when he was in jail.
Pony doesn't think much of most of the girls the gang gets. He does like Soda's girlfriend Sandy, though—she's just a poor greaser like the rest of them, but she's pretty and nice.
Other girls, girls with longer dresses, are afraid of them and yell "Grease" at the guys as they speed by in their fancy shmancy cars.
Now Pony's back home, doing homework, thinking about those other girls.
It hurts him when girls think he's a "hood" (1.77) or that he's dirty.
He admits that the Greasers do bring a lot of it on themselves—stealing, drag racing, fighting, anything. Soda and Steve "have too much energy, too much feeling, with no way to blow it off" (1.78).
Soda's giving Darry a back rub, since he works hard roofing all day, and Darry is falling asleep.
Soda and Pony both think Darry works too hard. He's just twenty and he works "like an old man" (1.81).
Darry had been "captain of the football team" and "Boy of the Year" (1.81) in his high school days. He was one of the popular guys, and was even awarded an athletic scholarship.
But, the family still hadn't been able to afford college for Darry.
When Pony goes to bed, lying next to Soda, Soda tells Pony that he's planning on asking Sandy to be his wife. He doesn't want Darry to know yet, though.
Pony asks him to wait until he moves out. He doesn't want to be alone with Darry.
Soda reminds Pony that Darry loves him very much, but Pony isn't so sure. He doesn't feel like Darry loves him.
Pony asks him if he loves Sandy, and he says he does, and then seems to fall asleep.
Ponyboy thinks his brother is handsome in the extreme.
He tells us he doesn't care about Darry, but then admits he's lying.
The chapter ends with these lines, "I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me" (1.101).