The opening of the novel introduces the reader to the narrator of the book, Ponyboy Curtis. He is fourteen, his parents died eight months ago and he is living with his two older brothers. The book is written entirely in first person point of view, so the reader is always in Pony's head and sees the world through his eyes.
The first event in the book is Pony walking home from the movies and getting jumped by some Socs. This immediately establishes the main conflict of the book; the fighting between the Socs and the Greasers. Pony is quickly rescued by the gang; Two-Bit, Johnny, Dally, Steve, and Pony's brothers Sodapop and Darry. But Darry yells at him for not using his head. This establishes the secondary conflict; the family conflict. Darry and Pony argue frequently, because they just don't understand each other and poor Soda is often in the middle playing peacekeeper.
Later that night; Pony, Johnny, Dally, and Two-bit wind up at the drive-in movies. Pony and Johnny ingratiate themselves with a couple of higher class girls, which will lead to the events in the next part of the story. The girls, of course, have boyfriends that they ditched because the boys were being dumb and drinking. When they go to take the girls home, the boyfriends come along and almost start a fight. These girls are important because Cherry and Pony seem to connect straight away. They find they can talk about their respective groups and learn a bit about how the other half lives. Of course, talking to the girls upset their boyfriends and when Johnny and Pony are out by themselves, the Socs find and jump them.
Johnny and Pony had fallen asleep out in the vacant lot by their houses, by the time Pony wakes up and makes it home, it's way past midnight. Pony and Darry get into a huge shouting fight and Darry hits Pony, sending him running out into the night. Pony finds Johnny and they go to a nearby park to cool off. Pony had just about decided to go home when the Socs pull in looking for the boys that picked up their girls. Side note: Madras shirts are checked patterned shirt of various colors. I had to look it up.
It's been established that Johnny had been beaten and frightened by these four or five Socs before and now carries a switchblade. When one of the Socs starts to drown Pony in the fountain, Johnny stabs the Soc with his knife and kills him. The other Socs run away. Johnny and Pony go to Dally who tells them about a place to hideout. The spend a week in the abandoned church until Dally comes to update them on what the police and gangs are doing. Johnny has decided to turn himself in rather than run for the rest of his life, also sparing Pony a life on the run estranged from his brothers. However, when they get back to the church to get their stuff, it's on fire.
This is the plot device used to get the gang all back together, while providing some extra drama. I mean, really, where did this school group come from and why were they up there to begin with. And then there's missing kids to find inside the church, because naturally when an adult says don't go in there; that's the first thing they're going to do. So the greasers save the kids and are injured and rushed to the hospital.
Here is where the story gets emotionally rough. Because I loved Johnny, he and Pony were my favorite characters. Rationally, I know that Johnny almost had to have something like this happen to him. He would've gone to jail for killing that Soc, because the Socs and their families had all the power. Jail probably would've killed Johnny. So the back injury was a way out of that, but it was also a prison sentence itself. It would've trapped him at home with no way to leave when his parents fought. And his father is an abusive asshole; so he would've probably killed Johnny sometime. So as much as I cried and felt bad; dying was really the only way out for Johnny. It might have been the only way out for Dally too. Dally had been getting wilder and more dangerous throughout the book and when Johnny died he just snaps. He obviously wanted to die; he'd been around cops often enough to know that if he pulled a gun, even an unloaded one, they'd shoot him. And then there's poor Ponyboy who kind of shuts off his feelings for awhile to cope with all the tragedy.
Throughout the novel the two conflicts keeping growing until they come to a head and then only seem to kind of resolve. The tensions between the Socs and Greasers ignites when Johnny kills the Soc. And then climaxes with the rumble where the Greasers win and make the Socs leave the East side. The family conflict explodes with Darry hitting Pony and Pony running away. When Pony comes home and sees how upset Darry was, he realizes that everything Darry yelled at him about was because he was worried about him. They come to a better understanding, even though they still fight. Soda even explodes at them about being put in the middle of the fighting, and the other two swear they will not fight as much. Of course, both the Socs laying off the Greasers and Darry and Pony taking it easy, are only temperary truces that won't last forever. However, for Ponyboy at the end of the book, they'll have to be enough.