The Personality of Darrel ‘Darry’ Curtis
Darry is short for Darrel – and the full, adult name suits this character most. He is the older brother of Ponyboy and Soda, the main character from the “Outsiders”. At his twenty he has a triple responsibility on his shoulders: he is the only breadwinner in their family, he has to act as a substitute father for the two youngsters after their parents’ death and also he is the leader of the street gang (in the harsh reality of the “Outsiders”, being a responsible parental substitute and a working person doesn’t exclude the leadership in a gang, moreover it looks fully natural).
Despite his seemingly strict attitude to everyone in the gang, his brothers included, Darry Curtis makes sure that the Greasers (this is the name for the gang) are still having the power over their district and can oppose their rivals – another gang called the Socs. He is ready to do almost anything to help the gang members have the best life they can in their conditions. Darry genuinely cares about each of them and we see it throughout the novel.
The roots of his harsh attitude are mostly in the almost unbearable responsibility for a twenty-year-old young man who misses his parents no less than Ponyboy or Soda. We see the signs of emotional burnout in him, usually mentioned by Ponyboy, though he isn’t experienced enough to recognize how exhausted his brother is.
The relationship of Darry and Ponyboy is one of the central themes in the novel. The idea that Darry tries to substitute their father haunts Ponyboy throughout the novel and becomes the fuel of their constant quarrels. The frustration Ponyboy feels after losing his parents turns to Darry: Ponyboy protects the memory of his deceased father and his place in the family from being taken by his older brother Darry.
The climactic argument finally ends with Darry punching Ponyboy in the face. This act is abusive, but it shows also how incredibly tired Darry Curtis is of being everything and everyone and taking all the load of troubles in the family. Ponyboy also has an anger outburst and runs away from home leaving Darry behind to regret his actions. Darrel feels very uneasy about what he has done, it wasn’t a cold-blooded child abuse but an uncontrollable fit of rage caused by emotional exhaustion.
Ponyboy’s quotes about Darry Curtis just enhance the impression of the overly responsible young adult who sacrifices his own personal life for the sake of family wellbeing. Ponyboy says that Darry “works too long and hard to be interested in the story in the book” and he “worked two jobs at once and made good at both of them and kept an outstanding record at school”.
We see that Darry started working long before he finished school to help his family and he was so tired of doing what he had to do that he didn’t have either time or energy to simple pleasures like reading a book. This harsh life in the harsh world explains a lot about his smothering attitude to Ponyboy and Soda and his strictness towards the rest of the gang. He considers the gang members his family and demands obedience so that he can protect them in the best way from real dangers like being killed, beaten, robbed or raped.
The situation, unfortunately, is very typical for the families that live in hard times. Indeed, Darry Curtis here behaves like a parental substitute and Ponyboy behaves like a rebellious teenager driven by childish offense: “It was plain to me that Darry didn’t want me around. And I wouldn’t stay if he did. He wasn’t ever going to hit me again.”
In the “Outsiders” Darry isn’t the only one stereotypical parent figure that behaves in such a way: another boy from Greasers, Johnny, the first one Ponyboy talks to after running from home says that he has the similar misunderstanding in his family. Seems that it is a common situation for the members of the gang: their parents all work just to ensure survival of their families and often they are too depressed and emotionally numb to fulfill other needs of their children except food and basic safety.
The relationships of the younger brothers and Darry look even more complicated, because he clearly distinguishes between Ponyboy, whom he considers almost adult and responsible one, and Soda, who is allowed to do more mistakes and to obey less rules, because he is the youngest in the family. Throughout the novel we see how jealous Ponyboy is to Soda and how much he wants to see at least some signs of warmth from his older brother.
Ponyboy goes as far as doubting the very humanity of Darry Curtis, thinking of him as of an emotionless being incapable of any affection. We see it all in this quote: “Darry love me? Soda was wrong for once. Darry doesn’t love anyone or anything, except maybe Soda. I didn’t hardly think of him as being human.” Soda, as more naive and capable of understanding others tried to persuade his brother that Darry genuinely cared for them, but Ponyboy just couldn’t wrap his mind around the idea that Darry is the same human being as he is and he tries his best to be a good caretaker.
However, the climactic point in the relationship between Darry and Ponyboy is reached closer to the end of the book, when Johnny is badly burnt after the fire in the church and there is almost no hope for him to survive. The sheer horror of this fact makes Ponyboy rethink his attitude towards Darry Curtis and finally return home.
The grave danger makes him finally understand how much the safety and care Darry provided means for him. When Ponyboy returns home, he, Darry and Soda sincerely hug each other in the moment of the ultimate reunion. But Ponyboy isn’t the only one who learned to admit and fix his mistakes.
Darry also understands a lot: his harsh attitude almost costed him his brother. We see that he, although in his own clumsy manner, tries to provide Ponyboy with emotional support, as we can see in this quote about Darry Curtis that reflects the thoughts of his brother: “Maybe you can be a little neater, huh, little buddy? He’d never called me that before. Soda was the only one he ever called “little buddy.”
Darry Curtis is equally shaken with Johnny’s death: he was his subordinate, his gangmate, a boy he committed to protect and care for. His warming up to Ponyboy can also be explained by the fact that, by his returning to the family, Ponyboy also showed him that he cared about him. The hugs and talks of the younger brother give Darry the support he needed so much to escape the endless circle of responsibility that leads to burnout.
Both of the brothers made their own mistake and both finally appear to be adult enough to admit it and forgive each other, helping each other to overcome the struggles life throws at them. What is equally important: Ponyboy finally sees in Darry not the replacement for his father, but a brother, an authority, but also a tired and fragile human being who needs to know he is loved as much as Ponyboy himself.
Throughout the novel we, with Ponyboy, go from image of the harsh, ignorant and distant man who pretends to be an authoritarian father and is even abusive, to the real Darry. When Ponyboy runs away after Darry hits him, he doesn’t see how regretful his older brother is. We can be almost sure that Darry Curtis won’t make the same mistake ever again.
In the end of the novel, Darry is portrayed still as emotionally detached, but very caring and kind inside. His position of a gang leader and breadwinner doesn’t allow him to show emotions, we can’t be even sure that he knows how to do it properly, but Darry does have these emotions and we can only rejoice when we see them coming out for real and being understood by the rest of his family. He expected too much from Ponyboy not because he was just cruel and overly demanding, but because he didn’t have a proper childhood himself and thought that his brother was already strong enough to take full responsibility for his actions.
Incapable of childish actions or even the simple and useless pleasures like reading a fiction book, Darry is irritated seeing that Ponyboy is “wasting his time”. Soda is spared, because Darry considers him too young to be fully responsible, but the love Darry feels to both his brothers is equal, dear and unconditional. Devotion to his family, boldness and emotional burnout are the defining traits of Darry from “Outsiders”.