Tess DeNunzio (Dear Zoe) and Ponyboy Curtis (The Outsiders) are very different characters with even more diverse backgrounds. But both Tess and Pony have to overcome the grief inflicted by the death of a loved one. Pony’s best friend Johnny dies after saving several children out of a burning church, Tess’ little sister gets hit by a car while Tess is supposed to watch her. After reading the two novels, we surprisingly see that the books take a similar course, from running away over realizing problems to their return home and their change in perspective. We also see how dynamic the protagonists are in focus on how they process grief.
First, both leading roles leave their homes because of issues they can’t face or don’t want to face. Also, they both initially grieve in a very self-destructive way. In Tess’ case, she feels unloved and unwanted after Zoe’s death, she can’t find her place or comfort in her family, she sees her family breaking apart and lastly reaches a point where she’s willing to commit suicide. She describes herself and her family as “ghosts in their own house” (p.57), says that they “can’t help each other” (p.57) and that they turned silent. Tess feels extremely guilty about Zoe’s death and also liable for the pain her family is suffering. To escape from the grieving and guilt, she moves in with her dysfunctional biological dad. Later, during the summer holidays, Tess takes a job in a park, so she has to follow a daily structure. To further distract herself, she stays up all night with her neighbor Jimmy, smokes pot and drinks alcohol. She falls in love with Jimmy and receives all the adoration she has missed out on at home. During this time she forgets about her family and how much they need her, especially Emily. Tess forgets that Em has to stay with David and their mom who are both depressed since Zoe’s accident and can’t function properly. As a result, Em has to deal with Zoe’s death on her own. Even though she is very mature for her age, Em’s too young to deal with such great pain alone. Tess does try to see her by visiting her after school, but as the summer vacations start, she doesn’t even consider visiting her family. It comes as no surprise that the atmosphere is very awkward and slightly tense as they see each other again (p.143). Ponyboy, in contrast to Tess, has had issues fitting in all his life. He belongs to the greasers, a poorer social class, looked upon as “trash” by the rivaling class, the socs. Pony thinks that his life isn’t fair and the socs always get away with everything, while the greasers are seen as constant troublemakers. In addition, he feels like his eldest brother Darry doesn’t love him. Pony’s devastating loss is the death of his best friend Johnny, who dies after saving several children out of a burning church. Pony knows very well that Johnny is deceased, but he tries to convince himself otherwise, he pretends that someone else died in the hospital. “Johnny is not dead, I told myself, and I believed it” (p.114). As he continues school, Pony is very absent-minded, he loses things and once even walks home in socks because he forgot to put on his shoes (p. 128). Also, he started to do badly at school.
Later on, both protagonists learn to change their self-destructive grieving in a more constructive way, they process their loss(es) through writing, and both experience a change in perspective. Tess is triggered as her dad runs into her dog, Frank. This event reminds her of Zoe’s fatal mishap. She talks to Jimmy about her role in Zoe’s accident and the guilt she feels. Talking to him made her “feel free in a way I haven’t for a long time” (p.180). Later on, she writes a letter addressed to Zoe, where she takes responsibility for the day of the fatal accident and writes about her feelings. Afterwards, Tess goes home, and while looking for a picture of Zoe, she realizes how much she misses and needs her family, so she moves back in with them. Her constructive grieving starts as they see a doctor together, as a “we”. From that point on, they share their grief and function as a family. We see that Tess has gathered self-knowledge and has learned that her behavior can have a great impact on others. Tess needs a lot of time to come to that conclusion. In comparison, Ponyboy turns his self-destructive grieving into constructive grieving way faster. He sees how deeply Darry and Soda care about him and that Darry is only pushing him in school for his own benefits. Ponyboy also realizes how much Darry had to give up to become Soda’s and his guardian and is glad to call them family. His thoughts also go to the socs as he thinks about Bob. Pony starts to see the socs as people, not just a higher-class group and begins to understand that they have their own, different life with their problems. He sees that Bob’s death, although he is a soc, is just as unfair as Johnny’s and Dally’s passing. Ponyboy also learns about his impact on others as he and Dally fight and Soda runs off (p.132/133). At last, Pony processes his losses by writing down all of the past events. His paper should also show the greaser’s side of the story and show the good in the world to every greaser who has already lost hope.
As we can see, both protagonists leave home because of family issues. They both distract themselves and try not to acknowledge the death of a loved one. Finally, they see that running from their problems is only a temporary solution and that they have to face them. During the course of the book, both Tess and Pony mature, grow in character and get to know the importance of family. They took a different amount of time to turn self-destructive grieving into something more constructive, but in the end it only matters that they both managed to do it.