Holes by Louis Sachar Explained
Holes is a novel by an American writer, Louis Sachar, first published in 1999. It had great success among critics and became immediately loved among the most demanding readers. In 1999, the novel won a Newbery Medal if you are “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”, and a U. S. National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 1998.
The book covers a teenager, Stanley Yelnats, who's sent to Green Lake Camp for a crime that he did not commit. He faces difficult situations in the camp, finds friends and enemies, and radically transforms his own character. Readers also get to know Stanley’s ancestors and the reason for each of their misfortune — "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather".
Still another storyline centers on the town of Green Lake (the place where Green Lake Camp is located). It involves some interesting plot twists that tie the book together.
Prepared to set off upon this quest which involves some magic, a horrible curse, true love, revenge, and…some digging? Grab a shovel and scroll down for the type list.
Stanley Yelnats could be the protagonist of the novel. He is bullied at school, is over weight and unhappy with himself. His family was supposedly cursed in the past, but regardless of this, Stanley stays positive and it has a kind heart. When that he arrives to Camp Green Lake one other boys appear to pressure him into being rude and cruel to others, but he resists them and stays true to his beliefs. He's a true friend as that he follows Zero into the desert, even once you understand there is no water around them there. When he climbs the mountain, dehydrated and exhausted, his persistence and strength showcase:
“Higher and higher he climbed. His strength came from somewhere deep inside himself and in addition seemed to result from the outside aswell. ”(p. 192)
Although Stanley may appear soft so that as if that he just matches the flow, he undoubtedly is a brave and strong young man who seeks the facts and cares for his loved ones.
Hector Zeroni, also known as Zero, is really a boy Stanley meets at Camp Green Lake. He's got even more trouble fitting in than Stanley. Other boys have no respect for him, counselors call him “stupid”, and no body wants to be his friend. Regardless, he's an excellent digger, is always quiet and does his job very well. He's good at math, but he will not know how to read. He feels guilty for stealing Clyde Livingston’s shoes—the ones that resulted in Stanley’s false conviction. He feels ashamed, but he can't confess to Stanley he was the reason why Stanley was brought here. Instead, Zero tries to accomplish nice things for him, like digging his hole when Stanley gets taken up to the Warden. Zero’s patience for Camp Green Lake eventually runs out and he puts up a fight before running away:
“I know you mean well, Stanley, but face it, Zero’s too stupid to master to read. That’s what makes his blood boil. Not the hot sun. ”
“I’m not digging another hole, ” said Zero... Zero took the shovel. He then swung it like a baseball bat. The metal blade smashed across Mr. Pendanski’s face. ” (p. 151)
This episode implies that Zero, despite the fact that he is small and quiet, can operate for himself, protect his interests and punish individuals who constantly belittle him. Hitting a counselor in the face with a shovel also takes a lot of grit, which he's got plenty of.
Madame Zeroni was the friend of Elya Yelnats who gifted him a piglet to help him win the heaviest pig contest. She was a Gypsy (in reality just Egyptian) and was proven to hold special knowledge and also have powers. She was compassionate with Elya’s problems but she tried to stay realistic. In only a little harsh yet honest way, in speaing frankly about Myra, she told him:
“Can she push a plow? Can she milk a goat? No, she is too delicate. Can she have an intelligent conversation? No, she's silly and foolish. Will she care for you when you're sick? No, she is spoiled and will only want you to take care of her. …” (p. 47)
She understood that Elya loved Myra greatly, but she wanted to show him that she wasn't the right person for him. Madame Zeroni was a wise and practical woman.
In substitution for Madame Zeroni’s help, she asked him to carry her up the mountain—because she had just one leg and wanted him to sing a song to her. When Elya failed to do this, she cursed his whole family for eternity. In the book she may seem like a strong and intelligent woman, even if her advice and requests may appear ridiculous. She was righteous and wanted people to keep their promises. Her curse seems cruel, but fair.
The Warden may be the most important decision-maker at Camp Green Lake. She is a tall red-haired woman who wears cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. She seems excessively cruel and cold-hearted. She does not look after boys, their well-being, or the inhumane conditions they work in. The only thing she actually is interested in may be the treasure that has been hidden at Camp Green Lake. When Stanley and Zero uncover the treasure, she gets prepared to sacrifice their lives merely to get her hands on the suitcase:
“Let her ask questions, ” said the Warden. “Just so long as I've the suitcase, I don’t care what goes on. Do you know just how long... ” Her voice trailed off, then started up again. “When I was little I’d watch my parents dig holes, every weekend and holiday. When I got bigger, I had to dig, too. Even on Xmas. ” (p. 243 )
This quote helps readers recognize that the meaning of her very existence was to dig to check out treasure. It really is sad, and the readers end up feeling sorry on her behalf and how miserable she actually is.
Mr. Sir is just a manager at Camp Green Lake. He's rude, and it has a very bad outlook of all of the boys visiting the camp. When he's an incident with Stanley, he takes him to the Warden, who scratches Mr. Sir with snake-venom nail polish. His face becomes red and swelled up. The Warden did it to let Mr. Sir realize that he is usually the one who should control the boys and he must not bother her with such problems. In the place of making sense out of the situation, he gets extremely angry with Stanley and doesn't give him any water for three straight days at the digging site. His actions are inhumane and ridiculous. If such a thing, he behaves even more puerile than the teenage boys that he supervises. His favorite phrase to say is; “this isn’t a Girl Scout camp”— which conveys a great deal about his character. He's strict and he lets everybody discover how tough it's to be in Camp Green Lake under his supervision.
Miss Katherine/Kissin' Kate Barlow was a schoolteacher who resided at the city of Green Lake. Initially, she is an extremely sweet and kind young girl:
“She was an excellent teacher, filled with knowledge and full of life. The children loved her... She taught classes in the evening for adults, and several of the adults loved her aswell. She was very pretty. ” (p. 70)
She's strong and independent. She stands up to any or all the racial slur people say towards her family member, Sam, and asks most of the people to be kind together, regardless of race. She doesn't cave in, and resists Trout Walker and his rudeness. The death of her family member, Sam the Onion Man, turns her into a murderous outlaw who robs and kills in cold blood. She evokes feelings of deep sorrow and regret as she's a perfect exemplory instance of what a tragedy can do to a young and innocent soul.
Meet Stanley Yelnats
The story begins with a chubby shy teenager, Stanley Yelnats IV, being delivered to Camp Green Lake. That he was accused of stealing a pair of sneakers that participate in Charles Livingston—a famous baseball player. Stanley tells the court he didn’t steal the shoes, rather they fell on him from the sky, but no body believes him. They give him a choice: jail or Camp Green Lake. Stanley, who hasn't been to a camp before, does not hesitate a second and is excited to go.
When Stanley arrives, he encounters a great disappointment. Camp Green Lake is not actually a camp in a normal sense; it really is more of a work camp where boys his age are forced to dig holes all day long. If someone finds something that may be of interest to the Warden, they are able to rest for the rest of the day. Although, no body is certain just what the purpose of digging is and what they truly are looking for. They will have counselors watching over them and bringing water to the digging site. Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski warn Stanley that there is nowhere to run as there is not a drop of water for the 100 miles around them. Also, they simply tell him about the yellow-spotted lizards — dangerous creatures that can bite a person to death, and, get ready, the holes are full of them. Maybe jail, after all, was a better option.
Elya Yelnats and His Pig
As Stanley starts digging his hole, that will be extremely problematic for him considering his heavy weight, the writer jumps back in its history to talk about Stanley’s great-great-grandfather, Elya.
The events occur in Latvia. A young fellow then, Elya Yelnats falls in love with a nearby beauty, Myra Menke. Her father wants her to marry a pig farmer, Igor, who claims to truly have the heaviest pig. Elya is desperate because he dearly loves Myra and desires to marry her himself. That he seeks for help from his friend, Madame Zeroni. She gives Elya only a little pig and tells him that he needs to carry the pig up the mountain every day. There, the pig will drink from a stream while Elya sings to it. This may help his pig become big and fat, the same as Myra’s father wants. Elya is tremendously happy and grateful with her advice. In return, Madame Zeroni asks him to hold her up that same mountain and sing to her. Inspite of the weird conditions, Elya accepts them, grabs the pig, and zealously cares because of it. Although if the day concerns weigh contestants’ pigs, Elya realizes that Myra had forgotten him and doesn't love him. Heartbroken, that he rashly gets on a boat to America and forgets exactly about his promise to Madame Zeroni.
Only bad luck found the Yelnats family after that. Stanley’s father never becomes a successful inventor, and poor Stanley gets prosecuted due to a mere coincidence.
Meanwhile at Camp Green Lake Stanley tries to fit in. The conditions are harsh: limited water supplies, showers that not last more than five full minutes, two changes of clothes and endless digging. Stanley meets most of the boys from his tent: X-Ray, Squid, Magnet, Armpit, Zigzag, and Zero. X-Ray has been there the longest. Once, when Stanley finds a golden tube initialed “KB” he gives it to X-Ray so he can rest for the remaining of the afternoon. The Warden orders the boys to dig deeper in the area where X-Ray supposedly found the tube. Stanley realizes that the Warden is looking for something very special.
Zero, a short African American boy who digs the fastest, confesses to Stanley he cannot read. Stanley claims to not learn how to teach any such thing like that and refuses to help him. Meanwhile, during among the digging shifts, Magnet steals a bag of sunflower seeds from Mr. Sir, who constantly eats them. While the boys pass round the bag and munch on the seeds, Stanley drops the bag in his hole. He takes the blame for it and is taken up to the Warden, who alternatively punishes Mr. Sir for disturbing her. When Stanley comes back, that he finds his hole completely dug. Zero did it for him. Both boys arrived at an agreement: Stanley will teach Zero how to read if Zero helps Stanley dig his holes.
Kate Barlow and the Onion Man
Yet another flashback in the story takes readers to the city of Green Lake, 110 years ago. There, Kate Barlow is introduced as a sweet and kind schoolteacher. She falls in love with Sam, an African American man, who sells onions and different home remedies, jams and salves all manufactured from onions. Kate and Sam fall in love, however they are judged by everybody in town for his or her inter-racial relationship. The town eventually ends up having a riot, and in a racial clash Sam is shot dead. His killer was Charles Walker, Kate’s admirer who got very mad when she turned him down. Kate makes revenge her mission: she kills every one who gets in her way and kisses them with her red lipstick after murdering them. That's how she acquires her nickname, Kissin’ Kate.
She becomes a murderous outlaw and continues for still another 20 years. When she finally returns to Green Lake, Charles Walker and his wife Linda catch her. They demand the location of the place where she hid all the treasure she acquired on her quests, but a yellow-spotted lizard bites her. While she sits dying, Katherine tells them to begin digging. Therefore yes, you guessed it right, the Warden pursuit of Kate’s treasure. The “KB” golden tube is only first!
Zero, tired of bullying at the camp, puts up a fight with Mr. Pendanski and escapes in the desert. Stanley steals Mr. Sir’s water truck and tries to go after Zero, but that he crashes it and flees. He pursuit of days and becomes exhausted without a drop of water. He finally finds Zero by a tall mountain, but he is also exhausted and cannot even walk. Looking for water, Stanley decides to increase the mountain and carries Zero with him. That he steps in to something muddy where that he finally discovers some water and…onions!
The boys spend a couple of days recovering, drinking water and eating onions. They have lots of intimate talks. At some point, Zero confesses he stole Charles Livingston’s shoes. His mother left him, and that he was residing in the orphanage where the shoes were supposed to be auctioned. When Zero realized how valuable the shoes were, he left them on the hood of an auto, and that is how Stanley wound up finding them.
The Last Hole
The boys choose to go back to the camp to dig more to find Kate Barlow’s treasure. They dig at Stanley’s site, exactly where they found the golden tube. Shortly, they find the treasure chest and so they realize they’ve just dug their last hole. Right when they are about to remove it of the hole, Mr. Sir, Mr. Pendanski and the Warden show up and get them to quit the suitcase. They hesitate to go by force because the hole that the boys are sitting in is covered in yellow-spotted lizards, who're also crawling all over them. They do not bite the boys, because they have now been feeding on nothing but water and onions, and the onion juice has lizard-repelling properties.
The boys find a way to keep the suitcase and reunite home safely with the help of Stanley’s lawyer, Ms. Morengo. Stanley discovers that his father managed to invent a bad foot-odor cure and becomes rich. Stanley and Zero, whose actual name happens to be Hector Zeroni (yes, he's Madame Zeroni’s great-great-grandson), separate the treasure. Not only does Stanley receive treasure, but he also breaks his family curse— "the great-great-grandson of Elya Yelnats carried the great-great-great-grandson of Madame Zeroni up the mountain". Zero finds his mom, and generations later all Zeronis and Yelnats have a huge party together.
Sachar has some very distinct and ongoing themes intervened in the narrative. They include a large amount of very important concepts like:
- Fate — the story of your family curse by Madame Zeroni has a huge impact on the Yelnats family. It affected all the generations of their family until it absolutely was broken. Even though, it is still a mythic element that produces a clever reader question whether the curse really existed, or is just an excuse for the failures your family encountered.
- Justice — Stanley is accused of a crime he failed to commit, and he is punished for it. The reader posseses an opportunity to rethink the modern criminal justice system and note its weaknesses. Another side of justice that we see is in terms of Kissin’ Kate and her murders. Her loved one was killed and she attempts to fight for justice in her very own ways and becomes a criminal.
- Choices — characters through the book face many situations where their choices affect their lives. Elya Yelants chooses to attend America and neglects the promise he'd given to Madame Zeroni. His choice influences his life and generations after him. Then, Stanley chooses to go after Zero, which even offers plenty of consequences for his family, now positive. Here, themes of preference and fate are contradictory: do characters determine using their actions just what will happen to them, or are they merely predetermined plans of fate?
- Power — many characters throughout the story exercise and abuse power. Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski have absolute get a grip on over the boys and their time at Camp Green Lake. They even decide when they have water—a prerequisite without which survival is impossible. When Mr. Sir does not see eye to eye with Stanley, that he demonstratively pours water on the floor instead of giving it to him. That he therefore shows him who's in charge, and emphasizes that Stanley along with other kids are nothing in comparison to him.
- Transformation — Stanley undergoes many transformations in the story. That he gets to Green Lake Camp as an abused and bullied teenager, but through a group of relationships with other boys he becomes more confident and ends up having the ability to stand up for himself. Yet another vivid transformation happens to Katherine Barlow. At first, she actually is a sweet and caring schoolteacher. Later, she becomes a murderer who cold-heartedly kills every one who gets in her way.
There are a great number of symbols through the entire book, and several of them have multiple meanings and connotations.
First and foremost are the holes themselves. Besides being the name of the book, the holes are one of the constant things that surround Stanley, and therefore are involved in both literal and metaphorical symbolism. Holes in the book represent hardship and exhaustive physical labor, hopelessness, and monotony. Sometimes, holes have a positive effect: like when Stanley and Zero find treasure. Also, as told in the last the main book, “Filling in the Holes” means closure for the boys; Stanley broke his family curse and Zero found his mother. They are whole again and also have acquired what exactly they had been missing inside their lives.
Nature and weather are extremely important symbols in the novel. The environmental surroundings that the boys are positioned in at Camp Green Lake is extremely severe. The floor they dig is as stiff and difficult to dig in as their lives are difficult. When Stanley and Zero run away from the camp, they understand that Mr. Sir was right, and that there's no water to be found near them. Even though, the closer they go on to the mountains, the greener the landscape around them gets. The mountain is just a symbol of the liberation, personal freedom and life improvement. The symbolism involving nature is also noticed in the other storyline involving the town of Green Lake 110 years ago. It never rains after Sam the Onion Man is murdered. In this way, the author in a metaphorical way suggests that the inhabitants of Green Lake are punished due to their cruelty, not enough morals and racism.
Other, less significant symbols include onions, those Sam sells, which represent protection, good health, positivity; yellow-spotted lizards which are symbols of danger, death, and fear; and water, which represents hope and reward. Stanley and Zero attempt to find water in order to survive, and Elya Yelnats is meant to simply take Madame Zeroni for some water to protect his family from the horrible curse.
“Holes” is a fabulous book which includes mystery, fairy tales and real social problems all at one time. Through the eyes of teenage boys we see racism, fatalism, karma doing his thing, kindness, real love and faithful friendship.