also signs that Camp Green Lake is not an actual place. Pockmarked with holes, the dry lakebed reminds Stanley of the surface of the moon, an unearthly setting. The yellow-spotted 32
lizards we hear about do not really exist but are inventions of the author. Big Thumb, the strange rock formation where Stanley’s great-grandfather found refuge in the desert, marks a spot where water miraculously runs uphill. This magical spring irrigates a secret onion field, the source of a tonic that supposedly can cure illness and prolong life. According to Sam, the onion man, a steady diet of onions has helped his donkey, Mary Lou. She lived to be almost fifty, “extraordinarily old for a donkey.” The combination of realistic details and imaginary elements in the setting of this book may remind you of a fable or a folktale, demonstrating how Sachar borrows from these traditions in Holes . Folk narratives typically include both real and fanciful elements (think of the Paul Bunyan stories, for instance), and are part of the culture of the American West. In the stories in Holes that take place in the past, things are not what they appear to be, either. The town of Green Lake seems too good to be true—and it is. The narrator first describes it as a “heaven on earth” where the sky is “painted pale blue and pink— the same color as the lake and the peach trees along its shore.” Like the mirage that confuses Stanley in the desert, making him believe that he sees a pool of water as he searches for Zero, the placid little town of Green Lake is a beautiful vision that disappears when we look more closely. Before long, we witness the ugliness of racism and violence that lurks beneath the surface of the community. Finally, in this book we must remember that what isn’t there is as important as what is. A hole, after all, is a space where 33
34 something is missing, and this is also true of Camp Green Lake. Read the first paragraphs of the book again and you’ll hear more about what is missing from this setting than what is there. The absence of water influences much of what happens to Stanley at the camp. As Mr. Sir makes clear, the lack of water means that escape from Camp Green Lake is practically impossible: “Nobody runs away from here. We don’t need a fence. Know why? Because we’ve got the only water for a hundred miles.” Thinking about the setting • Where does Holes take place? • Which parts of the setting seem realistic to you? Which ones do not? • How does the setting influence what happens in the story?
Themes/Layers of Meaning: Is That What It Really Means? “The reader might find it interesting that Stanley’s father invented his cure for foot odor the day after the great-great-grandson of Elya Yelnats carried the great-great-great- grandson of Madame Zeroni up the mountain.” —Holes “Whatever goes around, comes around” This expression means that, over time, all human actions have appropriate consequences: Bad deeds are eventually punished, and good deeds ultimately rewarded. A more complicated version of this theme plays out repeatedly in the plot of Holes . The family
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