Literature Study GuidesHolesPart 1 Chapters 1 3 Summary

Holes | Study Guide

Louis Sachar

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Holes | Part 1, Chapters 1–3 : You Are Entering Camp Green Lake | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

Holes begins with this sentence: "There is no lake at Camp Green Lake." Instead there is a dried-up lake bed where a beautiful lake used to be. There is heat, dust, and the memory of a thriving town that died when the lake dried up.

Two oak trees provide the only shade for miles. Campers aren't allowed to step into the shade, let alone use the hammock stretched between the trees. Only the Warden gets to do that. "The Warden owns the shade," the narrator says.

There are rattlesnakes, scorpions, and yellow-spotted lizards out on the dry lake bed. The rattlesnakes and scorpions are poisonous but okay. Sometimes the campers even try to get bitten by them just for a break from digging holes. But the yellow-spotted lizards have a deadly, incurable poison. Campers who get bitten by one "might as well go into the shade of the oak trees and lie in the hammock" because they're doomed.

Chapter 2

Most boys don't choose to go to Camp Green Lake. They go because they have to, because some adults think bad kids will turn good if they are forced to dig holes every day in the hot sun.

Unlike most kids, Stanley Yelnats has chosen the camp. It was that or jail. "Stanley was from a poor family," the narrator observes. "He had never been to camp before."

Chapter 3

Stanley is riding on a bus. The bus is otherwise empty except for a driver and a guard with a gun.

The ride is hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable. Stanley is handcuffed to his seat. Beside him is a backpack with a few toiletry items and a box of paper for writing letters to his mother. He tries to think of this trip as a real trip to camp, where he might even make friends. Stanley has no friends at home. The kids there make fun of him for being overweight.

Stanley has been convicted of a crime, but he is innocent. In his mind he jokingly blames his arrest on "his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather." According to family legend, this grandfather once stole a pig from a gypsy, and she cursed him and his whole family for it. Stanley and his parents often pretend their bad luck is the result of this curse. They have a great deal of bad luck.

As Stanley reflects on this, he recalls a song his father sometimes sings. It is a strange song about a woodpecker and a wolf crying to the moon. The lyrics end with the words, "If only, if only."

Stanley's father is an unsuccessful inventor. He is smart and works hard, but he has no luck. As with his son, Stanley's last name is his first name spelled backward. The whole family likes this, so the parents in Stanley's family have been giving their sons this name for generations. The Stanley riding the bus to Camp Green Lake is Stanley Yelnats IV.

For generations, every Stanley Yelnats has been both unlucky and hopeful. Most have been poor. The first Stanley Yelnats briefly got rich, but an outlaw named Kissin' Kate Barlow stole everything he had. If this had never happened, his descendants might still be rich. But as it is, Stanley Yelnats IV has grown up in a tiny, stinky apartment. It's stinky because his father is trying to invent a way to recycle old sneakers.

Stanley—the kid on the bus—comes out of these reflections when the bus stops. He looks out the window at Camp Green Lake, but "he couldn't see a lake. And hardly anything was green."

Analysis

Holes begins with a description of setting. This is an unusual way for a contemporary children's book to begin. Most authors begin with character or action to make readers care about the story before they weave in other details.

In this case, however, the setting is extremely unusual. From the first sentence onward, the omniscient narrator makes it clear Camp Green Lake isn't nearly as nice as the name sounds. There is no lake, and not much is green. These facts, along with the mention of relentless heat and a dead town, make the place sound unpleasant.

In Chapter 1 the narrator doesn't say Camp Green Lake isn't a summer camp, but there are several hints to that effect, all of them ominous. The person in charge is called the Warden, which makes the place sound like a prison. Campers aren't allowed enjoyable activities like relaxing in the shade. Some campers would rather be bitten by a rattlesnake or scorpion than go about their daily lives at camp.

Most people find rattlesnakes and scorpions unpleasant and scary, but the narrator makes it clear yellow-spotted lizards are much worse. Their bite kills every time. These animals, which the author invented for the story, are presented as the most terrifying creatures imaginable. And the Warden—the owner of the shade—is equally terrifying. Campers might only defy the Warden's rules if they knew they were dying of a yellow-spotted lizard bite.

This chapter has a complex tone. There's an ominous feeling things aren't as they seem, and there are many different kinds of deadly threats, from great heat to poisonous animals to a terribly scary person. But the author also lingers over his descriptions and word choices as if he enjoys being scary. The result feels a bit larger than life, more like a deliciously scary tall tale than a truly realistic story. The takeaway is bad things are about to happen in this story, and it's going to be tons of fun to read about them.

In Chapter 2 the omniscient narrator provides a bit more information about the setting and introduces the main character. Here the narrator reveals Camp Green Lake is a juvenile detention facility where boys have to dig a hole in the desert every day.

According to the people who run Camp Green Lake, the point of this activity is to "take a bad boy and ... turn him into a good boy." This simplistic description underscores the silliness of the idea that digging holes can change people so much. It is already clear Camp Green Lake isn't what it seems, so this odd statement is a bit unsettling. The narrator says "some people" think digging holes every day can change a kid, suggesting he doesn't agree. This may leave readers wondering about the camp's true purpose. Within a few chapters, it will become clear the people running the camp don't care a bit about changing boys' lives.

Stanley Yelnats is introduced as a kid who gets a choice between Camp Green Lake and jail. Stanley, who doesn't know what readers know about Camp Green Lake, chooses the camp because it sounds better. This introduction to Stanley makes him seem hopeful and a bit pitiful.

The first two chapters are told from the perspective of an omniscient narrator. But in Chapter 3, the narrator zooms in and focuses on the thoughts and feelings of the main character, Stanley Yelnats IV. Much of the rest of the story is told in this way, but the narrator retains the ability to step out of Stanley's head and make occasional observations from an all-knowing point of view.

Stanley's bus ride to Camp Green Lake sounds scary and uncomfortable. He is handcuffed, sweating, and guarded by a man with a gun. But Stanley is trying hard to imagine Camp Green Lake as a fun place where he might make friends and go swimming. This is a remarkably hopeful attitude, even from a kid who doesn't yet know what Camp Green Lake is all about. This reveals a great deal about his character. He clings to unrealistically hopeful daydreams, but he doesn't really seem to believe them. They just give him comfort in the lulls between unpleasant experiences.

Stanley's attitude about the curse on his family is a lot like his hopefulness. He was convicted of a crime he didn't commit, and he laughs at himself for blaming this bad luck on the family curse. He tells himself this curse doesn't really exist. But his thoughts linger on his own bad luck, and his father's, and even his great-grandfather's bad luck in being robbed of his entire fortune in the desert. Stanley says he doesn't believe in the curse, but he acts like he does. And as his story unfolds, it becomes clear the curse is (probably) real.

Several details in this chapter seem like digressions, but they are setting up information important to the plot. The most important of these is the mention of Stanley's great-great-grandfather and the curse. Another focuses on Stanley's great-grandfather, who got rich in the stock market but then lost everything when he was robbed by the outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow. A third mentions Stanley's father's failure to invent a way to recycle old sneakers. Throughout the story, tiny details like these seem thrown in to develop characters or enhance the story's tall-tale tone. They serve both of these functions, but they are also pieces of an elaborate plot puzzle that comes together at the end of the story.

Readers should attend to the song Stanley sings to himself at the beginning of the story. This song makes several appearances in the text in different versions. In this part of the story, when Stanley is living under a curse and heading to juvenile detention camp, the lyrics sound mournful, and they end on a note of regret. Readers will find the words of this song aren't always quite so sad.

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