Literature Study GuidesHolesPart 1 Chapters 20 22 Summary

Holes | Study Guide

Louis Sachar

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Holes | Part 1, Chapters 20–22 : You Are Entering Camp Green Lake | Summary



Chapter 20

Stanley feels oddly good as he walks through the shade of the oaks toward the Warden's front door. He wonders if he feels the way a doomed man feels on the way to his execution. He appreciates the beauty of the world and his relative comfort when he isn't digging. He also notices there are many holes very close to the Warden's house.

The Warden's house is air-conditioned. At Mr. Sir's prompting, Stanley confesses to stealing and eating the sunflower seeds. Mr. Sir says he thinks someone else is responsible.

The Warden opens up a makeup case, and Stanley sees lipstick tubes and nail polish inside. She pulls out a special jar of red nail polish, which she says she makes herself. She uses rattlesnake venom to bring out a particular shade of red. She slowly paints her nails. Then she gently touches a wet fingernail to Stanley's cheek.

Then the Warden turns to Mr. Sir and slaps him hard across the face, leaving three red streaks on his skin. As Mr. Sir collapses and writhes in pain, she tells him not to bother her about his sunflower seeds again.

The Warden tells Stanley to go back to his hole. Before he leaves the Warden assures him Mr. Sir will survive. "Unfortunately for you," she says.

Chapter 21

Stanley walks back to his hole, worrying about how Mr. Sir will treat him now. He compares himself to his great-grandfather, "not the pig stealer but the pig stealer's son," who survived an incredible ordeal. After being robbed by Kissin' Kate Barlow, Stanley's great-grandfather survived for weeks in the desert. He told his rescuers he "found refuge on God's thumb," but afterward he didn't remember what this meant.

Stanley survives an encounter with a rattlesnake on his way back to his group on the lake bed. He avoids the other boys' questions about what happened with the Warden. He is pleasantly surprised when he looks at his hole and finds it much deeper than when he left. He thanks the boys, thinking they helped him because he covered for them. But one by one X-Ray, Armpit, Zigzag, and Squid claim they had nothing to do with digging his hole.

Stanley looks to Zero, who doesn't acknowledge him. Zero is working hard in his own hole. Although he is the fastest digger in the group, his hole is smallest.

Chapter 22

Stanley finishes his hole before anyone else. He doesn't know why Zero helped him. Nobody even shared the sunflower seeds with him. The other boys tease Zero, calling him "mole" and "worm." They tell each other Zero "eats dirt."

Stanley doesn't join in the teasing. Back at camp he thanks Zero and asks for an explanation. Zero says Stanley wasn't guilty of taking the sunflower seeds. He also says Stanley wasn't guilty of the crime for which he was sent to Camp Green Lake. This stuns Stanley, who offers to teach Zero to read after all.

Zero doesn't know the whole alphabet, but he memorizes it immediately when Stanley recites it. Then Stanley writes down the letters. When he realizes he needs to teach both capital and lowercase letters, he gets flustered and discouraged. Zero calmly observes this means there are 52 letters, not just 26. He makes a plan to learn five capital and lowercase letters every day for five days. He also says he will have to learn six of each kind of letter on the fifth day.

Stanley is astounded by Zero's quick math. Zero can't explain how he figured it all out. Stanley accepts Zero's teaching plan, as well as Zero's offer to dig part of Stanley's hole every day so Stanley will have more time and energy for teaching. But he worries about how the other boys will react if Zero digs part of his hole every day.

As he tries to fall asleep, Stanley suddenly makes a connection between the gold object he dug up weeks ago and the makeup kit in the Warden's cabin. The gold object, Stanley realizes, was part of a lipstick tube. And the initials, KB, could stand for Kate Barlow. He wonders if the lipstick tube on the lake once belonged to the outlaw Kissin' Kate, who robbed his great-grandfather.


Although Stanley feels good on his way to see the Warden, he also compares himself to a convict on the way to an execution. In other words, he's sure he is doomed. Yet he notices he's still able to enjoy the pleasures of the moment.

Among many pleasant sights, sounds, and sensations, Stanley notices a surprising detail: there are lots of holes around the Warden's cabin and yard. He thinks it's odd she would allow digging to happen so close to her abode. For readers, though, this is a clue to the story's mystery. Whatever the Warden is looking for could be anywhere, even near her cabin.

Even face to face with the Warden, Stanley sticks to his story about stealing and eating the sunflower seeds himself. When Mr. Sir accuses him of lying, Stanley denies it. The Warden cuts the conversation short. She doesn't immediately say how she feels about what is going on, but since readers know how cruel and impulsive she can be, her calm manner is threatening.

As readers have learned, nothing at Camp Green Lake happens quite as expected, and punishment is no exception. While she's angry the Warden takes out an unexpected object: a makeup case. The aura of threat increases as she talks about her rattlesnake-venom nail polish and paints her nails. The way she pairs beauty with poison is especially terrifying because it makes the threat so unpredictable.

When the Warden hits Mr. Sir instead of Stanley, it initially seems she is letting Stanley escape punishment. But it turns out she is punishing both of them. Her attack on Mr. Sir causes him extreme pain. Once again readers may ask themselves why Mr. Sir stays in a job with a boss who is physically abusive. Again it seems reasonable to guess the Warden has some hold over him. If this is the case, he can't or won't leave, and like the boys, he has no power to fight back against her.

There is a clear pattern in people's responses to unfairness at Camp Green Lake. Those who are abused by people in power take out their anger at anyone beneath them. The Warden knows this, and she turns this pattern into a creative punishment for Stanley. By allowing Stanley to watch Mr. Sir be punished, the Warden embarrasses Mr. Sir and makes certain he will take out his anger on Stanley.

Stanley faces more and more challenges. Surviving at Camp Green Lake is hard enough without incurring Mr. Sir's wrath. Under normal circumstances Mr. Sir seems to take pleasure in making the campers uncomfortable. The tension remains high as Stanley wonders what Mr. Sir will do now.

As the youngest member of a family under a curse for generations, Stanley has grown up with many stories about people surviving terrible challenges. He thinks of some of these challenges now, focusing especially on the story of his great-grandfather, Stanley Yelnats I, who survived being robbed and left to die in the desert. To some readers, Stanley's thoughts may seem overdramatic, but some of the threats he faces are genuinely deadly. This is underscored by his encounter with a rattlesnake on his walk back to his hole.

Until now Stanley has accepted other people's assessments about who is and isn't a valuable friend at Camp Green Lake. His assumptions are challenged when he returns to his hole and finds someone has been working on it in his absence. At first he assumes Magnet or X-Ray helped him because he took the blame in the sunflower-seed fiasco. But nobody admits to helping. When Stanley sees how small Zero's hole is, he knows Zero is the one who helped him.

With this realization, his attitude toward Zero starts to change. Although Stanley doesn't understand Zero's actions, he refuses to tease Zero the way everyone else does. Stanley, in his surprise, starts thinking more like the sweet kid who originally arrived at Camp Green Lake and less like the boy he has become in the last few weeks. He thinks about Zero with genuine puzzlement, not just with callous calculations about whether Zero may be helpful or threatening.

When Stanley questions Zero, he is further puzzled by Zero's explanation. Unlike the others, Zero seems genuinely bothered by Stanley getting in trouble for something he didn't do. Even more surprisingly, Zero seems to know Stanley is innocent of the shoe-stealing crime for which he was convicted. This suggests Zero isn't the "nothing" people take him to be. He has a strong sense of honor and morality and a deep understanding of what happens around him. And his opinions don't necessarily fall in line with everyone else at Camp Green Lake. Until now Stanley has seen Zero through others' eyes, as either worthless or pitiable. This conversation shows there is much more to him.

It is unclear exactly how much Stanley understands about Zero as a result of this conversation, but his feelings obviously change. Before, Stanley didn't think Zero was worth his time. Now Stanley offers to teach Zero to read. And Stanley makes this offer without asking anything in return. It is Zero who suggests digging part of Stanley's hole every day, and to him this offer seems largely about practicality. It means they will finish digging at the same time, so they will have more time for learning.

After Stanley starts teaching Zero the alphabet, he discovers Zero has an unusual ability with numbers. Zero makes a series of calculations surrounding the number of letters in the alphabet, but he can't explain how. His knowledge doesn't seem to come from school; it seems to be a natural part of the way he thinks.

The author deftly shares two clues to his story's mystery when he shows Stanley making two startling insights. First Stanley realizes the object he dug up on the lake was a lipstick tube. Some readers might think it seems strange he didn't immediately recognize such a common object. But the world of Camp Green Lake is full of boys. It is a hot, sweaty place. A lipstick tube would be completely out of context there, not likely something Stanley's mind would have jumped to immediately. But tonight, after having glimpsed the contents of the Warden's makeup case, Stanley's mind makes that leap. And when he realizes the tube belonged to a woman, his brain leaps to a name he was thinking about earlier today: Kissin' Kate Barlow. Stanley doesn't yet know if his guess is right, but the author answers this question for readers immediately. The next chapter switches to Miss Katherine Barlow's story, which suggests she has an important role in Stanley's story.

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