Course Hero. "Holes Study Guide." Course Hero. 7 June 2019. Web. 29 May 2023. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Holes/>.
Course Hero. (2019, June 7). Holes Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Holes/
(Course Hero, 2019)
Course Hero. "Holes Study Guide." June 7, 2019. Accessed May 29, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Holes/.
Course Hero, "Holes Study Guide," June 7, 2019, accessed May 29, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Holes/.
The boys in Stanley's tent want to know what crime he committed. Stanley says he stole a pair of shoes. When the boys laugh and ask for details, he explains the shoes belonged to Clyde "Sweet Feet" Livingston, a famous baseball player known for both impressive athleticism and terrible foot odor. None of the boys believe him.
That night as he tries to sleep on his lumpy, smelly cot, Stanley decides it's funny the other boys don't believe he's guilty of this crime. In the outside world, nobody believes he's innocent.
Stanley spends a sleepless night reliving the day of his supposed crime. He was at school, being tormented as usual by a small kid named Derrick Dunne. Derrick stole Stanley's notebook and dropped it in a toilet. Stanley was so busy getting it back he missed the bus and had to walk home. On his way the sneakers fell from a freeway overpass and landed on his head. Stanley, whose father was working on a way to recycle old sneakers, decided they were "destiny's shoes"—even though they smelled horrible. He clutched the sneakers and started running. That's what he was doing when the cops stopped him. He was arrested, and since his parents couldn't afford a lawyer, they advised him to tell the truth. Stanley followed their advice, but he thinks lying would have made him sound less guilty.
After his arrest Stanley found out Clyde Livingston had donated his shoes to a local homeless shelter. The shelter was planning to auction off the sneakers to raise money to feed homeless kids. Everyone involved, including Clyde Livingston and the judge who sentenced Stanley to Camp Green Lake, thinks Stanley is a terrible person for stealing from homeless children.
Throughout this chapter the narrator switches back and forth between Stanley's story and the story of his great-great-grandfather, Elya Yelnats, who lived long ago in Latvia.
First thing in the morning, before it even gets light, Stanley starts digging his first hole. As he begins working, Mr. Pendanski instructs him to report any unusual finds. Mr. Pendanski quickly adds the boys are just digging "to build character," not to look for something special.
Stanley barely knows how to use his shovel. Feeling hopelessly inept, he struggles to make even a dent in the dirt. He eventually figures out how to use his weight to dig, but he is still slow and inefficient. His soft hands quickly blister, and he gets sweaty and uncomfortable as the sun comes up. The other boys work much faster than he does.
As the day progresses, Mr. Pendanski and Mr. Sir repeatedly appear in a pickup truck with a big water tank on the back. Each boy fills his canteen at the water truck and then goes back to digging. Around midday the counselors bring lunches. They say Stanley is too slow and will still be digging in the hot afternoon. The other kids are a little more understanding. "The first hole's the hardest," Magnet says.
Zero is smaller than everyone else, but he finishes first. He uses his shovel to measure his hole, and then he spits in it and returns to camp. With growing desperation, Stanley watches the others do the same. He considers quitting but doesn't.
Just as Stanley finishes, Mr. Pendanski returns in the water truck to see if he has fainted. Stanley is oddly proud of his accomplishment. He refuses Mr. Pendanski's offer of a ride back to camp. He spits in his hole and walks back.
Elya Yelnats is a romantic boy who, at 15, falls in love with a girl named Myra Menke. Myra is 14, and her father wants her to get married on her 15th birthday. Igor Barkov, a middle-aged man, offers her father a pig for her hand in marriage. Her father is excited by this and doesn't care if Elya, who has no pig, is heartbroken.
Elya goes to Madame Zeroni, an old Egyptian woman who lives outside town, and asks for help. She gives Elya a runt pig and instructs him to carry it to the top of the mountain every day from now until Myra's birthday. On the mountaintop he is to let the pig drink from a stream that runs uphill and sing it a magic song. She says the pig will soon grow big and fat, and Elya will get a little stronger every day.
Madame Zeroni wants a favor in exchange for the pig. She wants Elya to carry her up the mountain, let her drink from the stream, and sing her the song before she dies. She says if Elya doesn't do as she asks, he and his descendants will be "doomed for all of eternity." Elya agrees readily, fully intending to keep his promise. He likes Madame Zeroni and would do her the favor right away if he were strong enough.
Elya carries the pig up the mountain every day. The pig grows fat, and Elya grows strong. But on Myra's 15th birthday, Elya skips carrying the pig up the mountain, opting instead to take a bath so he will smell good for his wedding. Myra's father is impressed by the pig, but when he weighs it, it is exactly the same size as Igor Barkov's pig. Myra's father doesn't know which husband—or pig—to choose, so Elya suggests he let Myra decide. Her father agrees, but it turns out Myra doesn't care which man she marries. Heartbroken by Myra's indifference, Elya tells her to marry Igor. Elya gives them the pig as his wedding present, then runs away and sails to America.
While he's at sea, Elya remembers his promise to Madame Zeroni and feels terrible for failing her. In America bad luck follows him everywhere, and he remembers the curse Madame Zeroni threatened. He gets married and has a son, whom his wife names Stanley Yelnats. Elya teaches them both the song he used to sing to the pig back in Latvia, but he can't undo the curse. He never stops having bad luck.
Once again Camp Green Lake proves to be unlike the outside world. Stanley doesn't bother to tell the truth about his innocence. But when he says he was convicted of stealing shoes belonging to a famous baseball player, the boys in his tent think he is making up stories. This heightens the idea of Camp Green Lake as a place where reality is distorted.
But in the case of Stanley's crime, the truth has no power either at the camp or beyond it. Nobody but Stanley and his parents believe what really happened to him. And they have no power over the court system or the opinions of respectable people like judges and baseball players. As far as society is concerned, Stanley is guilty. Meanwhile, at camp, the boys dismiss Stanley's conviction as ridiculous. In an environment where people might respect a person with such an outlandish conviction, nobody believes the conviction is real. In this way both the outside world and Camp Green Lake have something in common: both put Stanley in a position of weakness.
Stanley decides the discrepancy between the real world and Camp Green Lake is funny, which reveals a lot about his character. Stanley's reaction makes him seem good-natured but also weak. Readers never see him fight hard against other people's bad opinions of him. He just accepts people's negative opinions as part of his persistent bad luck.
Stanley's backstory about being bullied by Derrick Dunne is also revealing. Derrick is a very small kid, and this is partly why he takes joy in tormenting the much larger Stanley. Stanley is unable or unwilling to fight back, and nobody else protects him because they seem to think a boy his size should be able to take care of himself. Again this makes Stanley seem like a sweet kid, but it also makes him seem overly soft and perhaps unaware of his own potential power. He is also clearly ashamed of his trouble with Derrick.
Throughout Holes people make decisions based on fate, destiny, and supernatural forces. But they often misinterpret those forces. When shoes fall out of the sky and land on Stanley's head, he thinks fate is at work. In a sense this is true because the shoes get him sent to Camp Green Lake, where he will eventually undo the curse on himself and his family. But he's wrong when he thinks the shoes will help his father invent a way to recycle old sneakers. And he's wrong when he thinks it's silly to imagine destiny at work in his life. Holes portrays a world in which fate may determine one's life, but nobody is very good at understanding fate.
It becomes increasingly clear nothing at Camp Green Lake is quite what it seems. The boys are told digging holes will make them better people, but this isn't the real reason they're digging. The adults just don't want the boys to know they are looking for something. To the adults at camp, the boys are just a convenient source of unpaid labor.
But in Stanley's case, at least, digging holes does change his character. This change starts with the first hole he digs. At the book's outset it's clear Stanley is a weak, soft boy. This softness shows as he digs. He has no real idea how to use a shovel, and he is clearly unaccustomed to real work. He is sore and blistered almost immediately, and he is far slower at digging than anyone else. But he struggles through the ordeal, finding strength he didn't know he had. He is justifiably proud of his accomplishment—an important feeling for a boy who is often ashamed and embarrassed. This is just the beginning of a major change in Stanley.
This story of Stanley's first success at Camp Green Lake is interspersed with the story of the curse's origin, a story of his great-great-grandfather's biggest failures. Elya Yelnats fails in his attempt to marry the girl he loves. He fails to keep a promise to his friend, Madame Zeroni. Most importantly, he fails to recognize the importance of Madame Zeroni's curse until it is too late to stop it. This contrast between Elya and Stanley foreshadows the contrast in how their stories end. Although Elya seems more decisive, proud, and proactive, it is Stanley who will prove stronger and more capable in the end.
There are also some strong similarities between Elya and Stanley. Both characters are physically weak at the beginning of their stories, and both get strong very quickly. Elya does this by carrying a pig up a mountain every day. Stanley does it by digging holes. Both characters' journeys suggest physical labor can have positive effects on people, but that it is always a gradual process.
Both Elya and Stanley are sweet and impulsive. Elya is a caring boy who genuinely wants to do his friend the favor she asks of him. But when his heart is broken, he abruptly leaves town, forgetting all about the promise. Stanley similarly shows concern for others through most of the story. His reactions when he catches Clyde Livingston's shoes are also somewhat impulsive.
It is unclear how much Stanley knows of his great-great-grandfather's story, but it seems unlikely he knows all the details. Stanley thinks about the curse only in the broadest terms. He knows his great-great-grandfather stole a pig, but he doesn't seem to know Madame Zeroni's name or the specific favor Elya Yelnats was supposed to do for her. Later in the story, he doesn't show any sign of recognition when he meets a character whose last name is Zeroni, nor does he think of his great-great-grandfather's promise when he does a huge favor for that character.
Like Stanley and many other characters in the story, Elya is bad at recognizing supernatural forces at work in his life. Even after he benefits from Madame Zeroni's magical help, he doesn't take her threatened curse seriously. This may seem remarkably shortsighted, but in this way Elya is similar to nearly everyone else in the story. People in Holes are concerned with their own immediate lives and don't comprehend the power of supernatural forces to affect the lives of generations. It is unclear if even Madame Zeroni fully understands how strong the effects of her curse will be.