Holes | Study Guide

Louis Sachar

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Course Hero. "Holes Study Guide." June 7, 2019. Accessed September 29, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Holes/.


Course Hero, "Holes Study Guide," June 7, 2019, accessed September 29, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Holes/.

Holes | Plot and Setting


Timeline and Flashbacks

The timeline of Holes is unusual because many story events take place long before the events of the novel's opening when Stanley Yelnats IV arrives at Camp Green Lake. The plot begins generations earlier in the northern European country of Latvia, where the seeds of a curse are planted. When the novel begins four generations later, the main character, Stanley Yelnats IV, is still living under that curse.

No character in the story—not even Stanley—knows all the details the omniscient narrator weaves together to create the novel's full plot. It is unclear how much Stanley knows of the history of Elya Yelnats, his great-great-grandfather. Stanley does know several details about another ancestor, his great-grandfather Stanley Yelnats I. He clearly knows very little about the life of Kissin' Kate Barlow, a famous outlaw who robs Stanley I and whose tragic story helps set a second curse in motion.

The historic plotlines add significance to the contemporary plotline. They transform Holes from one kid's story of survival to a magical, intergenerational tall tale. But since Stanley can't know every detail himself, the novel gains an aura of mystery. This is one of the most realistic elements of this work of magical realism: the characters never know every detail about how their lives came to be the way they are.

Multiple Settings

The plot of Holes unfolds within multiple settings. These settings are distant in both space and time.

Camp Green Lake

The main setting is Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention center in a "dry, flat wasteland" full of rattlesnakes, scorpions, and—deadliest of all—yellow-spotted lizards. Camp Green Lake is a miserable place. But there are no walls or fences around it. None are needed. As far as anyone knows, there is no water available for 100 miles in any direction. The kids can't run away because they'd die in the barren landscape.

However, the omniscient narrator reveals Camp Green Lake to be a place of magic, mystery, and hope as well. There are many places and objects scattered throughout the landscape that help Stanley and Zero as they flee injustice and unknowingly free Stanley of his curse. They find jars of a mysterious, drinkable substance they call sploosh. They also find a mountaintop water source and a field of onions with magical healing properties. In the climactic scene, the deadly yellow-spotted lizards even provide them with help and protection. Notably, the characters only manage to access these unexpected elements of the setting after they step outside the unjust social systems of ordinary society.

Historic Latvia

Another strand of the plot is set in the northern European country of Latvia, the birthplace of Stanley's great-great-grandfather, Elya Yelnats. Although the flashbacks revealing Elya's story provide few setting details, it's clear his Latvian town is a rural place where people keep pigs and pull plows. In Elya's society, parents decide whom their daughters will marry, and men are expected to pay a price for a bride. There is also some suggestion of social barriers between people of different ethnic backgrounds. Elya's friend Madame Zeroni, an Egyptian woman, lives in isolation outside town, as if she doesn't feel fully welcome.

However, Elya Yelnats's Latvia is also a place of magic. Notably, it is only the outsider character, Madame Zeroni, who clearly knows how to access and wield that magic. In other words, a mysterious power is available to a person who lives outside the accepted and often unjust social structures of the powerful majority culture.

Historic Green Lake

The third setting of Holes is the historic town of Green Lake as it exists 110 years before Stanley arrives at Camp Green Lake. In this Old Texas setting, Green Lake is full of water and surrounded by peach orchards. At the edge of the lake is a town, also named Green Lake. It is initially described as a cheerful place where people live simple, happy lives.

But Green Lake isn't equally pleasant for everyone. The rich have power over the poor. Men have power over women. Most of all, white people have power over African Americans. A kiss between Kate Barlow, who is white, and Sam, who is a "Negro," leaves the people of Green Lake horrified. The social and legal systems of the town combine forces to ostracize Kate and kill Sam. This tragedy of racial injustice apparently brings a second curse into play, which leaves the landscape without rain for 110 years and turns Green Lake into a wasteland. In other words, the modern Camp Green Lake is not naturally barren. The hopeless place readers encounter in the main part of the novel is a result of historic wrongs.

Magic is present in historic Green Lake just as it is in the other two settings. Once again, it is only the outsider, Sam, who can access and wield that magic. In all three settings, magic is invisible or inaccessible to people who uphold unjust social norms.

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