Holes | Study Guide

Louis Sachar

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Holes | Plot Summary

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Summary

Part 1: You Are Entering Camp Green Lake

Stanley's Arrival at Green Lake

As Holes begins, a boy named Stanley Yelnats IV arrives at Camp Green Lake. Camp Green Lake isn't a camp; it is a juvenile detention center. And there is no lake, just a dry lake bed where boys are forced to dig holes. Each day, every boy in the camp must dig a hole five feet wide and five feet deep. Stanley is told the purpose of this digging is "to build character." But he is also told to report to the Warden about anything interesting he finds while digging.

Stanley has been convicted of a crime, but he is innocent. His family is under a curse because of his "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather," and Stanley's recent conviction is just more proof of his family's terrible luck. A few months back, as Stanley walked home from school, he was hit on the head with a pair of shoes. The shoes had once belonged to Stanley's hero, a baseball player named Clyde "Sweet Feet" Livingston. Livingston had donated the shoes to a local homeless shelter so they could be auctioned off to raise money. Somebody stole them, and then, for some reason, tossed them over the side of a freeway overpass just as Stanley was walking underneath. That's why Stanley had the shoes when the police caught him and why he was accused of stealing them. Naturally, the police didn't believe the sneakers fell from the sky.

At Camp Green Lake, Stanley meets a gruff man who calls himself Mr. Sir and says Camp Green Lake "isn't a Girl Scout Camp." Stanley also meets the counselor in charge of his tent, Mr. Pendanski, who seems much more cheerful. Mr. Pendanski warns Stanley about a third adult, the Warden. "There's really only one rule at Camp Green Lake," Mr. Pendanski says. "Don't upset the Warden."

Soon Stanley arrives at his tent and is told to take a cot that used to belong to someone named Barf Bag. He also meets the boys who share his tent: X-Ray, Squid, Magnet, Armpit, Zigzag, and Zero. Mr. Pendanski introduces most of them by their real names, but the boys insist on their nicknames. Everyone—including Mr. Pendanski—calls Zero Zero. Stanley is uncertain whether this is a nickname or a real name.

After Stanley spends a sleepless night reflecting on his wrongful arrest, he goes out to dig his first hole. He's by far the slowest digger in his group. He barely knows how to use his shovel. As he struggles to do the work, he reflects on the story of his great-great-grandfather, Elya Yelnats.

Elya Yelnats and the Curse

Long ago, in the faraway country of Latvia, Elya Yelnats fell in love. He had no pig to offer in exchange for the girl's hand in marriage, so he sought help from his friend Madame Zeroni, an old Egyptian woman who lived outside town. Madame Zeroni gave Elya a runt pig. She told him to carry the pig to the top of a mountain every day, let it drink from a stream that ran uphill, and sing it a special song. She said the pig would get a little bigger every day, and soon it would be big and fat.

In return for her favor, Madame Zeroni asked Elya to carry her up to the top of the mountain, let her drink from the stream, and sing her the same special song before she died. If Elya failed to do this, she said, he and his descendants "would be doomed for all of eternity." Elya promised, but on the day he was supposed to marry the girl he loved, he realized she didn't care about him at all. He left town and went to America, forgetting about his promise to Madame Zeroni until he reached his destination. When he remembered, he was sad he had let his friend down. But then, when bad luck began to follow him everywhere, he realized he really was cursed.

Getting Used to Camp Green Lake

On his first day of digging, Stanley works on his hole all day. All the other boys finish before him, and it is the hottest part of the day before he is done. Back at camp, the other boys give him a nickname, Caveman, accepting him into their group.

The next day, while digging his second hole, Stanley finds a fossilized fish skeleton. Boys who make interesting finds supposedly get a day off from digging, so he eagerly shows the fossil to Mr. Pendanski. Mr. Pendanski doesn't consider the fish interesting, and Stanley is stuck digging his entire hole. Worse, X-Ray approaches Stanley and tells him to hand over any other interesting finds. "Why should you get a day off when you've only been here a couple of days?" he says. "If anyone gets a day off, it should be me." Stanley knows X-Ray could make his life miserable, so he agrees to X-Ray's demand.

Stanley falls into the routine at Camp Green Lake, which means digging and more digging. He learns how to avoid the people who can give him a hard time, and he gets used to thinking of Zero as worthless. One afternoon he finds a tiny, gold object with the initials KB on it. Unsure of whether it is valuable, he hands the object over to X-Ray and suggests X-Ray show it to the camp authorities the next morning so he can get out of a whole day of digging.

X-Ray follows Stanley's advice, and the next day he shows the gold object to Mr. Pendanski. The Warden, a tall, red-haired woman in cowboy boots, comes to investigate. Clearly thrilled with the find, she gives X-Ray the rest of the day off and directs the other boys to dig carefully in and around X-Ray's hole. She spends the next several days bullying everyone, including the adults, and forcing the boys to work extra-long hours digging around X-Ray's hole. Now Stanley realizes they are looking for treasure, but he is too scared to admit the gold object wasn't buried where X-Ray claimed it was. Stanley memorizes the location of the hole where he found the object, but he keeps his mouth shut.

In the afternoons Stanley writes letters home, and he is often annoyed at Zero for looking over his shoulder. One day Zero admits he can't read and asks Stanley to teach him. Stanley refuses at first. He is too tired from digging to try to be a teacher too. Besides, he is beginning to think Zero doesn't matter—just as the others do.

Over the next few days, Zero proves to be a good friend to Stanley. When Stanley gets blamed for breaking a rule, Zero digs part of Stanley's hole. He also says he knows Stanley didn't steal Clyde Livingston's shoes. Eventually Stanley agrees to teach Zero to read. In exchange Zero offers to dig part of Stanley's hole every day.

Zero is a fast learner who quickly picks up on everything Stanley tries to teach him. During one of their sessions, he reveals his name isn't really Zero. It's Hector Zeroni.

The History of Green Lake

At this point, the narrator intersperses several chapters about Green Lake's past. Long ago Green Lake was full of water, and the small town on its shores was beautiful and thriving. The town schoolteacher, Miss Katherine Barlow, was widely admired, and everyone expected her to marry Trout Walker, the son of the richest man in town. But Trout was stupid and a bully, and she refused even to date him. Trout was furious.

Miss Katherine had much more respect for Sam, a gentle, intelligent man who spent his days selling onions with magical properties. Sam claimed his onions healed people, cured baldness, and even prevented the awful yellow-spotted lizards from biting people. But Sam was "a Negro," whereas Miss Katherine was white. Miss Katherine fell in love with Sam and kissed him despite the feelings of other townsfolk. When Trout Walker and the other townspeople found out, they were outraged. They formed a mob, promising to hang Sam. When Sam and Miss Katherine tried to flee across the lake, Trout Walker crashed his boat into theirs, and someone shot Sam in the water. Miss Katherine survived, but she murdered the sheriff, who had refused to help Sam. She became the outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow.

After all this happened, rain stopped falling on Green Lake. The lake dried up, and the town died. The narrator suggests the lack of rain is a punishment from God.

Twenty years later, Kissin' Kate Barlow returned to the ruined town to bury the treasure she amassed from robbing travelers. Trout Walker and his wife, Linda Walker, found her and tried to make her reveal where she had buried it. She refused, and when she was bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard, she "died laughing" because she knew they would never find her treasure in the vast wasteland of the lake.

Part 2: The Last Hole

Zero's Desperate Escape

One day on the lake bed, Stanley notices a strange mountain formation in the distance. It looks like a thumb, and he remembers the story of his great-grandfather, Stanley Yelnats I, who was robbed by Kissin' Kate Barlow. After being lost in the desert, he said, "I found refuge on God's thumb." Stanley wonders if the thumb-shaped mountain could be the place his great-grandfather referred to.

Zero is digging part of Stanley's hole every day, and the other boys don't like it. Stanley is white and Zero is African American, so they call Zero Stanley's "slave" and accuse Stanley of racism. One day this anger boils over, and Zigzag attacks Stanley. When the adults intervene, they are upset to learn Zero has been helping Stanley. Stanley tries to explain about the reading lessons he's giving Zero, but the adults—especially Mr. Pendanski—mock Zero mercilessly. Zero hits Mr. Pendanski with a shovel and runs away.

The adults don't bother trying to stop Zero because they know he will have to return to camp for water. They set guards on all the faucets and wait. But Zero doesn't return that day, or the next. The adults corner Stanley, asking if he has seen Zero. When they realize Zero is probably dying of thirst out in the desert, they discuss what to do. Noting Zero had no family, Mr. Pendanski says, "He was nobody." The adults agree to erase Zero's records and pretend he never existed at Camp Green Lake.

Stanley's Desperate Escape

For the next two days, Stanley is overcome with guilt. Eventually he abandons a hole he is digging and runs away. He tries to take the camp's water truck with him but immediately crashes it into a hole. He runs out on the lake bed on foot with no plan at all. He doesn't even stop to fill his canteen.

Stanley walks for a long time, knowing he will soon have to turn back for water. When he is almost ready to give up, he spots an object on the lake bed and decides to check it out. The object turns out to be the boat Miss Katherine Barlow's friend Sam died in more than 100 years ago. Zero is hiding underneath the boat. He has been living on a strange substance in jars. The boys don't know it, but the jars contain peaches Miss Katherine canned when she was still a sweet schoolteacher. Zero calls the stuff sploosh.

Stanley and Zero drink the last jar of sploosh together, and Stanley tries to convince Zero to go back to Camp Green Lake. Zero refuses, and Stanley realizes his friend would rather die than return to the camp. So Stanley tells the story of his great-grandfather finding refuge on God's thumb. The two boys set out for the thumb-shaped mountain.

Refuge on God's Thumb

Zero is very weak. On the walk, he keeps collapsing in pain, sick from whatever bacteria were in the jars of sploosh. But he keeps getting up and walking some more. Stanley is exhausted, but he tells himself he can keep going as long as Zero does. At the base of the mountain, they find weeds and bugs, which means there must be water nearby. But then Zero collapses again. This time he is unconscious.

Not wanting to leave his friend behind, Stanley picks up Zero and carries him up the mountain. Near the top he collapses into some mud. Realizing mud means water, he digs down into the dirt until he reaches it. He drinks as much as he can and gives some to Zero. Delirious, Stanley sings Zero the song his parents have always sung to him, an English version of the song Elya Yelnats was supposed to sing to Madame Zeroni after carrying her to the top of a mountain.

The boys stay on top of the mountain for several days, drinking water from the hole and recuperating. The fields on the mountain are full of onion plants. Both boys eat many onions, and the food seems to heal and sustain them. As he regains his strength, Zero tells stories about being homeless and about his mother's disappearance. Stanley explains what he has figured out about Camp Green Lake.

By now Stanley is pretty sure the Warden is looking for a treasure buried by Kissin' Kate Barlow, the same outlaw who robbed his great-grandfather. Stanley is also pretty sure he knows where the treasure is buried: near the hole where he dug up the tiny, gold object with the initials KB on it. The two boys make a plan to sneak back to camp, steal water, dig up the treasure, and walk to freedom.

They set out together for Camp Green Lake. When they get there, Zero does the sneaking and stealing, and Stanley does the digging. Sure enough, Stanley finds the treasure—in the form of a suitcase—exactly where he expects it. But somebody hears them, and when Stanley and Zero emerge from their hole, they find the Warden, Mr. Sir, and Mr. Pendanski waiting with flashlights and guns.

But before the counselors can take the treasure, their flashlight beams fall on a deadly yellow-spotted lizard. Stanley and Zero freeze; the lizards are crawling all over their bodies. The lizards don't bite and kill the boys, but the adults are too scared to come closer. They wait all night.

Stanley stands motionless. He doesn't know why he is alive, but he is glad to be breathing. Zero stays motionless too. He is holding the suitcase, and he occasionally says odd things like "Satan" and "Sa-tan lee." Meanwhile the adults complain about a woman who has been asking about Stanley.

As the sun rises, the lizards move out of the sun's rays, back into Stanley's hole. At the same time, a man and a woman arrive in a car. The woman turns out to be Ms. Morengo, Stanley's lawyer, whom his parents recently hired to get him out of Camp Green Lake after one of Stanley's father's inventions made him rich. The man is the attorney general, a legal official she brought along because the Warden is refusing to cooperate with her orders for Stanley's release.

The Warden tells Ms. Morengo and the attorney general a very fishy-sounding story about Stanley and Zero stealing her suitcase and trying to run away. Zero smoothly says the suitcase doesn't belong to the Warden; it has Stanley's name on it. Zero has spent the night working out the meanings of the letters printed on the suitcase, and they do indeed say the name Stanley Yelnats. Ms. Morengo pounces on this and demands to take both Stanley and the suitcase home. The Warden, whom Ms. Morengo calls Ms. Walker, concocts a series of increasingly unlikely stories about why the suitcase should stay with her. But neither Ms. Morengo nor the attorney general accepts any of these stories. Stanley hangs onto the suitcase but refuses to leave camp without Zero. When Ms. Morengo finds out the camp has no records of Zero's existence, she demands to take him with her too.

Part 3: Filling in the Holes

In the final chapter of Holes, the narrator reveals a few details to help explain the whirlwind adventure of the previous chapters. Noting Stanley's mother never believed in any curse on the family, the narrator says Stanley's family's luck turned "the day after the great-great-grandson of Elya Yelnats carried the great-great-great-grandson of Madame Zeroni up the mountain."

Camp Green Lake shuts down, and the Warden—a descendant of Trout Walker—sells her family's land to people who want to use it as a Girl Scout camp.

Stanley and Zero split the treasure in the suitcase, which is mostly a bunch of papers describing Stanley's great-grandfather's stock holdings. The boys end up with a little under a million dollars each. Stanley buys his family a house, and Zero hires a team of private investigators. The narrator says it would be boring to say too much about what happens next, but he does reveal one final scene.

As the story ends, Stanley's family is having a Super Bowl party. Everyone in the room stops talking to watch an ad during the game's commercial break. Clyde "Sweet Feet" Livingston is advertising a product called Sploosh, Stanley's father's great invention for curing foot odor. The real Clyde Livingston is sitting in Stanley's living room watching this commercial with Stanley's family, and he tries to shush his wife as she complains about how bad his foot odor really was.

Meanwhile, Zero—now referred to by his real name, Hector—sits on the floor beside a chair. The woman in the chair has "weathered" skin and "weary" eyes, and she has a smile just like her son's. As the story ends, she sings him a strange little song that sounds a lot like the song Stanley sang to his friend on God's thumb.

Holes Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675

Introduction

1 Stanley goes to a detention camp where boys must dig holes.

Rising Action

2 It becomes clear the boys are digging for treasure.

3 Stanley figures out where the treasure is buried.

4 Zero flees the camp, choosing to die in the desert.

Climax

5 Stanley follows Zero and rescues him.

Falling Action

6 Stanley and Zero dig up the treasure.

Resolution

7 Stanley and Zero return home, free from the curse.

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