Holes | Study Guide

Louis Sachar

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Holes | Symbols

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Yellow-Spotted Lizards

Yellow-spotted lizards symbolize death in the novel. Their bite causes a painful death, and there is no cure for their venom. Yellow-spotted lizards are common on the dry lake bed of Camp Green Lake, and they live in holes, which means the campers are digging new habitats for the lizards each day. This helps contribute to the boys' constant sense of threat and danger.

Because yellow-spotted lizards symbolize death, they are also associated with a kind of freedom. In Chapter 1 the narrator says a kid who gets bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard can freely break the Warden's rules since "there is nothing anyone can do to you anymore." Later, in Chapter 28, Kissin' Kate Barlow dies laughing after being bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard; she knows her enemies will never be able to make her reveal the location of her treasure. Together, these details show people gain power when they let go of fear.

At the end of the novel, Stanley and Zero survive an encounter with yellow-spotted lizards after they dig up Kissin' Kate Barlow's treasure. The boys have been eating nothing but onions for days, and it turns out lizards don't like the blood of people who smell like onions. Onions are symbolically associated with life and survival in the story, so they are an antidote to the lizards' deadliness.

Interestingly, when the boys encounter the lizards they have both already faced and accepted the risk of death in the desert. Zero risked death because he didn't want to continue being treated as worthless at Camp Green Lake, and Stanley risked death because he was unwilling to abandon Zero to die alone. Their adventure gave them a certain power and mastery over fear, and this helps them survive after their return to Camp Green Lake.

Onions

Onions are associated with healing and life in Holes. In the historic plotline set in the old town of Green Lake, a man named Sam grows onions and uses them to heal people. He also advises travelers to drink onion juice as a protective measure before they go near deadly yellow-spotted lizards. At the end of the story, Stanley and Zero find and eat the onions without knowing they are magical. The onions cure Zero of his illness and help both boys regain their strength before they return to Camp Green Lake.

Most readers would not expect a humble food like an onion to have magical powers. In more conventional stories, magic is found in more impressive or enduring substances like blood and stone. But in Holes, power often manifests itself where least expected. This means the characters can't necessarily understand or predict how magic might affect them. Only the omniscient narrator and readers, who get to see the full story, can put all the pieces together.

Kissin' Kate Barlow's Treasure

Kissin' Kate Barlow's treasure represents the complicated nature of historic wrongs and the difficulty of fixing them. The historic plotline involving Miss Katherine Barlow—who later becomes Kissin' Kate Barlow—establishes this idea, showing how Miss Katherine and her boyfriend, Sam, are attacked for being an interracial couple. After Sam is murdered, Miss Katherine becomes Kissin' Kate Barlow and commits murder to avenge him. Her story is deeply complicated because she can't free herself from the wrongs done to her. All she can do is resist letting her tormentors benefit from their terrible deeds. After living for decades as an outlaw, she buries her wealth in the desert and then dies keeping it away from the people who killed Sam.

The Warden spends her life looking for Kissin' Kate Barlow's treasure. In Chapter 45 readers learn the Warden is a descendant of Trout Walker, an enemy of Kissin' Kate Barlow who lost his fortune when Green Lake dried up. For the Warden, finding the treasure would be a chance to restore her family's historic wealth and position. But her family took part in a brutal racial murder, and the Warden herself is a cruel, amoral person. From her perspective, finding the treasure might solve the problems of the past—but to readers it would be deeply unsatisfying to see her win.

Like the Warden, Stanley and Zero were both born into families with deep problems. Stanley's family has been living under a curse, and Zero's family struggles with poverty and homelessness. Unlike the Warden, they don't value the treasure above other people, and they are kind and loyal to each other as they search for it. Interestingly, most of the money they find turns out to have belonged to Stanley's great-grandfather, who was robbed in the desert by Kissin' Kate Barlow. Also, the treasure turns out to be worth just enough to solve the problems Stanley and Zero have faced in the past. Stanley buys a house to give his family some security, and Zero hires detectives to reunite him with his mother. Neither boy ends up fabulously wealthy. Their discovery of the treasure rights historic wrongs; it doesn't fix future ones.

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