by Louis Sachar
Holes Theme of Justice and Judgment
Stanley Yelnats, our main squeeze in Holes, is convicted of a crime that he didn't commit. And he doesn't get off easy, either. How's that for lack of justice? But the theme of justice and judgment in this book goes beyond the issue of the modern criminal justice system. We also see human beings passing judgment on their fellow citizens. Plus, we get a sense that the world has its own system of justice that can end up messing with some pretty innocent people. Over and over in the book, people invoke ideas of justice to justify (nifty how that works out, huh?) their own needs, prejudices, and desires. Making sense of all these different ideas can be difficult, but doing so is one way to help us understand the characters and their motivations.
Questions About Justice and Judgment
- There are a lot of competing ideas about justice in Holes. Does the narrator value any of these ideas over the others? How does he suggest to the reader which ones might be more valuable?
- Since we know that Stanley didn't steal the shoes, and that he told the truth at his trial, why do you think he ended up being convicted?
- Kate Barlow says at one point that "[w]e're all equal under the eyes of God" (26.29). Does that have something to do with why she takes on the life of a criminal? Or has she simply been driven crazy by the horror of Sam's murder?
- At the end of the book, the Warden – having lost her long-held hope of getting Kate Barlow's buried treasure – loses her job, becomes penniless, and is forced to sell her family's land. Is this a "just" end for this character, considering all the bad things she's done throughout the novel? Is it too easy or too hard? Should she go to jail? Should she get a second chance? Whose notion of justice does her unhappy ending fulfill?
Chew on This
All the unjust things that happen in the book suggest that no system of justice administered by human beings – who are always flawed and self-interested – really works.
The book's ending, where Stanley is cleared and allowed to go home, suggests that the justice system, although not perfect, eventually gets things right.