Study Guide

Holes Quotes

  • Fate and Free Will

    Supposedly, he had a great-great-grandfather who had stolen a pig from a one-legged Gypsy, and she put a curse on him and all his descendants. Stanley and his parents didn't believe in curses, of course, but whenever anything went wrong, it felt good to be able to blame someone. (3.11)

    Hmm, we're not so sure about this one. The narrator tells us here that Stanley and his parents don't believe in the curse, but it sounds like <em>do</em> believe in it when they want to, right? Is this fair?

    Kate Barlow didn't actually kiss Stanley's great-grandfather. That would have been really cool, but she only kissed the men she killed. Instead, she robbed him and left him stranded in the middle of the desert.

    "He was <em>lucky</em> to have survived," Stanley's mother was quick to point out." (3.31-32)

    Shmoop is all about looking at things from multiple perspectives. And that's exactly what Stanley's mom does here. The events of the first Stanley Yelnats' life (or anyone else's life for that matter) can actually be seen as either lucky <em>or</em> unlucky, depending on your point of view.

    Stanley couldn't help but think that there was something special about the shoes, that they would somehow provide the key to his father's invention. It was too much of a coincidence to be a mere accident. Stanley felt like he was holding destiny's shoes. (6.30)

    Stanley – philosopher that he is – always seems to be looking for meaning in the things that happen in his life. "Destiny," like the curse, gives him a way to understand things that are beyond his control.

    It wasn't until the ship had cleared the harbor and was heading across the Atlantic that [Elya] remembered his promise to carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain. He felt terrible.

    He wasn't afraid of the curse. He thought that was a lot of nonsense. He felt bad because he knew Madame Zeroni had wanted to drink from the stream before she died. (7.119-120)

    Like so many others characters in the book, Elya Yelnats doesn't exactly believe in the curse. He sees himself as responsible for his own actions and what happens to him, and the only thing he's worried about is Madame Zeroni's disappointment. Hmmm… do you think the book is setting us up for something here?

    [L]ife was not easy. Elya worked hard, but bad luck seemed to follow him everywhere. He always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    He remembered Madame Zeroni telling him that she had a son in America. Elya was forever looking for him. He'd walk up to complete strangers and ask if they knew someone named Zeroni, or had ever heard of anyone named Zeroni.

    No one did. Elya wasn't sure what he'd do if he ever found Madame Zeroni's son anyway. Carry him up a mountain and sing the pig lullaby to him? (7.132-34)

    This one made us chuckle. Imagine Elya finding some random American guy and asking if he could carry him up a mountain and sing a pig lullaby to him. Also, don't you think Mr. Yelnats is going to a lot of trouble to try to do something about this curse he doesn't even believe in? What's up with that?

    After [Elya's] barn was struck by lightning for the third time, he told Sarah about his broken promise to Madame Zeroni. "I'm worse than a pig thief," he said. "You should leave me and find someone who isn't cursed." (7.135)

    Okay, now Elya's really having it both ways: he doesn't believe in the curse, but when bad things happen to him, he blames it on the curse. Remind you of anyone else in the book?

    A lot of people don't believe in curses.

    A lot of people don't believe in yellow-spotted lizards either, but if one bites you, it doesn't make a difference whether you believe in it or not. (8.1-2)

    This one messes with our minds a little. Just think about it.

    "I should have just kept them," said Zero. "I'd already made it out of the shelter and everything. I ended up getting arrested the next day when I tried to walk out of a shoe store with a new pair of sneakers. If I had just kept those old smelly sneakers, then neither of us would be here right now." (41.27)

    Ah, the fickle finger of fate. Zero regrets giving up Clyde Livingston's sneakers, since it didn't help him stay out of trouble. But to the reader, Zero's decision to dump the shoes seems necessary and right, since it brought him and Stanley together to become friends. So sweet.

    [Stanley] remembered what Zero had said a few days before. If Zero had just kept those shoes, then neither of them would be here right now.

    As Stanley stared at the glittering night sky, he thought there was no place he would rather be. He was glad Zero put the shoes on the parked car. He was glad they fell from the overpass and hit him on the head.

    When the shoes first fell from the sky, he remembered thinking that destiny had struck him. Now, he thought so again. It was more than a coincidence. It had to be destiny. (42.26-28)

    Stanley often feels like the events of his life are being controlled by outside forces. But this is the first time (other than his very brief thoughts about "destiny's shoes" right before he gets arrested) that he sees the workings of fate as a good thing. What's different about his situation now that makes him want to see fate as a generous, beneficial force, instead of just something that holds him back?

    Stanley's mother insists that there never was a curse. She even doubts whether Stanley's great-great-grandfather really stole a pig. The reader might find it interesting, however, that Stanley's father invented his cure for foot odor the day after the great-great-grandson of Elya Yelnats carried the great-great-great-grandson of Madame Zeroni up the mountain. (50.1)

    Once again, the narrator is playing with us. This guy is a master of telling us something while also telling us the exact opposite at the same time, isn't he?

  • Justice and Judgment

    Stanley was not a bad kid. He was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. He'd just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. (3.8)

    At this early point in the book, the reader is already being clued in to the fact that the system of justice that sent Stanley to Camp Green Lake is, at least in this one instance, faulty. This is a great way for the book to build instant sympathy for Stanley with the reader. Does it also encourage us to distrust (or at least question) other sources of justice we might encounter in the story?

    "I want you to know, Stanley, that I respect you," Mr. Pendanski said. "I understand you've made some bad mistakes in your life. Otherwise you wouldn't be here. But everyone makes mistakes. You may have done some bad things, but that doesn't mean you're a bad kid."

    Stanley nodded. It seemed pointless to try and tell his counselor that he was innocent. He figured that everyone probably said that. (5.8-9)

    Unlike the mean Mr. Sir, Mr. Pendanski tries to be friendly with Stanley, and seems to want to see things from his point of view. But Stanley understands that despite what he says, Mr. Pendanski is starting from an assumption of his guilt. He straight-up believes in the justice system, and doesn't see any reason to question it.

    Because of the baseball schedule, Stanley's trial was delayed several months. His parents couldn't afford a lawyer.

    "You don't need a lawyer," his mother said. "Just tell the truth."

    Stanley told the truth, but perhaps it would have been better if he had lied a little. (6.34-36)

    Stanley's mom thinks that telling the truth is enough to achieve justice. If only. As we learn from what goes down at Camp Green Lake, justice is often more a matter of might than of right.

     "You're new here, right?" said X-Ray. "I've been here for almost a year, I've never found anything. You know, my eyesight's not so good" […]

    "I mean," X-Ray went on, "why should you get a day off when you've only been here for a couple of days? If anybody gets a day off, it should be me. That's only fair, right?" (11.7, 11)

    All the boys are at camp because of the way the larger society sees justice. But here, X-Ray presents his own version of what's just and what isn't. And instead of just enforcing his made-up law, he tries to convince Stanley (and maybe himself?) that it's the <em>right</em> thing to do.

    Because of the rain, there was nobody else out on the street. Even if there was, Katherine and Sam wouldn't have noticed. They were lost in their own world.

    At that moment, however, Hattie Parker stepped out of the general store. They didn't see her, but she saw them. She pointed her quivering finger in their direction and whispered, "God will punish you!" (25.45-46)

    Talk about ruining the moment. Right after the fateful kiss between Katherine and Sam, this Hattie Parker is offended by what she sees as sinful contact between a black man and a white woman. And what does she do? She threatens them with the punishment of a higher power. Like other characters in the book, she justifies her own point of view by deferring to some higher source of judgment – in this case, God.

    "It's against the law for a Negro to kiss a white woman."

    "Well, then you'll have to hang me, too," said Katherine. "Because I kissed him back."

    "It ain't against the law for you to kiss him," the sheriff explained. "Just for him to kiss you."

    "We're all equal under the eyes of God," she declared.

    The sheriff laughed. "Then if Sam and I are equal, why won't you kiss me?" He laughed again. "I'll make you a deal. One sweet kiss, and I won't hang your boyfriend. I'll just run him out of town."

    Miss Katherine jerked her hand free. As she hurried to the door, she heard the sheriff say, "The law will punish Sam. And God will punish you." (26.26-31)

    Katherine and the sheriff clearly have conflicting views of justice, but both of them appeal to a higher power to justify their views. Can you think of anything that might account for the differences in their ideas of what's right and wrong? And why does the sheriff say that the law will punish Sam, but Katherine's punishment will be left to God?

    These are the facts:

    The Walker boat smashed into Sam's boat. Sam was shot and killed in the water. Katherine Barlow was rescued against her wishes. When they returned to the shore, she saw Mary Lou's body lying on the ground. The donkey had been shot in the head.

    That all happened one hundred and ten years ago. Since then, not one drop of rain has fallen on Green Lake.

    You make the decision: Whom did God punish? (26.41-44)

    This is one of the few places in the book where the narrator addresses the reader in second-person voice (calling the reader "you"), and the only place where he directly asks the reader a question. Why do you think he does this? What is so important about this particular moment?

    "So you couldn't have stolen [the sneakers]," said Ms. Morengo [to Stanley].

    "He didn't. I did," said Zero.

    "You did what?" asked Ms. Morengo.

    "I stole the sneakers."

    The lawyer actually turned around while driving and looked at him. "I didn't hear that," she said. "And I advise you to make sure I don't hear it again." (49.21-25)

    This is a pretty funny adult moment. And of course, readers will mainly feel relief that Zero won't be punished for stealing Clyde Livingston's shoes. But does it tell us anything about how justice works? Is justice just a matter of being in the right place at the right time?

    A short while later both boys fell asleep. Behind them the sky had turned dark, and for the first time in over a hundred years, a drop of rain fell into the empty lake. (49.33)

    In all of <em>Holes, </em>the natural world seems to respond pretty directly to the justice (or lack thereof) in human society. Can you find other examples?

    The Attorney General closed Camp Green Lake. Ms. Walker, who was in desperate need of money, had to sell the land which had been in her family for generations. It was bought by a national organization dedicated to the well-being of young girls. In a few years, Camp Green Lake will become a Girl Scout camp. (50.2)

    It doesn't get much better than this, does it? This is such a satisfying moment, partly because it appeals to our sense of what is just.

  • Choices

    "Myra," said her father. "Elya and Igor have each offered a pig for your hand in marriage. It doesn't matter to me. A pig is a pig. So I will let you make the choice. Whom do you wish to marry?"

    Myra looked confused. "You want me to decide?"

    "That's right, my blossom," said her father.

    "Gee, I don't know," said Myra. "Which pig weighs more?"

    "They both weigh the same," said her father.

    "Golly," said Myra, "I guess I choose Elya – No, Igor. No, Elya. No. Igor. Oh, I know! I'll think of a number between one and ten. I'll marry whoever guesses the closest number. Okay, I'm ready." (7.93-98)

    This is a pretty silly example of someone having trouble making a choice. Besides the fact that it's funny, does this moment suggest anything else about what it means to make – or refuse to make – choices?

    "Well, let me tell you something, Caveman. You are here on account of one person. If it wasn't for that person, you wouldn't be here digging holes in the hot sun" […]

    "That person is you, Stanley. You're the reason you are here. You're responsible for yourself. You messed up your life." (12.35, 40)

    Not that we trust Mr. P, but his take on things is that Stanley's situation is all the result of poor choices. What do you think of this? Besides the fact that we know it's not true (Stanley didn't really steal the shoes, after all), do you think it's that simple? Does anyone make choices in a vacuum, without being affected by other people or society?

    His hole was waist deep. He dug his shovel into the dirt. As he dumped it out, he thought he saw something glisten as it fell onto the dirt pile. Whatever it was, it was quickly buried.

    Stanley stared at the pile a moment, unsure if he'd even seen it. Even if it was something, what good would it do him? He'd promised to give anything he found to X-Ray. It didn't seem worth the effort to climb out of his hole to check it out. (13.10-11)

    Talk about a lack of freedom. Faced with his own powerlessness in the face of the Warden and X-Ray, Stanley has few choices. Even the choices he does seem to have are restricted by others.

    Out on the lake, the other boys asked Stanley what he knew about Mr. Sir's face, but he just shrugged and dug his hole. If he didn't talk about it, maybe it would go away. (24.14)

    Throughout the first half of the book, Stanley typically reacts to conflict by avoiding it as best he can – often with his characteristic shrug.

    The side of Stanley's face was pressed flat against the dirt. He tried to protect himself, but Zigzag's fists slammed off his arms and pounded his face into the ground.

    All he could do was wait for it to be over. (30.75-76)

    As always, Stanley is as passive as a… passive kid. We know he is bigger than Zigzag, so he could fight back if he chose to. Why doesn't he? Do you see this as a strength or a weakness?

    Stanley angrily dug his shovel into the dirt. He was angry at everyone – Mr. Pendanski, the Warden, Zigzag, X-Ray, and his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather. But mostly he was angry at himself. (31.1)

    This passage opens the chapter right after Zero runs away from camp. Why is Stanley suddenly so angry? Have we seen him angry at any time before this in the book?

    He knew he never should have let Zero dig part of his hole for him. He still could have taught him to read. If Zero could dig all day and still have the strength to learn, then he should have been able to dig all day and still have the strength to teach.

    What he should do, he thought, was go out after Zero.

    But he didn't. (31.2-4)

    Why do you think Stanley is struggling so much with deciding whether to go after Zero? Certainly fear plays a role, but is there anything else going on?

    Stanley wondered if Mr. Sir had left the keys in the ignition. […]

    <em>It's too late</em>, he told himself. Zero couldn't have survived.

    <em>But what if it wasn't too late? </em>(32.20-21, 27)

    This is the first point in the book where we see Stanley taking the initiative and making a decision instead of waiting for the decision to be made for him. Why now?

    He lay on the dirt staring at the truck, which stuck lopsided into the ground. He sighed. He couldn't blame his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather this time. This time it was his own fault, one hundred percent. He had probably just done the stupidest thing he had ever done in his short and miserable life. (32.39)

    After trying to steal the water truck only to crash it into a hole, Stanley realizes he's done a stupid thing. But for maybe the first time in the book, he explicitly blames himself, instead of falling back on the curse. Is this the first time Stanley's really made a choice?

    It occurred to him that he couldn't remember the last time he felt happiness. It wasn't just being sent to Camp Green Lake that had made his life miserable. Before that he'd been unhappy at school, where he had no friends, and bullies like Derrick Dunne picked on him. No one liked him, and the truth was, he didn't especially like himself.

    He liked himself now. (42.20-21)

    Do you think Stanley likes himself now because he's finally taken some action and made some choices for himself? Or is it simply Zero's friendship that has made him feel this way? What do you think?

  • Power

    During the summer the daytime temperature hovers around ninety-five degrees in the shade – if you can find any shade. There's not much shade in a big dry lake.

    The only trees are two old oaks to the eastern edge of the "lake." A hammock is stretched between the two trees, and a log cabin stands behind that.

    The campers are forbidden to lie in the hammock. It belongs to the Warden. The Warden owns the shade. (1.3-5)

    Dun dun dun…the Warden. We know nothing about the Warden yet, except that he or she is clearly a very powerful person. And we can tell from the tone of this passage that the Warden sure doesn't use his or her power for good. This one definitely isn't going to end well.

    Back at school, a bully named Derrick Dunne used to torment Stanley. The teachers never took Stanley's complaints seriously, because Derrick was so much smaller than Stanley. Some teachers even seemed to find it amusing that a little kid like Derrick could pick on someone as big as Stanley. (6.22)

    Stanley may be <em>physically</em> powerful (or at least big), but this doesn't keep him from being bullied by other kids at school. Why do you think Derrick is able to push Stanley around?

    Stanley looked around the room. This was the one place in camp where the boys could enjoy themselves, and what'd they do? They wrecked it. The glass on the TV was smashed, as if someone had put his foot through it. Every table and chair seemed to be missing at least one leg. Everything leaned. (9.42)

    Food fight! Well, kind of – this is a bit more violent. Why do you think the boys at Camp Green Lake ruined the one place where they can relax? Does it make them feel more powerful? Do they have power or control over anything else in their lives?

    He slammed his blade into the ground, then dumped out another shovelful of dirt. It was a little surprising, he thought, that X-Ray was the leader of the group, since he obviously wasn't the biggest or the toughest. In fact, except for Zero, X-Ray was the smallest. Armpit was the biggest. Zigzag may have been taller than Armpit, but that was only because of his neck. Yet Armpit, and all the others, seemed to be willing to do whatever X-Ray asked of them.

    As Stanley dug up another shovelful of dirt, it occurred to him that Armpit wasn't the biggest. He, the Caveman, was bigger. (11.16-17)

    Like the bully at Stanley's school, X-Ray is not a physically powerful person, but he is still the unchallenged leader of D tent. What is the source of his power? What is it about him that makes him the leader? What would happen if the other boys revolted?

    [The Warden] gently shook the canteen, letting the water swish inside the plastic container. "Do you hear the empty spaces?" she asked.

    "Yes," said Mr. Pendanski.

    "Then fill it," she said. "And the next time I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it without questioning my authority. If it's too much trouble for you to fill a canteen, I'll give you a shovel." (14.39-41)

    The scary, scary Warden is the most powerful person at Camp Green Lake. Did we mention she's scary? Anyway, her power allows her not only to tell other people what to do, but also to completely control the conversation. Just imagine someone shushing you all the time and you'll know what we mean.

    Stanley put [the letter] in the big pocket of his pants.

    "Aren't you going to read it to us?" asked Armpit.

    "Give him some space," said X-Ray. "If Caveman doesn't want to read it to us, he doesn't have to. It's probably from his girlfriend."

    Stanley smiled. (16.26-29)

    This exchange conveniently takes place right after Stanley gives the lipstick tube to X-Ray, securing the bully a day off from digging; X-Ray is clearly feeling generous toward Stanley. Just as the Warden gives the boys more water when she thinks they're close to finding something valuable, X-ray uses his power to reward and encourage the people who do what he wants. Sneaky or brilliant? Or both?

    After digging all day, he didn't have the strength to try to teach Zero to read and write. He needed to save his energy for the people who counted. (18.21)

    Now that he's moving up in the world of D tent (thanks to his big lipstick tube find), Stanley doesn't want to waste his strength on someone less powerful than him. Why do you think Zero doesn't count to Stanley at this point? Who exactly are "the people who counted?"

    A rattlesnake lay coiled beneath his foot. Its tail was pointing upward, rattling.

    Stanley backed his leg away, then turned and ran.

    The rattlesnake didn't chase after him. It had rattled its tail to warn him to stay away.

    "Thanks for the warning," Stanley whispered as his heart pounded.

    The rattlesnake would be a lot more dangerous if it didn't have a rattle. (21.10-14)

    Let's take a quick step back: Stanley runs into this snake right after the whole nail-scratching episode with the Warden and Mr. Sir. Do you think the two encounters have anything to do with each other? The way Shmoop sees it, both of these moments show us how a lot of a person's power comes from the threat of what they might do, rather than the certainty of what they will do.

    "You thirsty, Caveman?" Mr. Sir asked.

    "Yes, Mr. Sir," Stanley said, handing his canteen to him.

    Mr. Sir opened the nozzle, and the water flowed out of the tank, but it did not go into Stanley's canteen. Instead, he held the canteen right next to the stream of water.

    Stanley watched the water splatter on the dirt, where it was quickly absorbed by the thirsty ground. (24.21-24)

    This seems extraordinarily mean and inhumane, to boot. Why is Mr. Sir punishing Stanley this way when Stanley isn't the one who scratched him? What does he gain by punishing this kid for something he had no control over?

    The lizard landed on Kate's bare ankle. Its sharp black teeth bit into her leg. Its white tongue lapped up the droplets of blood that leaked out of the wound.

    Kate smiled. There was nothing they could do to her anymore. "Start digging," she said.

    "Where is it?" Linda screeched.

    "Where'd you bury it?" Trout demanded.

    Kate Barlow died laughing. (28.42-46)

    Why is Kate laughing as she dies? Does being on the brink of death give her a power she hadn't had before? Do we see this moments-before-death power anywhere else in the book?

  • Transformation

    There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.

    There used to be a town of Green Lake as well. The town shriveled and dried up along with the lake, and the people who lived there. (1.1-2)

    Saddest opening to a book ever, don't you think? But one thing's for sure: we're already clued in to the fact that transformation is going to be a key concept. We're not told why or how the town of Green Lake changed so drastically, but we do know that something major went down here.

    If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.

    That was what some people thought. (2.3-4)

    What do you think it is about digging holes that "some people" think will turn a person from bad to good? Is this an assumption based in logic, or does it spring from some other source?

    "On the day of Myra's fifteenth birthday, you should carry the pig up the mountain for the last time. Then take it directly to Myra's father. It will be fatter than any of Igor's pigs. "

    "If it is that big and fat," asked Elya, "how will I be able to carry it up the mountain?"

    "The piglet is not too heavy for you now, is it?" asked Madame Zeroni.

    "Of course not," said Elya.

    "Do you think it will be too heavy for you tomorrow?"


    "Every day you will carry the pig up the mountain. It will get a little bigger, but you will get a little stronger." (7.49-55)

    We tend to think of transformation as a sudden, dramatic occurrence (e.g., holy moly, the frog turned into a prince!). But Madame Zeroni reminds Elya that it can be a slow process, too, requiring a lot of hard work and perseverance.

    Mr. Pendanski climbed back into the truck without filling Stanley's canteen. Stanley waited for him to drive away, then took another look at his hole. He knew it was nothing to be proud of, but he felt proud nonetheless. (7.159)

    After digging his first hole, Stanley is pretty content with himself. After all, it wasn't an easy task. Does this sense of satisfaction back up the idea that digging a hole in the hot sun is a transformative experience?

    After a while he'd lost track of the day of the week, and how many holes he'd dug. It all seemed like one big hole, and it would take a year and a half to dig it. He guessed he'd lost at least five pounds. He figured that in a year and a half he'd be either in great physical condition, or else dead. (13.3)

    Now we're starting to see a physical transformation in Stanley. So what's the relationship between physical and emotional transformation in <em>Holes</em>? Do they always go together? Is one more valuable than another?

    "You don't have to teach me to write," said Zero. "Just to read. I don't have anybody to write to."

    "Sorry," Stanley said again.

    His muscles and hands weren't the only parts of his body that had toughened over the past several weeks. His heart had hardened as well. (18.22-24)

    Oh, snap. The narrator really digs into Stanley here, even if it's pretty subtle. Already, Camp Green Lake has affected Stanley's character: our nice guy hero isn't willing to help someone who has nothing to give him in return. Can we blame Stanley for this? Or is he just adapting to the hardened ways of Camp Green Lake?

    Three days after Sam's death, Miss Katherine shot the sheriff while he was sitting in his chair drinking a cup of coffee. Then she carefully applied a fresh coat of red lipstick and gave him the kiss he had asked for.

    For the next twenty years Kissin' Kate Barlow was one of the most feared outlaws in all the West. (26.45-46)

    Talk about a transformation. "Miss Katherine" goes from a quiet, peach-preserving schoolteacher to wanted outlaw "Kissin' Kate" in the course of three sentences. Why doesn't the narrator give us more information about Miss Katherine's thought process here? Is it important?

    It occurred to him that he couldn't remember the last time he felt happiness. It wasn't just being sent to Camp Green Lake that had made his life miserable. Before that he'd been unhappy at school, where he had no friends, and bullies like Derrick Dunne picked on him. No one liked him, and the truth was, he didn't especially like himself.

    He liked himself now. (42.20-21)

    This is a pretty big statement. What's so different about Stanley that he now likes himself? Or is he essentially the same person, just with a new perspective?

    It would mean living the rest of his life as a fugitive. The police would always be after him. At least he could call his parents and tell them he was still alive. But he couldn't go visit them, in case the police were watching the apartment. Although, if everyone thought he was dead, they wouldn't bother to watch the apartment. He would have to somehow get a new identity. (42.32)

    Here, Stanley-the-almost-outlaw contemplates the possibility of becoming a fugitive from the law and having to "get a new identity." Shmoop thinks this is pretty ironic: in some ways, he already <em>has</em> a new identity after his experiences at Camp Green Lake. Do you agree?

    This is pretty much the end of the story. The reader probably still has some questions, but unfortunately, from here on in, the answers tend to be long and tedious. While Mrs. Bell, Stanley's former math teacher, might want to know the percent change in Stanley's weight, the reader probably cares more about the change in Stanley's character and self-confidence. But those changes are subtle and hard to measure. There is no simple answer. (50.3)

    The most important transformations, the narrator reminds us, are often the hardest to measure.

  • Family

    Everyone in his family had always liked the fact that "Stanley Yelnats" was spelled the same frontward and backward. So they kept naming their sons Stanley. Stanley was an only child, as was every other Stanley Yelnats before him.

    All of them had something else in common. Despite their awful luck, they always remained hopeful. As Stanley's father liked to say, "I learn from failure."

    But perhaps that was part of the curse as well. If Stanley and his father weren't always hopeful, then it wouldn't hurt so much every time their hopes were crushed. (3.21-23)

    Family is both a blessing and curse (literally!). Stanley is able to keep the hope alive because, well, it's in his genes. But the narrator suggests that maybe this hope isn't always the best way to stay happy. What do you think?

    "If it makes you feel better to call me Mom, Theodore, go ahead and call me Mom." (5.36)

    Why do the boys call Mr. Pendanski "Mom"? Is there something motherly about him? And one other thing: are they just making fun of this guy, or is there some comfort in thinking about D Tent as a kind of family?

    "What's in the box?" asked Squid.

    Stanley had forgotten he had brought it. "Uh, paper. I was going to write a letter to my mother."

    "Your mother?" laughed Squid.

    "She'll worry if I don't."

    Squid scowled. (9.37-41)

    Squid scowled. Awesome sentence, don't you think? But <em>why </em>does Squid scowl when he finds out that Stanley is writing to his mother? What does it tell us about Squid himself, and his relationship to his own family?

    Dear Mom and Dad,

    Camp is hard, but challenging. We've been running obstacle courses, and have to swim long distances on the lake. Tomorrow we learn […] to rock climb. I know that sounds scary, but don't worry.

    Stanley's a good kid. So why on earth is he lying to his parents?

    "You sure [Zero] has no family?" the Warden asked Mr. Pendanski.

    "He's a ward of the state," Mr. Pendanski told her. "He was living on the streets when he was arrested."

    "Is there anyone who might ask questions? Some social worker who took an interest in him?"

    "He had nobody," said Mr. Pendanski. "He was nobody." (31.33-36)

    In the world of Camp Green Lake, the only way to protect yourself is to have power. And, as we see throughout the course of the book, power seems to come from social relationships, right? So that means that <em>having</em> nobody amounts to <em>being</em> nobody. Double whammy.

    What scared Stanley the most about dying wasn't his actual death. He figured he could handle the pain. It wouldn't be much worse than what he felt now. In fact, maybe at the moment of his death he would be too weak to feel pain. Death would be a relief. What worried him the most was the thought of his parents not knowing what happened to him, not knowing whether he was dead or alive. He hated to imagine what it would be like for his mother and father, day after day, month after month, not knowing, living on false hope. For him, at least, it would be over. For his parents, the pain would never end. (36.39)

    Ever wonder why your mom is such a worrier? Well, that's what family does to you, especially as you grow up. We love our families and we want to protect them: that means we worry. So cut your mom some slack next time she reminds you to wear a coat.

    He wondered if the Warden would send out a search party to look for him. It didn't seem likely. She didn't send anyone to look for Zero. But no one cared about Zero. They simply destroyed his files.

    But Stanley had a family. She couldn't pretend he was never there. (36.40-41)

    Whew, this one really makes us appreciate our families. And then some.

    "Some kids had a birthday party," Zero said. "I guess it was about two weeks after my mother left. There was a picnic table next to the playscape and balloons were tied to it. The kids looked to be the same age as me. One girl said hi to me and asked me if I wanted to play. I wanted to, but I didn't. I knew I didn't belong at the party, even though it wasn't their playscape. There was this one mother who kept staring at me like I was some kind of monster. Then later a boy asked me if I wanted a piece of cake, but then that same mother told me, 'Go away!' and she told the kids to stay away from me, so I never got the piece of cake." (43.64)

    What's going on with the birthday-party mom here? Is she just a crotchety lady who's getting her mean on? Or is she trying to protect her children from what she sees as a danger?

    "She's going to ask a lot of questions," said Mr. Sir. "And this time she'll have the A.G. with her."

    "Let her ask her questions," said the Warden. "Just so long as I have the suitcase, I don't care what happens. Do you know how long…" Her voice trailed off, then started up again. "When I was little I'd watch my parents dig holes, every weekend and holiday. When I got bigger, I had to dig, too. Even on Christmas." (45.21-22)

    We know that the Warden is a descendent of Trout and Linda Walker, but this whole digging-on-Christmas thing is the only information we get about her family. Pretty awful, right? Family, for her, isn't a source of protection and love: it's a burden.

    "Will you do me a favor" asked Squid.

    "I guess," Stanley agreed, somewhat hesitantly.

    "I want you to – " He turned to Ms. Morengo. "Hey, lady, you have a pen and paper I can borrow?"

    She gave it to him, and Squid wrote down a phone number which he gave to Stanley. "Call my mom for me, okay? Tell her… Tell her I said I was sorry. Tell her <em>Alan</em> said he was sorry." (48.59-62)

    Shmoop broke out the tissues for this one. But wait a second: wasn't Squid the one who scowled at Stanley before when he was writing to his mother? And now he wants to contact his own mom. What does this tell us about how Squid may have changed from earlier in the book?

  • Man and the Natural World

    There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.

    There used to be a town of Green Lake as well. The town shriveled and dried up along with the lake, and the people who lived there. (1.1-2)

    Nature and humanity seem pretty connected in this book. From the very first line of the story, we see that when one changes, the other follows.

    The digging got easier after a while. The ground was hardest at the surface, where the sun had baked a crust about eight inches deep. Beneath that, the earth was looser. (7.19)

    Sure, this is just a simple description of the land. But let's dig deeper. (Yeah, we like that pun.) We can also read this as a hint of the "layered" quality of the natural world: what appears on the surface isn't always what's really underneath. Can you think of other instances of these kinds of "layers" in the world of the novel?

    There was a change in the weather.

    For the worse.

    The air became unbearably humid. Stanley was drenched in sweat. Beads of moisture ran down the handle of his shovel. It was almost as if the temperature had gotten so hot that the air itself was sweating. (29.1-3)

    This passage opens the second section of the book. Can you think of another approaching storm that's about to break out in the book's plot at this point?

    The storm moved off farther west, along with any hope of rain. But the image of the fist and thumb remained in Stanley's head. Although, instead of lightning flashing behind the thumb, in Stanley's mind, the lightning was coming out of the thumb, as if it were the thumb of God. (29.24)

    This is a pretty deep moment. For Stanley, the land itself is like the source of God's judgment. Do we see this attitude reflected anywhere else in the book?

    After a while he thought he could make out the shape of the mountains through the haze. At first he wasn't sure if this was another kind of mirage, but the farther he walked, the clearer they came into view. Almost straight ahead of him, he could see what looked like a fist, with its thumb sticking up.

    He didn't know how far away it was. Five miles? Fifty miles? One thing was certain. It was more than halfway.

    He kept walking toward it, although he didn't know why. He knew he'd have to turn around before he got there. But every time he looked at it, it seemed to encourage him, giving him the thumbs-up sign. (34.7-9)

    It looks like we forgot a character in our "Character Analyses" section: the landscape. Nature encourages Stanley when he most needs it; or at least, that's how Stanley interprets it.

    As they climbed higher, the patches of weeds grew thicker, and they had to be careful not to get their feet tangled in thorny vines. Stanley suddenly realized something. There hadn't been any weeds on the lake.

    "Weeds and bugs," he said. "There's got to be water around somewhere. We must be getting close." (37.20-21)

    As Stanley and Zero get farther up the mountain, the land becomes more fertile and full of life. Weeds and bugs are generally regarded as unpleasant, but, like the stinky onions, they are the messy expressions of lots of things going on underneath the surface. Compare this to the dry, shriveled landscape directly around Camp Green Lake, where everything generally remains the same. Pretty stark contrast, right?

    Stanley couldn't see his feet, which made it difficult to walk through the tangled patches of weeds and vines. He concentrated on one step at a time, carefully raising and setting down each foot. He thought only about each step, and not the impossible task that lay before him.

    Higher and higher he climbed. His strength came from somewhere deep inside himself and also seemed to come from the outside as well. After focusing on Big Thumb for so long, it was as if the rock had absorbed his energy and now acted like a kind of giant magnet pulling him toward it. (38.3-4)

    Almost like some kind of spiritual guide, Big Thumb and the land around it help Stanley do what he has to do and make it up the mountain. Thanks, Big Thumb. We owe you one.

    Stanley bit into an onion. It didn't burn his eyes or nose, and, in fact, he no longer noticed a particularly strong taste.

    He remembered when he had first carried Zero up the hill, how the air had smelled bitter. It was the smell of thousands of onions, growing and rotting and sprouting.

    Now he didn't smell a thing. (42.10-12)

    When he first encountered the onion field, all Stanley noticed was the bad smell and the strong taste. Living on the onions, though, has allowed him to see beyond the surface to the life-giving properties, the "growing and rotting and sprouting" that's going on all the time in nature. We're not planning on moving into an onion field anytime soon, but it does make us appreciate what's around us.

    His brain took him back to a time when he was very little, all bundled up in a snowsuit. He and his mother were walking, hand in hand, mitten in mitten, when they both slipped on some ice and fell and rolled down a snow-covered hillside. They ended up at the bottom of the hill. He remembered he almost cried, but instead he laughed. His mother laughed, too.

    He could feel the same light-headed feeling he felt then, dizzy from rolling down the hill. He felt the sharp coldness of the snow against his ear. He could see flecks of snow on his mother's bright and cheery face. (46.21-22)

    When he's at his ultimate low and thinks he's going to die, Stanley turns to memories of his mother. But check it out: the memory he chooses is one in which the natural world plays a strong part. So much of the intensity of the memory actually comes from the physical sensations of the natural world.

    A short while later both boys fell asleep. Behind them the sky had turned dark, and for the first time in over a hundred years, a drop of rain fell into the empty lake. (49.33)

    This is quite a moment. After we take a second to appreciate it, let's ask this question: if the lack of rain was the result of the moral crimes of the people of Green Lake, why does the rain fall again now? Does Stanley's friendship with Zero somehow redeem the town's crimes?