Study Guide

Holes Justice and Judgment

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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 N**** 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.

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