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.