The place of fate and free will in our lives is an ongoing question in Holes. Sachar has fun playing with the idea of destiny, but he never directly tells the reader what to think. Is the curse real? Does it actually determine what happens to Stanley and his family? Or is it just a funny idea that doesn't have much to do with Stanley's story? Different members of the Yelnats family seem to have different ideas about the curse and about how free they are to direct their own lives. Regardless of what they believe, though, the legacy of the past seems to hold sway over many of the book's characters. Sometimes for the better – but usually for the worse.
The curse is a cool literary device that makes the reader feel like things have worked out neatly at the end of the book. But beyond that, it really doesn't have much to do with the plot; the characters make their own decisions just as they would if there were no curse.
Through the course of the book, Stanley figures out that he isn't just a slave to his fate. By overcoming his sense of being controlled by the curse, he overcomes the curse itself.
Stanley Yelnats, our main squeeze in <em>Holes</em>, 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.
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.
Check out our discussion of "Fate and Free Will" for some thoughts about whether or not the choices of the characters in <em>Holes</em> even matter. Whether or not they matter, though, they're definitely made. Whom to marry, how to act, what to believe – most of our characters do some pretty decisive choice-making. Oh, except for our protagonist, Stanley: for most of the book, he's pretty content to let other people – more powerful people – make choices for him, while he just follows along and makes the best of things. He usually reacts to conflict passively, trying not to make waves or assert himself too much. Is Stanley's choice <em>not</em> to make choices a worthwhile one for him?
<em>Holes</em> is about Stanley learning to make choices for himself and not just letting other people – or circumstances – make those choices for him.
Stanley has no trouble making choices, it's just that his choices are limited by his situation; he doesn't have a lot to choose from.
Power definitely doesn't get a good rap in <em>Holes</em>. Most of the powerful people – the Warden and Mr. Pendanski, especially – abuse their power to no end. Even the boys at camp have their own little abusive power structure going on. And to top it all off, it all seems kind of random: why do <em>these </em>people have the power? And how do you survive in a world where power is so absolute? These are questions that Stanley grapples with. And now we'll ask you: do we ever get the answers?
X-Ray holds the boys together and keeps them going through all the tough times at Camp Green Lake. In exchange, he asks for a few understandable perks of leadership.
X-Ray is a bully who just happens to be the biggest bully in D Tent. He uses his power to exploit and control the other boys; he's really no better than the Warden.
Ch ch ch ch changes. It's pretty much inevitable that in a book about teenagers we'll see some major changes. We all know the growing-up drill, right? Well, in <em>Holes</em>, Stanley and the other boys are put in a pretty extreme environment that causes them to change even more quickly and drastically. And don't forget that transformations can take all forms in literature: emotional, physical, behavioral… the list goes on. All of these kinds of changes pop up in <em>Holes, </em>so keep your eye out as you read, and let us know what you find.
Dramatic transformations in the book are always caused by external forces, but gradual transformations always come from within. Deep, we know.
In Holes, the characters who change are the ones who survive; characters that can't adapt to changing circumstances are doomed to failure.
The kids in <em>Holes </em>are totally removed from their families, and for the most part, we don't really see them in the context of their lives at home. The environment at camp sure doesn't make for a feeling of family either. But the fact that family is <em>lacking </em>is a really important aspect to the story: sometimes what's missing is just as important as what's there. The boys, having been separated from their families at camp, are vulnerable to the power-hungry adults (and kids) around them. Zero, who hasn't had a family for quite a while, shows us how this vulnerability can happen anywhere – not just at Camp Green Lake. Bottom line: without family, life just isn't as cozy.
Stanley's relationship with his family is ultimately the best thing in his life. It's what keeps him going despite all the bad luck he has to endure because of the curse.
Friendship – particularly Stanley's friendship with Zero – is way more important than family in this book.
From the harsh, unforgiving landscape of Camp Green Lake, to the beautiful backdrop of Miss Katherine's town, to the stinky, life-saving meadow at the top of the mountain, the physical world of nature plays a big part in the story's events. Over and over in <em>Holes</em>, nature both reflects and comments on the moral and emotional state of the characters. Deep, right? But be careful: what people see in the natural world is just the surface; it's important, the book tells us, to look beyond surfaces. Life, as reflected in the natural world, is often messy and smelly, and what you see isn't always what you get.
In the world of <em>Holes</em>, nature is always deceiving on its surface: you can never trust appearances.
Sam and his onions are closely associated with the natural world. So when the townspeople murder Sam, this is kind of a rejection of the natural world. This is why nature abandons the town – i.e. it stops raining – in the aftermath of the murder.