Title: HolesAuthor: Louis Sachar
First Published: 1998, Frances Foster Books
Reference version: 2000, Bloomsbury PublishingLength: 233 pages
"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."
Such is the reigning philosophy at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention facility where the story takes place. Camp Green Lake is no more than a barren desert where a lustrous lake used to lie. The desolate place was once a thriving little village where everything was nice and peaceful. Where superstitions and onions combined with proper medical treatment kept the population healthy.
Stanley was sent to Camp Green Lake after being falsely accused of stealing a valuable pair of sneakers that was donated to a homeless shelter. It was his usual bad luck that he had inherited from his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather. He was given two choices: either go to prison or be sent to Camp Green Lake. He chose to go to Camp Green Lake. The place where they teach boys character by digging holes five feet wide and five feet deep.
Stanley was a boy with very little self-esteem. He was bullied everyday at school by Derrick Dunn. Derrick Dunn picked on Stanley because he was overweight. The extra layers of fat did not help Stanley when he was digging holes out in the scorching sun.
When Stanley was sent to Camp Green Lake he was assigned to group D. His fellow roommates: Armpit, X-Ray, Magnet, Zigzag, Squid and Zero got along in a Lord of the Flies-style¤ “Strongest first and weakest last”. Stanley got along nicely with his new friends; He also got a new nickname…Caveman. One day while Stanley was digging another hole, he found a golden object with K.B carved in it. The leader of the gang X-Ray has told everyone to give anything they find to him because if someone found anything valuable they get the day off. Obviously he wanted a day off. When X-Ray delivered the item to the warden he got the day off while the rest had to work a double shift. They started to get suspicious. Maybe they were digging for a treasure.
One day before the boys went to bed, Zero confessed to Stanley that he was illiterate and it was his fault that Stanley was imprisoned. Stanley agreed to teach Zero on the terms that Zero digs his hole for one hour everyday. The others boys started to get jealous watching Stanley doing nothing. A fight broke out between Stanley and the other boys. Zero defended Stanley by knocking out Mr. Pendanski. Zero ran away into the perilous desert. The leaders deleted his files and cleared his existence from the archives making Zero a ghost that never existed. They pretended that they never had heard of him and didn’t send out a search party to rescue him. They left him to die. Stanley got very upset thinking that the situation was entirely his own fault. He decided to rescue Zero himself. His clumsy attempt ended disastrously after he drove the water-truck into a hole. The rescue attempt is drastically changed to be on foot. After running deep into the desert he found Zero concealing himself from the warm sun under an old wooden boat. Zero had found stacks of jars full of peach jam hidden in a hole underneath the ground. Zero and Stanley consumed the peach jam hastily. They decided to run away to the mountaintop that shimmered like a mirage in the distance. Stanley had heard of a sanctuary where his great grandfather had survived on in the desert. The place was called “Gods thumb”. The mountain they were headed towards looked just like a thumb. When they climbed the mountain, they found onions and water. For days, maybe even weeks, they survived on a diet consisting of only onions and water. They plotted a devious plan on how to find the treasure that was hidden underneath the lake. They returned to the camp. They dug out the treasure quietly in the dark but are caught red-handed just when they were about to complete the job. What they didn’t know was that they dug in a yellow-spotted-lizard-nest. The lizards swarmed around the two boys.
Just when all the lizards ran away Stanley’s father’s lawyer turned up in the nick of time. Ms. Moregano saved Zero, Stanley and the treasure that belonged to Stanley’s great-grandfather from the warden’s grip. Stanley returned home and found out that his great-grandfather’s suitcase was worth millions. He and Zero split the money and live happily ever after.
The book is told in the third person, which makes it hard to trace the origin of the characters. The only information you get is from the appearance of the characters and how they act. Dialogue plays an important part in the book. You begin to understand how the boys think by the way they talk to each other. Everyone except Stanley is a flat character. They don’t open their minds and they don’t develop through the book. They are shown in a black and white whilst Stanley, who is the main character in the book, is a character who’s full of body and richness. He character alters completely. He develops drastically during the book. This is shown by when Stanley explains things with an open mind. You can listen to how his mind thinks and the way you hear him reflect upon the situation of his life. He’s a full character because of his complicity and feelings. His character is made more human by his attitude evolving from experience. At the start of the book he is very insecure and discontented with himself. As the story moves along, his character changes into a confident boy who is satisfied with himself. Looking at Stanley’s development you can understand what a friend can mean to a person. When Stanley arrives at the Camp he makes a few friends. He learns how to trust and he becomes more confident. I think the origin of the character comes from the author’s desire for Stanley to become a character who develops from “zero to hero” through the story. He wants to show that children who got picked on and have low self-esteem can make friends as long as they get a new start.
Stanley’s closest companion in the book is Zero. Zero is an illiterate African American who has been homeless all his life. He’s intelligent and acts in a more mature way then the other boys. It seems that he has experienced life in a much tougher way then the others. Zero was sent to Camp Green Lake after stealing a pair of sneakers. He admits that he used to steal. He said that he only stole what he needed, nothing more than necessary. This is good picture of how the American government neglects young Afro Americans, leaving them to fend for themselves. Poverty is a big problem in the richest country in the world. Zero is just another victim who could be anybody. Zero is shown as a “nobody”. The name Zero and his tranquillity is a perfect picture of how the government easily ignores people like him and if a person like him revolts the event can easily be forgotten and covered up. This is shown when Zero hits Mr. Pendanski. His files are deleted and his memory on paper is forgotten. No one really understands people like Zero because they don’t talk to them. They don’t think about why they steal. As Ludvig Holdberg# said, “Everyone says that Jeppe drinks, but no one says why Jeppe drinks”. Indifference is the worst thing a human being can inflict on any other living being. Indifference has turned the world into a rotten place. Pollution, war, hate, poverty, famine etc. Stanley speaks to Zero and becomes friends with him. Stanley is a very understanding person and gets to know that it was Zero’s fault that Stanley was at Camp Green Lake. Stanley couldn’t blame Zero for his “misdeed”. This shows that Stanley is a type of hero like person. Making him a person who wants to listen and make a change. It is when you find your inner being that you understand what friendship and unity means. It is a message to the whole world. If we learn how to understand each other, then we learn how to be friends with each other. I think the author wants to tell the readers about the immigration to America. He wants everyone to understand that we are all human beings. Don’t lock yourselves behind doors. Open them to the world. Speak to your fellow human being and stop the prejudice.
The warden is the story’s bad guy. She is a very aggressive and stubborn woman. She loves power and loves exploiting it. I interpret the warden as a typical American capitalist because she has others work for her. Making them work hard while she sits and does nothing. She has totally forgotten that once a upon a time long ago her family had to work hard. She’s a cunning woman because she made a deal with the government*. Turning her place into a juvenile camp. She made young boys work instead of her. They earned nothing except food and a place to sleep. Delinquent juveniles are the outcasts of the American society. Just like the slaves were earlier on in American history. The delinquent juveniles never got to voice their opinions. The delinquent juveniles didn’t have any rights. The delinquent juveniles couldn’t escape. The delinquent juveniles worked heavy shifts. And when they found the treasure the warden was there to take it away from them. She had no right to take it from them. But she had the power. She had the gun. She had the vultures at her back. They were all waiting for a piece of the bounty. The brutal way of the gun is how the White Man conquered America. The GUN and MATERIALISM is why America suffers. It’s “kill and take” tactic is notorious across the globe. The Great War Machine that the Middle East fears. Lying at their borders waiting to grab at their oil. The resources of the Middle East resources belong to the inhabitants not the American people. America was once a British colony. Britain had exploited the country for years until the Americans revolted, expelling the British who were fighting an overseas war. Today America is doing what happened to them. They send funds to support the side they want to win wars. They have fought overseas battles again Vietnam and Iraq. You can also see the same pattern with Israel. The Israeli government keep Palestinians living in ghettos. The Israelis say that Palestinians are scum. The same thing has happened to the Jews all through history. But as soon as they can inflict pain against others they will do it. It is a natural way of the human mind in some ways. If a child gets picked on he might pick on others to get a better self-respect. A few understand that they are doing the same evil thing and stop inflicting pain to others. But some people are narrow minded and naïve. The evil circle still spins round and round. The warden comes from the Walker family. The family has been searching for Kate Barlow’s treasure for years. The family had dug holes for a century looking desperately for the hidden treasure. It seemed that they had to find the treasure no matter what the consequence. She hired delinquent juveniles to work for her: even though she was fully aware of the consequences and the risk of jeopardising the hunt. She neglected ethics in exchange of reaching her goal. This is a picture of how the American economy works by neglecting the workers and Mother Nature. American companies hire immigrants to work for them. They pay the immigrants very little and keep the benefits for themselves; exploiting them to the maximum. The American government has not signed neither of the Kyoto or Johannesburg contracts allowing American companies to use fewer resources to prevent pollution, making their merchandise cheaper on the market knocking out their competition. This has caused many problems between the European Union and the USA. Some American companies seek even more wealth, they will expand their companies across the globe**.
When Stanley tries to retrieve his family’s heritage from the desert, the warden steals it from him. The suitcase is marked with his name. This is a symbol of it belonging to him, a symbol of the money belonging to the people who worked for it, a symbol of that money belongs to the people not the very few who control the world. When the warden tries to snatch it back, Ms. Moregano stops her. Ms. Moregano appears to be an angel. She came out from nowhere saving the day. She helps Stanley retrieve the suitcase and takes him and Zero home. This is maybe a picture of a messiah that is to come, arriving from nowhere taking the power back to the people. When Stanley retrieves his suitcase it gives him an even stronger boost to his hero like character.
The conflict between the boys is like Lord Of The Flies¤. The most cunning boy leads the flock. This is a picture of how the anarchic system of the human mind that develops when civilization and childcare are not there. This is shown clearly when the boys queue for water.
X-Ray the leader of the gang stands first in the queue and the rest fallow while Stanley and Zero stand at the back. He shows his power truly when he forces the others to give him what they have found so that he can take the day off. The intrigues between the boys and jealousy are well portrayed when Stanley teaches Zero to read, while Zero helps Stanley to dig his hole. X-Ray doesn’t like that someone is having an easier time than him. To prove his leadership he starts a fight with Stanley.
The other conflict is Stanley’s conflict with himself. He couldn’t stand himself when he arrived at Camp Green Lake. Through the story he tries to change himself into…Caveman. He wants to be like the other boys. He wants to be ignorant, bossy and cool. But he changes into a very special caring person after experiencing friendship and trust. The book potrtrays this very well when he leaves camp to save Zero from the deadly desert. His personality changes like a butterfly springing out of its cocoon after concealing its beauty for too long. He turns out to become a satisfied nice happy cheerful boy who has completely changed after a tremendous adventure.
Water is a very noticeable symbol in the story. Water is one of the main things the body needs to survive. Without water you will die. Water was used as a type of blackmail. If you are bad then you don’t get water. So that meant that you were forced to work. Water is like money out in the desert. In the old days when slaves used to work at large farm plantations, the slaves had to work so they could get food. They were paid exactly enough to survive nothing more. This helped suppress the slaves and a way to keep control over them. The slaves in the old days never got any education. In the book the delinquent juveniles never went to school. And when the warden heard about someone teaching. They got punished. Just like in the old days. Slave labour is a little splinter in American history that will never be forgotten. At Camp Green Lake the boys were being exploited by having to dig holes 24-7 so that the warden could find her treasure. Building character wasn’t the real intension of Camp Green Lake. Slavery is still going on in the U.S.A. Many immigrants work on massive farms for hardly any pay. This means that the American economy is still based on “slave labour”. The Government says that immigrants contribute about $10 billion a year to the American Economy. This is a large sum. What about some of the cash landing in their hands? Not the greedy farm owner’s hand that is already filthy rich.
Racism is a theme in the book. The American people are very superstitious and afraid of the unknown. This is shown when the villagers of Green Lake relied on onions to cure illnesses and curses as much as the villagers relied on proper medical treatment. This is one of the main reasons why many Americans are prejudiced. Most of the delinquent juveniles were black. It shows that America still neglects the Afro Americans. Keeping them concealed in ghettos or as the government calls them “the projects”. Why are American prisons mostly filled up with Afro Americans and Hispanic when they are both a minority in America? The author also explains that the act of racism is what made Green Lake disappear. It shows that as long as racism still goes on, there will be no love, only hate and poverty. If the American people stop being prejudiced they might see the lake fill up with water and everything will become beautiful again…
The holes were the clearest symbol in the book. They showed the immense amount of work that had gone over a long period of time. The marks of the slave labour made by the warden’s search for the treasure. The holes were the marks that scared the desert land. The holes would never be forgotten. A symbol of American History referring to what I wrote earlier. The holes would always be there until the day the lake would fill up with water. Covering over the times of racism and slave labour.
Friendship is also a very important theme. Stanley is an insecure “loser” at the start of the book. After he makes friends he starts to build up his self-respect. Having a companion changes everything. Everybody needs someone. If you don’t have a friend you will not manage to survive. This is shown clearly in the book when Stanley saves Zero from the perilous desert.
The Title of the book fits straight into the plot. The never-ending digging of the holes is burnt into your mind like the sunrays that torture the desert landscape. The holes are what the story is about. The title fits the story perfectly. It doesn’t give away the plot and it still makes you think about: why are they digging, what is the warden looking for and will they ever stop the endless work…the answer lies in the holes.
My favourite paragraph
“Here’s a good rule about rattlesnakes and scorpions: If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you…Usually.
Being bitten by a scorpion or even a rattlesnake is not the worst thing that can happen to you. You won’t die…Usually.
Sometimes a camper will try to be bitten by a scorpion, or even a small rattlesnake. Then he will get to spend a day or two recovering in his tent, instead of having to dig a hole out on the lake. But you don’t want to be bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard. That’s the worst thing that can happen to you. You will die a slow painful death…Always.”
The book was fantastic!!! The book was perfectly written with its secrets lurking around every corner making every page exciting. The book was short and didn’t have any tediously long periods that could turn the reader into a Sleeping Beauty. The book was ingeniously written with a crumb of American history twisted with the modern times all crammed into one place and one book. There is no wonder that so many people have read THE book. I recommend this book from the bottom of my heart.