Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
The Power of Fate to Determine Events
Although Stanley always believes that he is unlucky and in the wrong place at the wrong time, the events in the book seem to be the result of fate's reunification of members of the Yelnats and Zeroni families for the mutual benefit of both parties. Each coincidence in the book, including the shoes that Hector stole flying off the hood of a parked car and hitting Stanley on the head, is so unpredictable and unlikely that it appears fate is the determining factor in these characters' lives.
The Benefits of Friendship
The benefits of forming solid friendships are clearly shown in Holes. Stanley and Zero's friendship lead to their mutual survival and wealth. Even though he is still facing adversity, once Stanley is secure in Zero's friendship he feels happier than he has ever felt in his life. False friends who are only friendly when they are getting something they want, like X-Ray, are shown to be dangerous. Once X-Ray stops getting benefits out of his friendship with Stanley, he becomes hostile towards him.
The Destructive Nature of Cruelty
Cruelty abounds at Camp Green Lake, and its destructive results are frequently illustrated. The cruelty that Sam and Kate face in the town of Green Lake pushed Kate to become cruel herself and kill and rob people. When the Warden is cruel to Mr. Sir, he reacts by punishing Stanley. When Zero, normally a calm boy, is pushed past his limit by Mr. Pendanski's taunting, he reacts with violence, slamming his shovel into Mr. Pendanski's face. Cruelty is something that one person can cause in another and a cycle of violence and cruelty is shown to pass through many decades and several generations at Green Lake.
The Importance of History in Everyday Life
Three stories from separate times in history are combined in Holes to create one story and to create a theme of the importance of history. The narrator is given information from all three stories but Stanley and Zero only know the history that has been passed down to them through stories and song. Stanley and Zero are able to discover that they know that same song, but they do not know where the song came from so they are unable to discover that their ancestors came from the same town in Latvia. The history of Stanley's great- grandfather and his survival on "God's thumb" has been passed down to Stanley and this allows him to formulate a plan for survival when he and Zero run away from the camp. Stanley and Zero would have been further aided by knowing the exact history of Kate and Sam. If they had, then they would have known that the yellow-spotted lizards would not bite them because of all the onions they had eaten.
In Holes, the characters' physical environment acts as a metaphor for their emotional states. Camp Green Lake is dry, hard, and hot. It is a physically unpleasant place to be and the people who live there lead unpleasant lives. The counselors are cruel and the boys are tough and often unfriendly. The mountain that Stanley and his great-grandfather call God's thumb, however, is lush and green. While Stanley is there he is free of outside threats and he is very happy.
How things or people are named is important in Holes. People's names present one view of them when, in fact, their real personality might be very different. The name Kissin' Kate Barlow, for instance, brings to mind a dangerous outlaw while the name Miss Katherine suggests a mild mannered school teacher. The two names (and the two personalities) belong to the same person but the way in which she is perceived depends very heavily on what name she is given. Similarly, the nicknames that the boys give themselves at Camp Green Lake represent a separation of their life at home from their life at the camp. Stanley is known as a mild-mannered boy who is easily picked on at home but his name at camp, Caveman, suggests a fierce and strong boy who might be able to scare others. While Stanley does, in fact, become stronger and at points a little bit meaner while at Camp Green Lake, overall he keeps his genial personality from home.
Onions symbolize a positive and healing factor in the novel. Sam, a character of good will and intelligence, loves onions and helps to cure sick people with the onion remedies that he makes. The onions allow Stanley and Zero to regain their health and rest before attempting to break free of the oppression of Camp Green Lake. The onions also help Stanley and Zero avoid bites from the deadly yellow- spotted lizards that frequent Camp Green Lake.
Yellow-spotted lizards represent the deadly aspects of Camp Green Lake. They invaded the area after the life-giving lake dried up and they present a deadly threat to all humans at the camp. It was a yellow-spotted lizard that killed Kate Barlow and it is yellow-spotted lizards that threaten Stanley and Zero while they are digging for Stanley's great-grandfather's suitcase. The reason Stanley and Zero survive is because they have eaten so many onions (a positive and life-affirming symbol) that the lizards, who do not like onion blood, do not wish to bite them.
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