Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Physical Environment

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.

The Lullaby

Passed on through generations of both the Yelnats and Zeroni families, the melancholy lullaby speaks of a woodpecker and wolf who are hungry, lonely, and struggling to survive. Although some lyrics have changed or been mistranslated over time, the sentiment remains the same: every generation wishes life could be easier. Additionally, the lullaby is yet another element that thematically connects the many generations of people whose stories unfold throughout Holes. In a novel where the past is so intricately tied with the present, the lullaby represents the shared journeys and struggles of humanity across many different eras. Throughout most of the book, the song reflects the somber circumstances of numerous characters who have been mistreated or have faced terrible obstacles. However, at the very end of Holes, Zero’s mother introduces a new version of the lullaby – one that centers on a parent’s love for their child. This more hopeful iteration shows that the intergenerational curse has finally been broken.