That person is you, Stanley. You’re the reason you are here. You’re responsible for yourself. You messed up your life, and it’s up to you to fix it. No one else is going to do it for you—for any of you.

After a day of digging holes at Camp Green Lake, Mr. Pendanski holds a group session asking the boys what they want to do with their lives. Mr. Pendanski’s words highlight the theme of choices: He informs the boys that only they can change their lives by taking responsibility for their mistakes. Such an idea contradicts the Yelnats’s belief in fate, that bad things happen to them because of someone else’s actions. Mr. Pendanski’s statement also represents a paradox in that Camp Green Lake does not allow the boys any choices. The rules require them to do exactly the same thing every day. They have no control over their lives.

Whatever he did, he knew he’d have to do it quickly, before Mr. Sir noticed. It’s too late, he told himself. Zero couldn’t have survived. But what if it wasn’t too late? He took another deep breath. Think about this, he told himself, but there wasn’t time to think. He flung open the door to the truck and climbed quickly inside.

Stanley struggles internally with a moral dilemma. He can choose to go after Zero, who has just fled the camp. Or he can play things safe, stay at Camp Green Lake, and ignore the fact his friend may die. In this scene, Stanley finally accepts that he has choices and can take action in his life. Here, Stanley chooses his friendship with Zero by stealing the water truck and making a break for it across the desert. This choice not only saves Zero but, consequently, saves Stanley too as he realizes his strength of character.

Even if he could somehow climb Big Thumb, he knew he wouldn’t find water . . . Still, he continued toward it. If nothing else, he wanted to at least reach the Thumb. He never made it. His feet slipped out from under him . . . As he lay face down in the muddy ditch, he didn’t know if he’d ever get up again . . . Had he come all this way just to . . . You need water to make mud!

Stanley carries Zero up the mountain to reach Big Thumb, finding new reserves of strength. However, after he collapses from exhaustion, he feels tempted to give up despite making it this far. While reflecting on this harsh truth, Stanley realizes that the presence of mud indicates the presence of water. Stanley’s decision to carry Zero and to continue on toward Big Thumb, even in the face of despair, displays the theme of choices in the novel. Facing this adversity gives Stanley a reason to discover the power of his free will.