Chapter 17

The boys continue to dig in the spot that the Warden believes contained the gold tube. After a week and a half she grows impatient and when Armpit returns from the bathroom one day she jabs at him with a pitchfork, knocking him into a hole and leaving spots of blood on his shirt. The Warden then tells Mr. Pendanski that he is giving the boys too much water. As they continue to dig Zigzag knocks Stanley in the head with a shovel, cutting a gash near his ear. Mr. Sir makes him a bandage out of a sack of sunflower seeds and tells him to get back to work. Zigzag is not apologetic, in fact, he even makes Stanley dig out the dirt that had been on Stanley's shovel when he was hit.

Chapter 18

The next day the boys begin to dig in another section of the dried up lake. Stanley is stronger now and finishes his holes faster. When he returns to camp he writes a letter to his mother in his tent so that the other boys won't see him. Again, he finds Zero looking over his shoulder. Zero reveals that he doesn't know how to read or write and asks Stanley to teach him. Stanley says that he can't.

Chapter 19

One night Stanley wakes to hear Squid crying. The next morning Stanley asks Squid if he's okay and Squid reacts with anger, threatening to break Stanley's jaw if he opens his mouth again. Stanley doesn't talk to the other boys very much because he is afraid of making them angry. He is glad that there are no racial problems between them; even though Stanley, Squid, and Zigzag are white and X-Ray, Zero and Armpit are black, and Magnet is Hispanic, they are all the same color of dirt while they are digging. One day after Mr. Sir fills their canteens, Magnet steals his bag of sunflower seeds. When Magnet throws the bag to Stanley, the seeds drop into Stanley's hole and spill. Mr. Sir's truck returns and he catches Stanley with the bag of seeds. Stanley is again in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mr. Sir asks Stanley who stole them and Stanley takes the blame. Then Mr. Sir takes Stanley to the Warden.


These chapters demonstrate some of the most dramatic changes in Stanley's character. Stanley has toughened physically from digging holes every day. Those that he is surrounded by have forced him to change his character as well. The Warden displays new levels of cruelty in these chapters. Simply because the boys have not dug up what she is looking for she physically harms Armpit. Just as X- Ray's informal system of authority mirrors that of the Warden's, so the cruelty of the boys mirrors that of their counselors. This is demonstrated by the fact that Zigzag seems not to care when he seriously hurts Stanley with his shovel and Mr. Sir barely takes a few minutes to bandage Stanley up. All the cruelty surrounding Stanley effects him and he is mean to Zero even after he finds out that Zero cannot read. Although Stanley was previously surprised when he discovered that Zero had never even heard of Sesame Street, he does not question why this is the case, nor does he wonder why Zero cannot read. Stanley has learned that he must be wary of others and take care of himself, and this sometimes requires being mean to others. A more positive change that Stanley has undergone is a heightened sense of bravery. Even though Stanley did not steal the sunflower seeds he bravely says that he did. There are several motivations that Stanley might have for doing this. He might take the blame simply because he knows the other boys will not admit that they stole the seeds, but it is also possible that he accepts responsibility in order to spare the other boys. Either way, he knows he will face the Warden and although this is a terrifying thought, Stanley remains brave while he faces Mr. Sir.

Read more about the theme of cruelty and its consequences.