Louis Sachar’s Holes Explained

Holes is a novel written by American author Louis Sachar that was first published in 1999. It received widespread acclaim from critics and was immediately embraced by the most discerning readers. The novel received a Newbery Medal in 1999 for being “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” and a United States National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 1998.

The plot revolves around Stanley Yelnats, a teen sent to Green Lake Camp for a crime he did not commit. In the camp, he encounters difficult situations, makes new friends and enemies, and undergoes a radical transformation of his character. Readers also learn about Stanley’s ancestors and the man responsible for all of their misfortune — “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather.”

Another plot revolves around the town of Green Lake (the place where Green Lake Camp is located). It contains some intriguing plot twists that help to tie the book together.

Are you ready to embark on a quest involving magic, a terrible curse, true love, vengeance, and…some digging? Grab a shovel and scroll down to see the list of characters.


Holes Characters


The novel’s protagonist is Stanley Yelnats. He is bullied at school, overweight, and dissatisfied with himself. Stanley’s family was allegedly cursed a long time ago, but he remains optimistic and has a kind heart despite this. When he arrives at Camp Green Lake, the other boys appear to pressure him to be rude and cruel to others, but he resists and sticks to his beliefs. He is a true friend, following Zero into the desert even though there is no water nearby. His perseverance and strength shine through as he climbs the mountain, dehydrated and exhausted. Even though Stanley appears soft and unconcerned, he is a brave and muscular young man who seeks the truth and cares for his loved ones.


Stanley meets Hector Zeroni, also known as Zero, at Camp Green Lake. He has an even harder time fitting in than Stanley. Other boys despise him, counselors label him “stupid,” and no one wants to be his friend. Regardless, he is an excellent digger who is always quiet and does an excellent job. He is very good at math, but he cannot read. He feels terrible about stealing Clyde Livingston’s shoes, which resulted in Stanley’s false conviction. He is embarrassed, but he is unable to tell Stanley that he was the reason Stanley was taken to this institution. Instead, Zero does nice things for Stanley, such as digging his hole when taken to the Warden. Zero’s patience with Camp Green Lake eventually wears thin, and he puts up a fight before fleeing. This episode demonstrates that Zero, despite his small stature and quiet demeanor, can stand up for himself, protect his interests, and punish those who constantly disparage him. The ability to smack a counselor in the face with a shovel requires an incredible amount of tenacity, which he possesses in abundance.


Madame Zeroni was Elya Yelnats’s friend who gave him a piglet to help him win the heaviest pig contest. She was a Gypsy (in reality, just an Egyptian) with exceptional knowledge and abilities. She was sympathetic to Elya’s problems, but she tried to remain realistic. She told him in a harsh but honest tone in speaking about Myra. She knew Elya adored Myra, but she wanted to show him that she was not the right person for him. Madame Zeroni was a practical and wise woman.

In exchange for Madame Zeroni’s assistance, she requested that he carry her up the mountain because she only had one leg and requested that he sing a song to her. When Elya failed, she cursed his entire family for the rest of eternity. In the book, she comes across as a strong and intelligent woman, even if her advice and requests appear ridiculous. She was righteous and desired that people keep their promises. Her curse seems to be cruel but just.


At Camp Green Lake, the Warden is the most influential decision-maker. She is a tall redhead woman dressed in cowboy boots and a cowboy hat. She appears to be extremely cruel and cold-hearted. She is unconcerned about boys, their well-being, or the inhumane conditions in which they work. She only cares about the treasure hidden at Camp Green Lake. When Stanley and Zero discover the prize, she is willing to risk their lives to obtain the suitcase.


Mr. Sir works as a supervisor at Camp Green Lake. He is rude and has a negative attitude toward all of the boys who come to the camp. When he has an altercation with Stanley, he brings him to the Warden, who scratches Mr. Sir with snake-venom nail polish. His face turns bright red and swollen. The Warden let Mr. Sir know that he is in charge of the boys and should not bother her with such issues. Instead of making sense of the situation, he becomes enraged with Stanley and refuses to provide him with water for three days in a row at the digging site. His actions are inhumane and absurd. He acts even more childishly than the adolescent boys he supervises. His favorite phrase is “this isn’t a Girl Scout camp,” which says a lot about his personality. He is strict, and he clarifies how difficult it is to be in Camp Green Lake under his supervision.


Miss Katherine/Kissin’ Kate Barlow worked as a teacher in Green Lake. She appears to be a lovely and kind young lady at first. She is strong and self-sufficient. She stands up to all the racial slurs directed at her loved one, Sam, and asks everyone to be kind to everyone, regardless of race. She refuses to give in and stands firm against Trout Walker’s rudeness. Her loved one’s death, Sam the Onion Man, transforms her into a murderous outlaw who robs and kills in cold blood. She evokes deep sorrow and regret because she exemplifies what a tragedy can do to a young and innocent soul.


Holes Summary

Elya Yelnats and His Pig

The writer jumps back in time to talk about Stanley’s great-great-grandfather, Elya, as he begins digging his hole, which is extremely difficult due to his heavy weight.


The action takes place in Latvia. Elya Yelnats, a young man, falls in love with a local beauty, Myra Menke. Her father wants her to marry Igor, a pig farmer who claims to have the world’s heaviest pig. Elya is desperate because he adores Myra and wishes to marry her. He seeks assistance from Madame Zeroni, a friend. She hands Elya a pig and tells him to carry the pig up the mountain every day. It will drink from a creek while Elya sings to it from a nearby hilltop.This will help his pig grow large and fat, just as Myra’s father desires. Elya is thrilled and grateful for her advice. In exchange, Madame Zeroni requests that he carry her up the same mountain and sing to her. Regardless of the unusual circumstances, Elya accepts them, grabs the pig, and diligently cares for it. However, when the time comes to weigh the pigs of the contestants, Elya realizes that Myra has forgotten about him and does not love him. He gets on a boat to America, heartbroken, and forgets about his promise to Madame Zeroni.

Since then, the Yelnats family has had nothing but bad luck. Stanley’s father is never a successful inventor, and Stanley is prosecuted due to a mere coincidence.


Meet Stanley Yelnats

Stanley Yelnats IV, a chubby shy teenager, is sent to Camp Green Lake at the story’s start. Charles Livingston’s sneakers were allegedly stolen from him, and he was suspected of stealing a pair of the shoes from the famed baseball star. Stanley claims to the court that he did not steal the shoes, but rather that they fell from the sky on him, but no one believes him. They give him the option of going to jail or Camp Green Lake. Stanley, who has never attended a camp before, does not hesitate and is eager to go.

When Stanley arrives, he is greatly disappointed. Camp Green Lake is not a traditional camp in the conventional sense; instead, it is a work camp where boys his age are forced to dig holes all day. If someone discovers something that the Warden might be interested in, they can rest for the rest of the day. However, no one knows the purpose of the digging or what they are looking for. Counsellors keep an eye on them and bring water to the digging site. Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski caution Stanley that there is no place to run because there isn’t a drop of water for 100 miles. They also tell him about the yellow-spotted lizards, which are dangerous creatures that can bite a person to death, and the holes are full of them. Perhaps jail was a better option after all.


Kate Barlow and the Onion Man

Another flashback in the story transports readers to Green Lake, Wisconsin, 110 years ago. At the beginning of this scenario, Kate Barlow is introduced as a sweet and gentle educator. She falls in love with Sam, an African-American man who sells onions and various home remedies, jams, and ointments made from onions. Kate and Sam fall in love, but their inter-racial relationship is frowned upon by nearly everyone in town. The town erupts in a riot, and Sam is killed in a racial clash. His assassin was Charles Walker, Kate’s admirer, who became enraged when she turned him down. Kate makes vengeance her mission, killing anyone who gets in her way and kissing them with her red lipstick afterward. Kissin’ Kate was born as a result of this.

She transforms into a murderous outlaw and lives for another 20 years. Charles Walker and his wife Linda apprehend her when she finally returns to Green Lake. They want to know where she hid all the treasure she found on her quests, but a yellow-spotted lizard bites her. Katherine instructs them to begin digging while she is dying. So, you guessed it; the Warden is looking for Kate’s treasure. The golden “KB” tube is just the beginning!


“Happy” Campers

Meanwhile, Stanley tries to fit in at Camp Green Lake. The conditions are harsh: limited water supplies, five-minute showers, two changes of clothes, and endless digging. Stanley greets all of the boys from his tent, including X-Ray, Squid, Magnet, Armpit, Zigzag, and Zero. X-Ray has been the most present. When Stanley finds a golden tube with the initials “KB,” he gives it to X-Ray so he can rest for the rest of the day. The Warden instructs the boys to dig deeper in the area where X-Ray allegedly discovered the tube. Stanley realizes the Warden is looking for something truly unique.

Zero, a short African American boy who digs the fastest, admits to Stanley that he cannot read. Stanley claims he has no idea how to teach and refuses to assist him. Meanwhile, Magnet steals a bag of sunflower seeds from Mr. Sir, who is constantly eating them during one of the digging shifts. While the boys pass the bag around and eat the seeds, Stanley drops the bag into his hole. He accepts responsibility and is brought before the Warden, who punishes Mr. Sir for disturbing her. When Stanley returns, he discovers that his hole has been completely dug. Zero took care of it for him. The two boys agree: Stanley will teach Zero to read in exchange for Zero helping Stanley drill holes.


The Last Hole

The boys decide to return to the camp and dig some more searching for Kate Barlow’s treasure. They dig at Stanley’s location, where they discovered the golden tube. They soon find the treasure chest and realize they’ve just dug their final hole. Mr. Sir, Mr. Pendanski, and the Warden arrive just as they are about to pull it out of the hole and ask them to hand over the suitcase. They are hesitant to take it by force because the boys are sitting in a hole covered in yellow-spotted lizards crawling all over them. They don’t bite the boys because they’ve only eaten water and onions, and onion juice has lizard-repelling properties.



Zero, fed up with bullying at camp, fights Mr. Pendanski and flees into the desert. Stanley steals Mr. Sir’s water truck and attempts to chase Zero down, but he crashes and flees. He searches for days and exhausts himself without finding a drop of water. He eventually finds Zero by a tall mountain, but he is tired and unable to walk. Stanley decides to go up the hill in search of water, bringing Zero with him. He steps into something muddy, where he eventually finds water and…onions!

The boys rest for a few days, drinking water and eating onions. They have a lot of private conversations. Zero eventually admits to stealing Charles Livingston’s shoes. His mother had abandoned him, and he lived in the orphanage where the shoes were to be auctioned. When Zero realized the shoes were valuable, he left them on the hood of a car, which is how Stanley discovered them.


Broken Curse

With the assistance of Stanley’s lawyer, Ms. Morengo, the boys can keep the suitcase and return home safely. Stanley discovers that his father invented a cure for wrong foot odor and becomes wealthy. The treasure was split between Stanley and Zero, whose real name is Hector Zeroni (yes, he is Madame Zeroni’s great-great-grandson). Stanley not only receives treasure, but he also breaks a family curse: “the great-great-great-grandson of Elya Yelnats carried the great-great-great-grandson of Madame Zeroni up the mountain.” Zero finds his mother, and all Zeronis and Yelnats throw a massive party generation later.


Holes Themes

Sachar’s narrative is interspersed with several distinct and ongoing themes. They cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • Madame Zeroni’s Fate — the Story of the Family Curse significantly impacts the Yelnats family. It affected all of their family’s generations until it was broken. However, it is still a fairy tale element that prompts a savvy reader to wonder whether the curse truly existed or if it was merely an excuse for the family’s failures.
  • Stanley is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and is punished. The reader is allowed to reconsider the modern criminal justice system and identify its flaws. Another aspect of justice that we see is in connection with Kissin’ Kate and her murders. Her loved one was murdered, and she attempts to seek justice in her way, eventually becoming a criminal.
  • Choices — Throughout the novel, characters face a variety of situations in which their decisions impact their lives. Elya Yelants chooses to travel to America, breaking his promise to Madame Zeroni. His decision impacts his life and the lives of future generations. Then Stanley decides to go after Zero, which has a lot of positive consequences for his family. The themes of choice and fate are contradictory in this story: do characters determine what will happen to them through their actions, or are they predetermined plans of fate?
  • Power — Throughout the story, many characters wield and abuse power. Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski have complete authority over the boys and their stay at Camp Green Lake. They even decide when they have water, which is essential for survival. When Mr. Sir disagrees with Stanley, he pours water on the ground rather than giving it to him. As a result, he shows him who is in charge, emphasizing that Stanley and the other kids are nothing compared to him.
  • Transformation — Throughout the story, Stanley undergoes numerous changes. He arrives at Green Lake Camp as an abused and bullied adolescent. Still, through a series of relationships with other boys, he gains confidence and eventually learns to stand up for himself. Katherine Barlow undergoes yet another dramatic transformation. She appears to be a sweet and caring schoolteacher at first. Later in life, she develops into a murderer who coldly murders anyone who gets in her way.



Throughout the book, there are numerous symbols, many of which have multiple meanings and connotations.

The first and most prominent are the holes themselves. Aside from being the title of the book, the holes are a constant in Stanley’s life, and they are involved in both literal and metaphorical symbolism. Holes in the book represent adversity and exhausting physical labor and hopelessness and monotony. Sometimes, holes have a positive impact, such as when Stanley and Zero discover treasure. In addition, as stated in the book’s conclusion, “Filling in the Holes” represents closure for the boys; Stanley broke his family curse, and Zero found his mother. They are whole again, having obtained what they had been missing in their lives.

Nature and weather play an essential role in the novel. At Camp Green Lake, the boys are placed in a harsh environment. The ground they dig in is as hard and challenging to dig in as their lives are. When Stanley and Zero flee the camp, they realize that Mr. Sir was correct and no water nearby. However, the closer they get to the mountains, the greener the landscape becomes. The mountain represents their liberation, personal freedom, and life advancement. The symbolism of nature can also be found in the other storyline, which takes place in Green Lake 110 years ago. After Sam the Onion Man is murdered, it never rains. In this way, the author illustrates, metaphorically, how the residents of Green Lake are punished for their cruelty, lack of morals, and racism.

Other, less critical symbols include:

  • Sam sells onions and represent protection, good health, and positivity.
  • Yellow-spotted lizards represent danger, death, and fear.
  • Water, which means hope and reward.

Stanley and Zero are attempting to find water to survive, and Elya Yelnats is supposed to accompany Madame Zeroni in search of water to protect his family from a terrible curse.

“Holes” is a fantastic book that combines mystery, fairy tales, and real-world social issues. Racism, fatalism, karma in action, kindness, true love, and faithful friendship are all seen through the eyes of teenage boys.