Holes Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the importance of narrative chronology in Holes?

    While the present-day narrative has a relatively straightforward and linear chronology, this forward-marching story is broken up by other stories: in particular, Green Lake at the turn of the century and 19th-century Lithuania. Both of these interwoven narratives are crucial to the understanding of the present, and the chronology of the récit - not the order of the events themselves, but the order in which they are told to readers - is manipulated by the narrator in order to give insight on various present-day events, either before they happen or after they occur. One example of learning about the present from a flashback is when readers learn of the story of how Stanley's family became cursed, in Chapter 7. This is the backdrop against which readers can evaluate future events of the novel, e.g. when Stanley carries Zero up God's Thumb and breaks the curse. An example of how a flashback is placed after an event to explain it is when readers see Sam advising the men of Green Lake that eating onions will ward off yellow-spotted lizards. This explains retroactively how Stanley and Zero managed to survive in the treasure-chest hole.

  2. 2

    How does Sachar emphasize the importance of our decisions, and the effects they can have on the future?

    It is supposed in Holes that the misfortunes of Stanley’s family relate to a simple error made by a distant relative. Holes hinges to a large degree on ancestry, and readers are reminded over and over again that actions of people in history - particularly in one's own family history - have a definite and lasting effect on generations to come. Several separate storylines occur simultaneously within Holes, in different places and times, converging on each other at specific intervals. Elya’s neglect to keep his promise in a sense condemns his family. Conversely, Stanley’s decision to both befriend Zero and save his life result in part in the redemption of the Yelnats family. Sachar emphasizes the importance of individual decisions by pointing out their consequences in not only one's own life, but potentially the lives of one's descendants.

  3. 3

    How does Sachar’s emphasis on ancestry make a satisfying resolution possible?

    Due to the continuous reminder that Stanley’s misfortune is passed down to him from his great-great grandfather, it is plausible to the reader that Stanley could in fact rectify the wrong by making good on the promise his relative made. The reader sees the situation as a two way street: if the failure to keep the promise resulted in calamity, the redemption of the promise should result in salvation.

  4. 4

    What role does the setting play in the novel?

    The settings of Green Lake and Camp Green Lake occupy the same physical location at different points in time but are very different places. The flashbacks to Green Lake link the past narrative with the present narrative, underlining the central importance of the past on the events of the present. The characters of Stanley and the Warden are shaped by the experiences of their ancestors in the area decades before (Stanley Yelnats I was robbed by Kate Barlow, and Trout Walker owned the whole lake). The danger inherent in the harsh desert landscape helps create tension and suspense in the novel, as the readers wonder whether Stanley and Zero will be able to survive once they run away from camp. The landscape also contributes to Stanley's character development, as he becomes tougher and more resilient, and his bond with Zero is strengthened.

  5. 5

    In what ways does Sachar use fairy tales and folklore in Holes?

    Most readers of Holes will have a shared pool of knowledge about fairy tales, and by pulling on certain tropes - like the family curse, the magical potion of "Sploosh," or Stanley as the naive hero with a heart of gold - Sachar makes his story immediately accessible and appealing to his readers. Readers understand the characters and their roles, and they can anticipate parts of the story: e.g. it will have a happy ending, and the curse will somehow be broken. The fairy tale elements of the story allow Louis Sachar to bring the novel to a satisfying, if not entirely realistic, conclusion because the misfortune of the Yelnats can be solved by Stanley carrying Zero up the mountain and breaking the curse. (Real life doesn't quite work this way; the coincidences, if there is no curse, are too good to be true.) Furthermore, the fairy tale aspect of the story creates an aura of mystery and magic in the novel, and feeds into the frequently whimsical tone of the narration.