Stanley is the protagonist of this story, a shy, unpopular high school student. He is described early on as soft and pudgy, and a natural target for bullies at his Texas high school, notably a nasty boy named Derrick Dunne. At Camp Green Lake he finds it much easier to fit in, and within a couple days of arriving already has a nickname and a few friends. The physical labor at the camp - the endless digging of huge holes in the desert - is exhausting for him at first, but he has the mental resilience to push through, and eventually becomes physically stronger as well.
Stanley doesn’t often speak unless spoken to, and at the start of the novel he is usually content to let things happen around him without trying to affect them, even if it means being treated unfairly. The book details an account of how Derek, a boy half his size, picks on him without fear of retaliation, and when Stanley is incorrectly thought of as a thief at Camp Green Lake, he does not attempt to defend himself. It is worthwhile remembering that Stanley should not be at Camp Green Lake in the first place because he has not committed any crime. This reluctance to interfere with external events may be traced back to the family curse to which he and the other members of the Yelnats family attribute all their misfortunes. Stanley has developed a worldview in which he cannot really change his circumstances, since they are predetermined by the actions of his ancestors. However, this does not stay true for the whole novel, since eventually Stanley's bravery and perseverance lead him to discover the treasure and break the curse. At the end of the novel, Stanley is a self-confident young man who is clearly going places. Therefore Stanley's personal character development eventually cultivates in him the knowledge of his own worth and place in the world - he realizes in Chapter 42, with some surprise, that "he like[s] himself now" (186).
Stanley is an empathetic character: he is a loyal friend to Zero, and a caring son to his parents. He doesn't want to worry his parents, so in Chapter 9 he writes a letter home to his mother that is full of lies about all the fun he is having at Camp Green Lake. Later, he teaches Zero to read - he doesn't give up on the silent, strange boy, even when the rest of the world has. It is eventually his empathy and caring that will help him to break the curse - in the chapters set on God's Thumb, Stanley has developed so much compassion that we see him putting himself in Zero's shoes, and understanding why his friend might feel the way he does. It is notable that he does not intend to break the curse, but does so as the byproduct of helping out a friend whom he genuinely cares for.
Zero, or Hector Zeroni, is a serious, silent, mysterious boy who also lives in D tent. Zero is something of an "outcast among outcasts," as he fails to fit in with even the misfits that make up Camp Green Lake. Zero is very intelligent, despite the fact that he has never learned to read. He is also incredibly resilient - he has to be, when one takes into account the hardships he has gone through, and the amount of teasing and abuse he gets from Mr. Pendanski and his fellow campers.
Although Stanley doesn't pay Zero much attention at first - taking his cue from Mr. Pendanski and from the other boys, who tease and ignore Zero - Zero goes on to become Stanley’s closest friend. Only later does the strange connection between the two boys emerge: Zero is a direct descendant of Madame Zeroni (the clue lies in the similarity of the names), and by helping Zero, Stanley can atone for his great-great-grandfather's mistake, and undo the curse that Madame Zeroni placed on the descendants of the Yelnats family. Zero has a share in the novel's happy ending, as he receives half the treasure and is able to find and reunite with his mother.
The Warden is the main antagonist of Holes. She is a mysterious and shady character during the first half of the book. Indeed, we do not see her for several chapters, although she is mentioned on the first page and her authoritative presence looms over Camp Green Lake. The Warden is a quiet yet powerful leader, whose snake-like qualities are symbolized by her venomous fingernail polish. She doesn't care about the boys in her charge; in Chapter 47 she is more concerned with the treasure than whether Zero and Stanley live or die. She is clearly the most powerful figure at Camp Green Lake, and both Mr. Pendanski and Mr. Sir are frightened of the way she metes out punishment for infractions with brutal suddenness.
The Warden, like Zero and many of the other characters, is later revealed to have a strong connection to Stanley’s history. She is a descendant of Trout Walker, the man responsible for Sam's death and Kate Barlow's crimes. Her sole goal in life is to find the treasure which Kissin' Kate is said to have buried somewhere in the desert. In a way she is as unable to escape from her own family history just as the Yelnats are unable to escape from Madame Zeroni's curse. We learn that she spent her childhood digging holes, a detail which elicits some empathy in the reader - we are able to understand why she is so unhappy and so obsessed with the thought of finding the loot. The novel has a happy ending, and this villain gets her comeuppance, as she has to relinquish the treasure to Stanley and Zero, and sell the land that has been in her family for generations.
Mr. Sir, the second-in-command at Camp Green Lake, is a surly, cold man who goes great lengths to flex his power over his wards at the camp. This fact is underlined by his unusual name, which forces everyone who says it to doubly acknowledge his authority, and by his tough talk ("You're not in the Girl Scouts anymore"). Stanley is intimidated by him throughout the course of the story, not even daring to challenge him when Sir cuts off his water supply. We later see that despite Sir’s efforts to appear to be “Alpha Dog,” he, like everyone else at Camp Green Lake, is subservient to the Warden. The extent of his cruelty comes out toward the end of the novel, when he stands by with the Warden and Mr. Pendanski as Zero and Stanley face the lizards in the "last hole" - he does not seem to care if they live or die.
If Mr. Sir is a pseudo-leader, then Mr. Pendanski is certainly a pseudo-therapist. A rather scrawny and awkward individual, Pendanski claims to have respect for the campers and to have their best interests at heart. He certainly appears more approachable and friendly at the beginning of the book than does Mr. Sir, and they almost have a good-cop, bad-cop routine going on. Pendanski encourages Stanley through his first day of work, and helps him settle into the camp environment.
Pendanski's hypocrisy is soon manifested, however, in his interactions with Zero. Zero has no one to stick up for him, and as the smallest and quietest of the group, is the object of Pendanski’s ridicule. Pendanski also has several philosophies which don’t seem to fit the therapist image, including encouraging the campers to fight. In the same way that Mr. Sir is intimidated by the Warden, Pendanski appears to be lower in command than Mr. Sir - the power hierarchy in this novel is very clearly defined, and Mr. Pendanski is the lowest ranking of the adults in the camp.
X-Ray is the leader of the D tent, where Stanley is placed upon arrival at Camp Green Lake. He has authority over the others thanks to his seniority, as the text implies that he has been at Camp Green Lake the longest ("I've been here for almost a year," he tells Stanley in Chapter 11). X-Ray's position of leadership is clear within the group of boys, a fact which Stanley finds surprising, given that X-Ray is neither "the biggest [n]or the toughest" (53). Everyone is willing to do what he says. This is another example of how the power hierarchy within the camp works, not only among the adults who supervise the boys but also among the boys themselves.
X-Ray is motivated primarily by self-interest, and will manipulate those around him in order to claim what few perks exist at the camp (i.e., time off from digging holes). In Chapter 11, he tells Stanley that any "interesting" objects he finds in the desert should be handed over to X-Ray so that he can have the rest of the day off, and Stanley agrees because he is grateful to have the chance to get on X-Ray's good side. Nonetheless, Stanley does manage to stand up to X-Ray's attempts to shame him into not letting Zero dig part of his hole. Stanley and X-Ray never really see eye-to-eye, however, and X-Ray is the only one of the boys who does not come to wish Stanley and Zero goodbye when they are released from Camp Green Lake.
Elya is the protagonist's great-great-grandfather, who grew up in Latvia before coming to America. In the flashback of Chapter 7, Elya is an introspective and sensitive young man who prefers listening to the stories of his friend, old Madame Zeroni, to mud wrestling like the other boys of his village. He falls in love with a beautiful but shallow girl, and in order to convince her father to let him marry her, Elya asks Madame Zeroni for her help in securing a prize-winning pig that will outweigh his rival's. To this end, Madame Zeroni gifts him the runt of her sow's litter, and gives him instructions on how to carry the pig up a mountain and let it drink from a magical stream, thereby increasing the weight of the pig as well as Elya's own strength. In return, she asks that on the day after his betrothal, Elya return and carry her up the mountain, so that she can also drink from the stream.
Elya realizes how shallow his beloved is, and instead of marrying her, he leaves everything behind and boards a ship to America - forgetting to fulfill his promise and carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain. Crucially, Elya breaks his promise out of thoughtlessness and forgetfulness, rather than a mean-spirited nature. However, his actions, particularly his failure to keep his promise to Madame Zeroni, have far-reaching and tragic ramifications on his ancestors.
Madame Zeroni is a shrewd and mysterious old woman whom Elya Yelnats befriends in their native country, Latvia. Although she shows kindness to young Yelnats, she nonetheless curses him for neglecting to carry her up the mountain. It is later revealed that she is the distant relative of Hector Zeroni, or Zero.
Katherine "Kissin' Kate" Barlow
Katherine "Kissin’ Kate" Barlow is the legendary outlaw whose legacy, and whose treasure, provide an important background to Stanley's story, since her history intersects with his and his family's in several ways. For example, she robbed Stanley Yelnats II, leaving him stranded in the desert that would later become Camp Green Lake.
Katherine was originally the schoolteacher of Green Lake, a bright and vivacious young woman who fell in love with a black man, despite the disapproval and prejudice of many people in the town. After Sam was killed by Trout Walker, she killed the town sheriff and left Green Lake, assembling a gang and becoming a bank robber until she was tracked down by Trout and killed by a yellow-spotted lizard. Her love story is tragic, and helps us to forgive whatever murders she later commits: she does it for revenge and out of wild grief rather than greed or malice.
Louis Sachar has said in interviews that Kate Barlow is his favorite character in Holes.
Sam, an onion picker and an African American man, fell in love with Kate Barlow, the beautiful school teacher of Green Lake. He was a kind and caring man who treated everyone with respect, and it is easy to see why Kate Barlow fell in love with him, too. He sold onions for a living, and was a fixture of the community: everyone bought his lotions and tonics to cure a variety of illnesses. Kate and Sam's love was illicit, however, because they were of different races, and thus when their relationship was discovered, the townspeople, led by Trout Walker, assembled a mob to hang Sam. When he attempted to escape on his rowboat, he was shot. The memory of Sam's tragic death and the love they shared is what motivated Kate to go on her killing spree.
Trout Walker was Sam’s rival for Kate Barlow's affections; unlike Sam, however, Trout was the arrogant and stupid son of a wealthy land owner. While Sam had a very low social status in the town, Trout was local royalty due to his wealth and heritage. When Trout learned of Sam and Kate’s relationship, he murdered Sam, prompting Kate to become an outlaw. It is suggested in the novel that Trout was punished by God for Sam's death, since it stopped raining in Green Lake and the lake on which the Walker family wealth depended upon dried up. Trout was driven crazy with anger and the desire to take revenge on Kate - but in the end, she got the best of him, and robbed him of the chance to kill her. Instead, she was bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard.
It is revealed that the Warden ("Ms. Walker") is a descendant of Trout Walker - it is suggested, then, that some of his evil tendencies have been passed down to her. Trout left the treasure as an inheritance for his descendants, but it is more of a curse than a gift, since they waste their lives looking for a treasure that is eventually found and claimed by Stanley Yelnats.
Stanley Yelnats III
Stanley Yelnats III is the father of the Stanley Yelnats who goes to Camp Green Lake and breaks the Yelnats family curse. He is a smart man and an excellent inventor, but because of his inherited misfortune, he can never catch a break, and so his family lives on rather meager means. They cannot afford to pay for a lawyer when Stanley IV is arrested for stealing the famous sneakers. At the end of the novel, when the curse is broken, Stanley Yelnats III is finally able to successfully market his invention of Sploosh, a cure for foot odor, and receive the wealth that he deserves.
Holes Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Holes is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
A tall woman with red hair stepped out of the passenger side. She looked even taller than she was, since Stanley was down in his hole. She wore a black cowboy hat and black cowboy boots which were studded with turquoise stones. The...