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Problems of Children in Louis Sachar’s Book Holes

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    Louis Sachar has long been a great and deserved favorite among children. He is the author of more than twenty books. His novel Holes have been awarded with the Newbery Medal, The National Book Award and the Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Award. Sachar’s idea to write the book came from the time when he moved from San Francisco to Austin Texas. The scorching heat of Texas compelled him to write a tale about the suffering and misery that is caused by working in extremely hot and dry weather conditions.

    In the novel, Holes, Sachar deals with numerous issues that children face namely, obesity, bullying and racial discrimination. The story is told by an omniscient narrator that unfolds in four time zones (Alleva).Most of the scenes are described in the light of the protagonist Stanley’s thoughts and actions and the historical scenes are narrated like fables. The use of sarcasm and dark humor is evident throughout the novel. “The tale is a refutation of nihilism, a rallying cry of free will and a tribute to the power of expiation” (Alleva).

    There are three different stories in the novel beautifully woven together that are actually interrelated – the stories of how strange connections that life place ahead of us influence our destiny. The account is intricately woven, consisting of a medley of characters spread across generations, each with their diverse set of eccentricities that set them apart, but the main characters are Stanley Yelnats and Zero on whose ordeals the story centers.

    It all begins when the protagonist, Stanley Yelnats, is falsely accused of stealing a pair of valuable sneakers and is then sent to Camp Green Lake as his punishment. His arrest does not surprise him as he has been told that his family had once been plagued by a curse brought on by his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great grand father” (Sachar 5).

    Having never attended any summer camp, Stanley naively agrees going there but unfortunately, to his surprise, Camp Green Lake is not really a summer camp but a boy’s juvenile detention center, where the slogan is: “If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy” (Sachar 3). There is no lake but only a dried up, barren, lake bed. Together with the other boys there, Stanley is made to dig 5 feet deep holes.  It is not long before Stanley realizes that there is something more than just character building going on at the camp. The evil warden was actually frantic to unearth a lost treasure. So begins the adventurous tale, with varied and fascinating characters and exciting twist and turns at every turning point.

     Stanley is quite surprised to know that the holes they were digging were actually meant to find a lost treasure from the famous outlaw Kissin Kate Barlow, the very same outlaw who robbed his great great grand father. As the story develops, the readers come across another story of the curse laid upon Elya Yelnats by a gypsy named Madame Zeroni. The reason why Elya was cursed is because he forgets to fulfill his promise to carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain to drink “where the water runs uphill” (Sachar 28). As a result, Yelnats’ family has had bad luck ever since. The third narrative is about a heart-breaking love story of Kissin Barlow and her beloved Sam, the onion man. In the end, all details of the story uncover and become one orderly pattern of a solved puzzle.

    During Stanley’s stay at the Camp Green Lake, he meets an array of characters, from the unsympathetic Mr. Sir to the fearsome warden. He befriends a boy named Zero, who rarely speaks. Stanley struggles to survive the hardships and ultimately fulfils his destiny and breaks the family curse through his friendship with Zero. It turns out that Zero’s real name is Hector Zeroni, the great great grand son of Madame Zeroni and by carrying him up the mountain; Stanley fulfils the promise and successfully breaks the curse that had plagued previous generations.

    Stanley Yelnats starts off being very unlucky; he is very glum and depressed, but as the book progresses, he is seen to make some startling discoveries about himself and manages to overcome his fears, both created outside of him and the ones imposed upon him at the Green Lake. He grows stronger and emerges to be a confidant young man (“A literary analysis of Holes. (L.Sachar)”).

    The novel is a multi-layered, rich textual haze where a variety of themes abound. The impact of fate and history on every day life, friendship, racism, compassion for victims of social injustice and importance of sympathy, all find aplace in the pages. The most predominant theme that decides the future events throughout the novel is fate – the sway destiny has over our lives. From the moment “ destiny’s shoes” (Sachar 22) land on Stanley, the combination of events begin to fall in the right place at the right time, and it seems as if history has been manipulated by fate to bring Stanley and Zero together, to fulfill an age old promise.

    Another significant theme in the book is how friendship crosses barriers to thrive in unlikely places. Before coming to the camp Stanley does not have any friends, but at Camp Green Lake he forms a special relationship with Zero. It is only then that he starts to build his shaky self-esteem and understands the hierarchy that exists among the boys at the camp. Through Stanley and Zero, the author tries to show the readers the value of friendship and companionship, and, that children who are picked on and teased by others can also make friends and gain confidence if they believe in themselves (“A Literary Analysis of Holes (L.Sachar)”).

    Racism is also a noticeable theme in the book. It is clearly pointed out by Sachar when Sam and Katherine Barlow are punished due to their interracial relationship and when Zero is called Stanley’s “slave” by the boys when he digs half of his holes. Most of the children at the juvenile detention center were black which is again indicative of the racial discrimination. According to Sachar it is prejudice, violence and lack of love that made the Green Lake infertile and uninhabited forever (“A Literary Analysis of Holes. (L.Sachar)”).

    As the story unfurls, the readers gain compassion and sympathy for the characters through the skilfull manipulation of Sachar’s narrative. Stanley’s “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great great grand father” (Sachar 5) turns out to be an honest man, Kate Barlow who is introduced as a murderous outlaw was a loving school teacher. It is only after her murder that the once thriving Green Lake became waterless and unfruitful. Even a false impression of Stanley and Zero is created at the beginning of the book when they are introduced to the readers as bad boys.

    All this unraveling is done by Sachar to show that outward perceptions created by society can be false and handicap the members of the society against building mutual trust, tolerance and compassion – the basic building blocks of prospering societies. By marginalizing other members of the society simply because they are different in demeanor or life-choices can lead to building barriers that negate growth and peaceful co-existence.

    Sachar, through his novel, also takes the opportunity to shed light on the way the government chooses to ignore and neglect its people creating chaos, poverty, racism and violence. The way Zero is portrayed in the book refers to how the government deals with people who are illiterate and weak and when such a person tries to raise his voice against any injustices, his voice falls on deaf and unsympathetic ears. Sachar uses Zero’s plight to mirror the plights of countless others all across the world who cannot dig their way out of holes of poverty, racial prejudice and illiteracy.

    Through the book, it is Sachar’s intention to show how a society can handicap a person, throw him in the sidelines and thwart all sincere efforts for growth and betterment. The invisible hand of marginalization is successful at denting growth and destroying the potentials of many a sharp minds and many a gifted souls. The story of countless youth is mirrored in the story of Stanley who is fettered and whose life is almost destroyed for good by the flawed perceptions that the society has regarding him – namely a like-father-like-son-prejudice. By deciding his guilt based on the guilt of his great great grandfather, the society proves that even in the age of enlightenment, sons are persecuted for their fathers’ sins.

    Likewise, the meanness of the warden towards the boys is a typical example of a capitalist, as the way she exploits the boys to work for her, doing nothing herself. The delinquent juveniles actually represent the slaves who were treated unjustly in the olden days. Just like the slaves, the boys had to work hard for long hours in the burning heat and were not allowed to escape. The picture of the warden also refers to how unfairly the white man rules the country.Sacher throughout his book tries to inform people how American economy works presently – by keeping the masses monetarily crippled, they engage their services for far less than is their due. Furthermore, the harsh treatment towards the children at the camp also signifies how Americans hire immigrants for their own advantage who are not paid enough and thus are made to suffer (“A Literary Analysis of Holes. (L.Sachar)”).

    Sachar, through the course of the narrative asks, “You make the decision: whom did God punish?” (115). Here the narrator directly addresses the reader by  posing a question to prove his point that it is not fate that does what people say but what destiny dictates. One cannot control things in one’s life but strong will and right intention removes all obstacles, like in Stanley’s case, he was persevered and got rewarded by his will power and determination and by making a life-long friend.

    Louis Sachar has indeed written a masterpiece full of humor and insight. Celebrating the triumph of human spirit, Sachar strives to show how goodness can win at the end of the day. Holes is a story of friendship, kindness, strong will and determination, contrasting them with selfish motives of greedy people. Stanley and Zero’s friendship is proven as they survive together on “God’s Thumb” (Sachar 93) and together are successful in finding the hidden treasure and escaping.

     The moral of the story is that one cannot judge people without knowing them completely, because we can make huge mistakes by being hasty in our evaluation. It is only when a person connects with their inner self that they understand the true meaning of love and care. The holes in the dry lake refer to racist and violent attitude of the society that can only be filled with love and kindness towards other fellow beings. Bias and prejudice are a poison that eats away the roots of the society.

    Works Cited

    Sachar, Louis. Holes. New York: Yearling Books, 2000.

    Alleva, Richard. “Dig In: Holes and Raising Victor Vagas.” Commonweal June 20, 2003: 18.

    Brown, Chris. “Inspiring Chapter Opens in New Literacy Campaign; Book Price Halved in Drive to Get Everyone to Read.” Daily Post 8 Sept 2004: 5.

    “A Literary Analysis of Holes. (L. Sachar)” 20 Feb 2003. 28 Nov 2008.


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