Exploring "Holes" by Louis Sachar

Hausarbeit, 2019
25 Seiten, Note: 1,0
Peter Ru (Autor)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Analyzing Holes
2.1 Plot
2.2 Setting
2.3 Characters
2.4 Stylistic Devices

3. Teaching Holes
3.1 Preliminary Considerations
3.2 Pre-Reading Stage
3.3 While-Reading Stage
3.4 Post-Reading Stage
3.5 Detailed Description of a Task - Acting Out a Hypothetical Scene

4. Conclusion

5. List of References

6. Appendix

1. Introduction

“I’m Jeff and I hate reading.” (Wilhelm, 2008, p. 2) This statement illustrates the problem teachers are faced with when teaching novels. When it comes to reading, students seem to be reluctant and not motivated to engage in a novel for a longer time. Many pupils do not enjoy reading and do not read in their leisure time (Henseler, Surkamp, 2007, p. 2). Therefore, one has to choose a novel carefully. If the novel does not appeal to the students, then there is no reason to teach it. In this term paper the novel Holes by Louis Sachar (Sachar, 2000) was chosen due to its topics and its learning potential.

Holes tells the story of a young adult named Stanley who is sent to a bootcamp in the desert and has to dig holes as a punishment for a crime he did not commit. The book is about friendship, justice, racism and about revenge and love. All these themes are connected and intertwined by a superior curse that decides on the fates of the characters.

Louis Sachar, born in 1954, is an author for children’s books and he wrote several novels. His book Holes, published in 1998, received many awards including the National Book Award, which is a prestigious book price in the USA. Stanley Yelnats’ Survival Guide to Camp Green Lake (2003) and Small Steps (2006) are sequels to the novel. (Frenken, Lutz and Prischtt, 2017, p. 6)

As mentioned earlier, the selection of a novel is a crucial step in teaching a novel. In order to assess the reading potential of Holes, the selection criteria by Mechthild Hesse will be used for this evaluation (Hesse, 2009, pp. 12-13).

The first selection criterion is that students should be able to understand the text (Hesse, 2009, p. 12). Holes is in general not difficult to read and does not use too many unknown words for 10th graders. But to ensure that the students can comprehend the novel, the annotated version of Holes should be used.

Furthermore, the story should be believable or imaginable (Hesse, 2009, p. 13). As Holes presents mysterious elements, namely the curse, students might find it hard to get involved with the story.

Next, Hesse invokes the ability of students to relate to the characters (Hesse, 2009, p. 13). With Holes, there might be a problem for girls to relate to the characters, as there are few female characters. However, as these few are depicted as strong personalities, identification with them might be possible. Hesse claims that “special attention has to be directed at boys’ reading” because they tend to be more reluctant to reading than girls (Hesse, 2009, p. 13). As a consequence, Holes in this regard is a good selection as it is more appealing to boys’ reading preferences.

Hesse’s next selection criterion focuses on whether the text is interesting, exciting, thrilling or funny (Hesse, 2009, p. 13). Holes is an exciting and thrilling story that has its funny moments. The scene in which Stanley and Zero escape from the camp and try to survive in the desert is really gripping and the readers want to know how the story continues.

With reference to the visualization of the events (Hesse, 2009, p. 13), Holes is rather difficult to visualize because of the non-linear progression of the plot. Nevertheless, the film Holes might be suitable to support students visualizing the events.

Regarding Intercultural Communicative Competence (ICC) (Hesse, 2009, p. 13), the novel does not present obvious cultural differences. However, students might discover distinctions such as a different legal system, which they can compare to the German law, or they are confronted with the history of racism in the USA.

In terms of relatable human relationships (Hesse, 2009, p. 13), the students are facing the friendship of Stanley and Zero and thus can identify themselves with the protagonist, as friendship is a very important and sensitive topic in this age.

Also, the students can “compare and contrast their own lives with the lives of the young protagonist they encounter in the text” (Hesse, 2009, p. 13). Stanley suffers from injustice, misfortune and even torture. Because of that, the students easily can contrast their lives with the life of Stanley.

At last Hesse asks about student-centered tasks (Hesse, 2009, p. 13). This book presents so many important topics and problems that students can easily engage themselves with the novel by working on student-centered tasks.

In a first step, the key features of the book, namely the plot, the setting, the characters and the stylistic devices of Louis Sachar’s Holes, is described and analyzed. In the second section of the main part, the teaching ideas for Holes are presented and one of the tasks is explored in greater detail. To conclude, possible problems and their solutions are described. Additionally, the competences that are acquired in the lesson unit in general are displayed.

2. Analyzing Holes

2.1 Plot

Louis Sachar uses flashbacks to make his story more interesting to read. The problem for the reader might be that the non-linear story progression adds difficulty to understand the actual sequence of events. In the following, the story will be retold in the chronological order in which the depicted events take place. There are three plotlines: The plot of Stanley’s great-great grandfather, the plot of Kissin’ Kate Barlow and Stanley’s plot.

The plot of Stanley’s great-great grandfather

In Latvia, Stanley’s great-great grandfather, Elya Yelnats, is in love with Myra Menke. The father of Myra wants her to be married to an old pig farmer, who, in return, offers a pig to her father. Elya seeks advice from Madame Zeroni. She offers him a piglet that Elya is supposed to carry up a mountain and to let it drink from a stream while singing a song to it. To repay her, he is expected to do the same with Madame Zeroni, otherwise he will be cursed. Two months later, the pig of the pig farmer and Elya’s pig weigh exactly the same. Therefore, Myra is allowed to decide whom she wants to marry. But she can’t make that decision. Frustrated, Elya lets her marry the pig farmer and migrates to America. But he forgot to fulfill his promise to Madame Zeroni, who therefore curses him.

The plot of Kissin’ Kate Barlow

“One hundred and ten years ago, Green Lake was the largest lake in Texas.” (Sachar, 2000, p. 101) In this setting, Miss Katherine Barlow is a school teacher who is famous for her spiced peaches. She falls in love with Sam, a coloured onion vendor and one day they kiss. But they are watched and Sam is sentenced to death and killed by Trout Walker, because it is forbidden for a coloured man to kiss a white woman. Katherine seeks revenge and becomes an outlaw that kisses her victims and therefore she is called “Kissin’ Kate Barlow”. She also robs Stanley’s great-grandfather in the desert. He survives in the desert because he “found refuge on God’s thumb.” (Sachar, 2000, p. 93) Kissin’ Kate Barlow hides her treasure and gets killed by Trout Walker, because she refuses to tell him where she had buried it.

The plot of Stanley Yelnats

Stanley is sent to a juvenile detention center because he is falsely accused of stealing the sneakers of a famous baseball player. The fact that he is falsely accused is in line with the family curse, which brings misfortune to every member of the Yelnats family. The detention center is called “Camp Green Lake” though there is no lake as it has run dry a while ago. In this bootcamp, located in the desert, Stanley has to dig holes because the employees of the camp think that this activity forms the character. But in fact, the warden of the camp wants to find a hidden treasure. One day Stanley and Zero, a friend that he has made at the detention center, escape from the camp. They struggle to survive as there is no food and no water in the desert. Stanley carries Zero up a mountain where they hope to find water and food and eventually they do. When Stanley carries Zero up to the top of the mountain, he breaks the curse, due to the fact that Zero is a descendant of Madame Zeroni. They return to the camp because Stanley figured out the real reason behind the hole-digging. Stanley and Zero search for the hidden treasure and find a metal box that belonged to his great-grandfather. Stanley and Zero are both released from the camp and can live a life without worrying about money.

2.2 Setting

Before analyzing the setting, the term should be defined. Setting “denotes the location, historical period and social surroundings in which the action of a text develops.” (Klarer, 2013, p. 33) As there are three different plotlines, there are three different settings:

The plotline of Stanley’s great-great grandfather is not described in greater detail. All we know is that it takes place in Latvia (Sachar, 2000, p. 28), approximately in the 1860s in peasant conditions.

The events around Kissin’ Kate Barlow take place at Green Lake in Texas (Sachar, 2000, p. 101), which by then was a beautiful place to live at. The events occur about the 1890s in a small town. At that time, racial segregation was still accepted.

The story of Stanley Yelnats takes place at the present and is located at the very same spot as the events of Kissin’ Kate Barlow. But the lake ran dry and there has not been rain ever since the injustice that Katherine Barlow experienced. Now there is nothing else but desert and, in this setting, Stanley is surrounded by other “prisoners”.

2.3 Characters

The distinction between flat and round characters can be traced back to E.M. Forster’s book Aspects of the novel (Forster, 1927). A round character has more than one trait and undergoes a development, whereas a flat character does not develop and only has one trait. (Klarer, 2013, p. 21). For each storyline there is a round character (Stanley Yelnats, Elya Yelnats and Katherine Barlow) and several flat characters.


Stanley Yelnats

Stanley, a young adult, develops throughout the story. He changes from an overweight bullied boy to a physically and mentally stronger person, who is accepted by the other boys in the camp. At first, he is shy and avoids disputes (Sachar, 2000, p. 44), but later he becomes a brave character as he tries to save Zero by escaping from the camp (Sachar, 2000, p. 148).


Hector Zeroni, the descendant of Madame Zeroni, is presented as stupid as he cannot read and write (Sachar, 2000, p. 138), therefore everyone calls him “Zero”. In fact, he is a very bright teenager, who has a good memory and can calculate quickly (Sachar, 2000, p. 98). He is a good hole-digger but has no plans for his future (Sachar, 2000, p. 58) and is also loyal to Stanley.

The Warden

The Warden is a mercenary red-haired woman. She is commanding, tyrannical and cruel because she lets teenage boys dig holes for her. She is very persistent as she has been looking for the hidden treasure for all her live (Sachar, 2000, p. 206).

Mr. Sir

Mr. Sir is an employee at Camp Green Lake. He is very strict and cruel as well. He has no empathy towards the boys at the camp and lets them suffer from thirst and hunger (Sachar, 2000, p. 106). He has quit smoking and eats sunflower seeds to compensate his addiction.

Mr. Pendanski

Mr. Pendanski is the second employee at Camp Green Lake. He seems to be more caring for the boys and to be nicer than Mr. Sir, though in fact he is not, as he insults Zero’s intelligence (Sachar, 2000, p. 138) or erases Zero’s file on the Warden’s command (Sachar, 2000, p. 145).

110 years ago

Kate Barlow

Kate Barlow is an attractive woman, who makes spicy peaches and is very popular among the local town inhabitants (Sachar, 2000, p. 102). She changes from an innocent woman to a famous outlaw who robs many people (Sachar, 2000, p. 115).


Sam is a coloured onion vendor. The people at Green Lake trust his products. He is depicted as very friendly and handy (Sachar, 2000, pp. 109-110 and has a donkey, named Mary Lou.

Charles Walker

Charles, “Trout” Walker is a rich man (Sachar, 2000, pp. 102-103) who is in love with Kate Barlow. As she rejects him, he gets very angry. He is presented as a stupid and ignorant man (Sachar, 2000, p. 103).

Elya Yelnats’ time

Elya Yelnats

Elya is the great-great grandfather of Stanley. He is deeply in love with Myra Menke. His affection towards her becomes apparent when he carries a pig up a mountain for two months. Thus, he is very persistent. He can be seen as unreliable as he forgets to fulfill his promise to Madame Zeroni (Sachar, 2000, p. 37).

Madame Zeroni

Madame Zeroni is a mysterious old woman who curses Elya because he does not carry her up the mountain. She is the great-great grandmother of Zero. She shows empathy towards Elya when he desperately asks her for help (Sachar, 2000, p. 30).

2.4 Stylistic Devices

In Holes an abundance of stylistic devices can be found. Therefore, only the most important rhetoric devices of Holes are exemplarily presented, namely symbols, metaphors and elements of irony.


If objects or images or words represent a larger, more general idea, they are called symbols. An example for a symbol is the cross that stands for Christianity (Klarer, 2013, p. 42).

One symbol in Holes is the onion. The onion stands for health, because not only does it presumably cure sickness, but it also saves Stanley and Zero from starvation in the desert. Additionally, it protects them against the dangerous yellow-spotted lizards.

Another symbol that can be found in Holes is water as it is closely connected to life and fortune. When Sam is killed, it stops to rain as a punishment to those, who killed Sam. When Stanley breaks the curse by carrying Zero up the mountain, it begins to rain.


A metaphor is “a type of image made by transferring the qualities of one object to another.” (Fandel, 2006, p. 46)

“It was said that Green Lake was ‘heaven on earth’ and Miss Kathrine's peaches were ‘food for the angels.’” (Sachar, 2000, p. 102) This metaphor literally stresses the beauty of the lake and describes it as paradise with Kate’s peaches on top of it. The reader gets the impression of a place in which everything is harmonious.

“Sam had turned the old run-down schoolhouse into a well-crafted, freshly painted jewel of a building […]” (Sachar, 2000, p. 110) Here, the author wants the reader to be impressed by the work of Sam and to sympathize with him and his work. Sachar calls it a “jewel”, thus the schoolhouse is now precious and beautiful.

Elements of Irony

Louis Sachar begins his novel with the sentence “You are entering Camp Green Lake.” (Sachar, 2000, p. 1) The images that come into the reader’s mind when reading this sentence might include trees, a beautiful landscape or flowers. However, Sachar illuminates the reader with the second sentence in his book: “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.” (Sachar, 2000, p. 3)

Another example of the irony used in the novel can be found at the ending of the book. “In a few years, Camp Green Lake will become a Girl Scout Camp (Sachar, 2000, p. 229). This is ironic, because Mr. Sir constantly stresses that Camp Green Lake is not a Girl Scout Camp (Sachar, 2000, pp. 14, 73, 213).

3. Teaching Holes

3.1 Preliminary Considerations

This teaching unit focuses on teaching literature with student-centered tasks, whereas tasks are “activities in which language is used for carrying out meaningful tasks to promote learning.” (Richards, Rodgers, 2001, p. 161)

The chosen class taught in this lesson unit is a class in 10th grade in secondary school consisting of 24 students. The students are asked to read Holes in segments and therefore each segment is discussed in class (segment approach) (Thaler, 2008, p. 105). The whole teaching unit lasts 8 double lessons with 45 minutes per lesson . According to the Teacher’s Guide of Mechthild Hesse and Miriam Bögel, the novel should be divided into five parts (Hesse, Bögel, 2004, p. 8). This lesson unit uses a slightly adapted division.

The lesson unit is structured in three stages. This structure derives from the classical classification into a pre-reading, a while-reading and a post-reading stage. (Matz, Stieger, 2015, p. 133) The structure of the lesson unit can be seen in the appendix (see 6. Appendix 1, p. 20).

3.2 Pre-Reading Stage

Lesson 1 and 2 (getting started)

The function of the pre-reading tasks is to make the students curious about the book (Müller-Hartmann, Schocker-v. Ditfurth, 2016, p. 128) and to put the students into the right mood (Nünning, Surkamp, 2006, p. 71).

In the first double lesson the teacher reads out aloud the very first sentence of the book: “You are entering Camp Green Lake.” (Sachar, 2000, p. 1) Then the students are asked to name anything that comes across when hearing these words. After that, they design a layout of the camp adding anything they associate with “Camp”, “Green” and “Lake”. Now they are divided into groups of four and choose their best layout and present it to class.

In a next step, the teacher presents an image that represents the main motive of the book, namely holes (see 6. Appendix 2, p. 21). The teacher asks the students to draw a mind-map in which they write everything that comes into their mind when looking at the picture. Afterwards, the students share their ideas with the class. These first tasks are designed to activate the pre-knowledge of the students and to “raise reader expectations.” (Matz, Stieger, 2015, p. 133)

At last, the teacher and the students read the first chapter of the book together. By now, the students know that there is no lake at Camp Green Lake and that the camp is located in the desert surrounded by dangerous lizards. The tasks help the students to get a deeper understanding of the setting of Stanley Yelnats’ plot (See 2.2 Setting, p. 7).


Ende der Leseprobe aus 25 Seiten


Exploring "Holes" by Louis Sachar
Pädagogische Hochschule Freiburg im Breisgau  (Institut für Anglistik)
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
exploring, holes, louis, sachar
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Peter Ru (Autor), 2019, Exploring "Holes" by Louis Sachar, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/498006


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