Stanley takes the Camp Green Lake version of a shower - four minutes of cold water with an automatic shut off. He eats brown food for dinner - some kind of meat and vegetables. He tells the other boys that he was arrested for stealing Clyde Livingston’s sneakers. The boys do not believe him. Clyde Livingston is a famous baseball player. He testified in court that the stolen sneakers had been his and he had donated them for an auction to raise money for the homeless shelter where he once lived. Stanley felt bad that his sports hero thought him a thief.
What had actually happened was that Stanley had missed the bus home from school because a boy named Derrick Dunne, who was smaller than Stanley, had taken Stanley’s notebook and dropped it in the toilet in the boy’s bathroom. So Stanley had to walk home. On his way home, the sneakers fell from the sky and hit Stanley o the head. They had really fallen from an overpass, but Stanley did not realize that, nor did he know the sneakers belonged to Clyde Livingston. Stanley just knew the sneakers smelled horribly and that they represented his destiny. It had to be more than a coincidence that his father was working with old sneakers and a pair of old sneakers fell on Stanley. He was arrested quickly but his trial did not come for several months because of baseball season. Stanley told the truth in court but, of course, no one believed that sneakers could fall from the sky. Stanley no longer believed the sneakers were “destiny’s shoes.” He was just cursed by his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.
Notes: The ironic tone of the novel is exemplified by the false impressions people have of Stanley. The staff at Camp Green Lake does not believe Stanley is innocent. The boys of D tent do not believe he was arrested for stealing Clyde Livingston’s shoes. His teachers do not believe that Derrick, being smaller than Stanley, could bully Stanley. The judge did not believe the sneakers fell on Stanley’s head. Thus Stanley finds himself in his present situation feeling the brunt of the family curse.
In the predawn hours Stanley attempts to dig his first hole but the ground is too hard. The hole will have to be as deep and as wide as the five-foot shovel, and he is to report finding anything “interesting or unusual.” Taking advantage of his overweight, Stanley manages to break through the surface and unearth his first shovelful. He is already feeling defeated but continues digging.
Here the story is interrupted by a flashback to Stanley’s great-great-grandfather, Elya Yelnats, in Latvia. Elya was fifteen and wanted to marry Myra Menke, a beautiful but shallow girl. Myra’s father would have Myra marry the fifty-seven-year-old Igor Barkov in exchange for a fatted pig. Elya had nothing but his love to exchange for Myra’s hand so he sought help from his friend, an old, onefooted, wide-mouthed Egyptian woman, Madame Zeroni. She advised Elya to forget about Myra and go to America like her son did. Elya saw only Myra’s beauty and wanted a pig. So, Madame Zeroni instructed Elya to carry her runt piglet up a mountain where the water runs uphill and as the piglet drank, sing a special song to him. Elya would become stronger as the piglet became heavier and in the end would be able to out compete Igor Barkov and win Myra. Eventually, Elya was to carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain, allow her to drink, and sing the special song to her. Madame Zeroni explained that if Elya did not complete this last task, his family would be cursed forever.
Dizzy from the heat, with his hands badly blistered, Stanley continues digging. Mr. Sir arrives in a pickup truck with a tank of water to refill the boys’ canteens. The boys line up for water in an unexplained rank order. X-Ray is first; Stanley is last, behind Zero. Mr. Sir reminds Stanley that this isn’t the Girl Scouts and warns Stanley that he had better hurry his digging because the day will keep getting hotter. Mr. Sir spits sunflower shells into Stanley’s hole.
Elya faithfully carried the piglet up the mountain and sang as it drank. On Myra’s fifteenth birthday he was to carry the pig, now quite large, up the mountain one last time. But he wanted to present himself to Myra without smelling of pig, so he did not go. He and Igor presented their pigs to Myra’s father. The pigs were exactly the same weight.
Stanley continues digging, tearing open his blisters. He realizes the piles of dirt he has dug up are in the way of completing his hole. Grudgingly, he shovels away the piles.
Being pleased with the fine pigs, Myra’s father, who could not decide between the two suitors, took Elya’s suggestion to let Myra decide. Myra asked each man to pick a number between one and ten. Crushed, Elya left his pig as a gift and told Myra to marry Igor. Mr. Pendanski now drives the water truck and brings bag lunches for the boys. While eating, Magnet tells the exhausted Stanley that the first hole is the hardest. He also cautions Stanley to make sure nothing is living in any hole Stanley might choose to use as a restroom.
Miserable, Elya left Myra’s house and signed on as a deck hand on a ship to America. As the ship departed, Elya remembered his promise to Madame Zeroni. He did not believe in the curse, but felt bad that he had let her down.
Zero finishes his hole first, silently pulls himself out of his hole, spits in it and walks back to the camp. Armpit finishes next, spits into his hole and walks back. Stanley continues digging as he watches each boy spit and leave. He realizes that he will have to move his dirt piles away from his hole again. His cap, which he is using to protect his blistered hands, is now bloodstained. “He felt like he was digging his own grave.”
Elya learned to speak English and got married. He tried to find Madame Zeroni’s son in America but could not. His barn was struck by lightning three times and he told his wife she should leave him and find a better man. She refused, bore him a child that she named Stanley, and changed the pig lullaby into a song for their son.
As Stanley finally finishes his hole, he hears the water truck coming. He is spent and is unable to pull himself out of his hole. Mr. Pendanski calls for him and Stanley manages to climb out. Stanley refuses a ride back to camp, proudly spits in his hole and walks.
Notes: This is the longest chapter in the novel, continuously rocking back and forth between Stanley’s story and Elya’s story. Like Stanley, Elya was not actually a thief, but a disillusioned fifteen-year-old. Though the family sees Stanley’s great-great-grandfather as a no good pig stealer, the reader now knows that he was a heartbroken young man who made an unintentional mistake. Like Stanley he has been misjudged and unfairly punished.
In a fable-like manner, Elya’s story introduces the three themes of Holes - the impact of fate and history on everyday life, the value of friendship, and the compassion for victims of social injustice that we gain from not judging people based on first impressions.