Page numbers are from the hardcover edition, eighth printing 1999
1) “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.” (p. 3)
This is the opening line of the novel. It immediately sets a mood of hardship and confusion and starts right in with the irony that permeates the novel.
2 ) “If
only, if only,” the woodpecker sighs,
“The bark on the tree was just a little bit softer.”
While the wolf waits below, hungry and lonely,
He cries to the moo-oo-oon,
“If only, if only.” (p. 8)
This is Stanley’s father’s song, one of three versions of the pig lullaby Madame Zeroni taught Elya Yelnats. The wishful thinking, defeated attitude of the song is fitting for a family that has experienced hardship and bad luck - especially for a family that believes they have been cursed.
3) “Nearly everything in the room was broken; the TV, the pinball machine, the furniture. Even the people looked broken, with their worn out bodies sprawled over the various chairs and sofas.” (p.43)
This is Stanley’s view of the “wreck room” at Camp Green Lake. It is the one place the boys are allowed to relax somewhat and they have trashed it. The inhumanity of the camp has possessed the boys. Stanley sees this room as a reminder that the boys have the capacity for violence, and he does not want to cross them.
4) “He needed to save his energy for the people who counted.” (p.82)
After turning down Zero’s first request that Stanley teach him how to read, Stanley tries to justify his decision. This quote shows that Stanley has begun to buy in to the negative opinion of Zero that the others at Camp Green Lake express. His heart is hardening. However, he will later reconsider and become friends with Zero.
5) “He’s not going to die,” the Warden said, “Unfortunately for you.” (p.91)
The Warden threatens Stanley with the prospect that Mr. Sir will take revenge against Stanley, since Stanley is the one who put Mr. Sir into a position to be scratched with the Warden’s rattlesnake fingernails. Stanley has learned, contrary to what Mr. Sir told him upon arriving at Camp Green Lake, that the people could be more dangerous than the desert.
6) “You make the decision: Whom did God punish?” (p. 115)
Here the narrator addresses the reader directly. He poses a question to make the point that fate does not necessarily do what people say, but what destiny dictates. The drought did not hurt Katherine Barlow, rather nature turned against the townspeople of Green Lake because of their racism and violence.
7) “If I had just kept those old smelly sneakers, then neither of us would be here right now.” (p. 184)
Zero, thinking that he is the cause of the boys’ predicament on “God’s thumb,” laments that it could all have been avoided if he didn’t take off Clyde Livingston’s sneakers. However, his statement really sums up the whole theme of fate. The boys were destined to be together on the mountain so that Elya Yelnats’ promise to Madame Zeroni could be fulfilled.
8) “If only,
if only, the moon speaks no reply;
Reflecting the sun and all that’s gone by.
Be strong my weary wolf, turn around boldly.
Fly high my baby bird,
My angel, my only.” (P. 233)
The novel ends with Hector Zeroni’s mother singing a more hopeful version of the pig lullaby. Unlike the wishful thinking Yelnats version, the Zeroni version is a mother’s love song encouraging her child to use the past to move boldly into the future.