The 1990s Newbery Medal Winners Holes Character Analysis

Stanley Yelnats IV

Stanley, the protagonist of Holes, is a dynamic character. He changes during the course of the novel due to the influence and effect of his experiences and actions. As the novel begins, Stanley has low self-esteem. He is overweight and is accustomed to having bad luck. He attributes this bad luck to his "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grand-father," who caused Madame Zeroni to put a curse on the Yelnats family. Stanley has no friends. He is a misfit in his class at school. Because he is larger in size than his classmates, teachers wrongly assume he can take care of himself when he is being mistreated, so they don't intervene and Stanley is left to fend for himself. But Stanley is naive, innocent, and kindhearted, and he doesn't know how to be mean. He loves and respects his parents; in fact, he was trying to help his father by taking the smelly sneakers that had "fallen from the sky" home to him (his father was trying to invent a use for old sneakers).

Stanley is perceptive. When he arrives at Camp Green Lake, he quickly understands what he needs to do to survive. He follows the rules without question and he needs X-Ray, the unofficial leader of the boys, to think he is a good guy. Stanley wins X-Ray's approval by becoming enmeshed in the routine that is already established at Camp Green Lake. Stanley gives the gold lipstick tube to X-Ray to claim as his "find," and he takes the blame for stealing Mr. Sir's sunflower seeds, even though he didn't do it. Stanley is smart. He tells X-Ray how to get more time off and begins to teach Zero how to read. He perseveres. Hopeful and optimistic, Stanley keeps going despite the obstacles that he faces.

While he is at Camp Green Lake, Stanley changes. His body begins to change as a result of the shoveling, and he is no longer fat. Stanley's body is firm because his muscles have strengthened, and he realizes that he is the biggest boy in his tent. For the first time, Stanley is not ashamed to be the biggest. He is proud of himself and has gained self-confidence. Stanley makes friends and, when he is on the mountain with Zero, despite the ordeal he is going through, he likes himself and is happy. Stanley is a hero. He saves Zero's life, discovers the buried "treasure," and, because his plight draws attention to Camp Green Lake, the camp is closed down and no other boys will ever have to dig holes again. Stanley uses the money that he receives from the stocks that were in the suitcase to buy his parents a house and to build a laboratory in the basement for his father.

Zero (Hector Zeroni)

Zero is the novel's deuteragonist, the character second in importance. Zero's great-great-grandmother was Madame Zeroni, who put a curse on generations of the Yelnats family. Zero is dark-skinned and small in stature. He is quiet (in fact, he rarely speaks), and he doesn't readily reveal his thoughts, feelings, or emotions. A rare smile spreads across his entire face. Because he always hides what he's thinking and feeling, and because he keeps to himself, people assume Zero is stupid, but he isn't. He is quite intelligent and is particularly good in math. Zero watches Stanley write letters to his mother, and, finally, when he thinks he can trust Stanley, Zero admits that he can't read or write. He asks Stanley to teach him. Zero becomes frustrated when the Warden forbids Stanley to teach him, and Zero runs away. When Stanley finds Zero in the desert, they become loyal friends. Zero reveals that his name is Hector Zeroni, that he has been homeless for most of his life, and that he has no family. He is a "ward of the state." He told Stanley that his mother used to sing him a lullaby similar to the one Stanley knows, and he admits that he was the one who stole Clyde Livingston's sneakers. He was sent to Camp Green Lake because he'd stolen a pair of sneakers from a store the day after he'd taken Clyde Livingston's sneakers.

After finding the suitcase belonging to Stanley's great-grandfather, Zero used some of his money (which amounted to almost a million dollars) to hire private investigators to find his mother. The investigators succeed, and Zero and his mother are reunited.

Madame Zeroni

Madame Zeroni is an old Egyptian gypsy storyteller. She is dark-skinned and has a wide mouth. Because she has no left foot, she uses a wheelchair. She is a compassionate woman, and yet she is also realistic. Madame Zeroni wants to help Elya Yelnats when he tells her about wanting to marry Myra Menke; however, Madame Zeroni is direct with Elya. She tells him that the girl's head is empty, that she is foolish and spoiled. And then she spits on the dirt (the same way Zero spits in each hole after he finishes digging). She gives Elya a piglet and specific instructions about what he needs to do in order to ensure that the pig will be large enough to win Myra's hand in marriage. Because Elya does not follow her instructions, Madame Zeroni puts a curse on him and on future generations of Yelnats.

Elya Yelnats

Elya Yelnats is Stanley's "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather" who is blamed for everything bad that happens to future generations of his family. Although he never actually steals a pig, his actions cause Madame Zeroni to put a curse on him and all his descendants.

When Elya is 15 years old, living in Latvia, he falls in love with Myra Menke and wants to marry her. Igor, a pig farmer, also wants to marry Myra and offers a pig for her hand in marriage. Not knowing what to do, Elya goes to see Madame Zeroni. Madame Zeroni gives Elya a piglet along with specific instructions. He is to take the pig up the mountain each day and sing a lullaby to the pig as it drinks from the stream. On the last day, he is to take the pig up the mountain before taking it to Myra's father and then carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain, too, singing the lullaby to her as she drinks from the stream.

Because he is vain and doesn't want to smell like a pig when he goes to Myra's house to try to win her hand in marriage, Elya doesn't take the pig up the mountain the last day, nor does he take Madame Zeroni up the mountain. When he realizes that Myra doesn't love him, Elya gives her father the pig anyway and leaves on a ship for the United States, where he meets and marries Sarah Miller. Elya and Sarah have a good marriage, despite the fact that they suffer from much bad luck. Elya never gives up looking for Madame Zeroni's son, who was also in the United States, because he feels guilty about not fulfilling his promise to her.

Stanley Yelnats II

Stanley Yelnats II is Stanley's great-grandfather, who made a lot of money in the stock market. Unfortunately, his stagecoach is robbed by Kissin' Kate Barlow when he is en route from New York to California. He is left stranded in the desert for three weeks. When asked how he survived, he always replies, "I found refuge on God's thumb" (the same mountain that Stanley and Zero climb). He later marries the nurse who takes care of him in the hospital and always blames his "no-good-pig-stealing-father" for his ordeal.

Katherine "Kissin' Kate" Barlow

Katherine Barlow is Green Lake's only schoolteacher. She is a very pretty and kind person. Everyone in the town loves her jarred peaches (the same jarred peaches that Zero and Stanley found under the boat named "Mary Lou"). Because the town's one-room schoolhouse needs repairs, Katherine trades her jarred peaches for the handiwork of Sam the Onion Man. During the time Sam makes the repairs to the schoolhouse, Katherine and Sam fall in love. At that time, a relationship between a black man and a white woman was illegal and unacceptable in Green Lake; the community members are intolerant. They destroy the schoolhouse and, as Sam and Katherine try to escape in his rowboat named after his donkey, Mary Lou, they kill Sam and rescue Katherine, against her wishes.

Three days later, Katherine shoots the town sheriff, who would not help her save Sam from the townspeople, and she becomes Kissin' Kate Barlow, a ruthless outlaw of the Wild West. Kissin' Kate Barlow kisses each man that she kills. She is vengeful and becomes an outlaw because of her grief and anger over the loss of Sam and the way the community members treated him. Kissin' Kate robs Stanley's great-grandfather as he rides a stagecoach to California. She doesn't kill him, but she leaves him stranded in the middle of the desert (near Green Lake).

Twenty years later, Kissin' Kate is living in the same cabin the Warden is living in today. Trout Walker and his wife break in to Kissin' Kate's cabin and intend to torture her until she tells them where she has stashed her loot. Instead of giving them an answer, Kissin' Kate is bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard and dies.

Sam the Onion Man

Sam is a black man in his early twenties who has an onion field on Green Lake. He has a beloved donkey named Mary Lou that pulls his cart full of onions through the streets of the community. Sam claims that his onions can cure anything and can even repel yellow-spotted lizards. Sam is quite skillful and soon begins making repairs on the schoolhouse for Katherine Barlow in exchange for her jarred peaches. They enjoy each other's company and soon fall in love. Because a relationship between a black man and a white woman was illegal at that time, the community takes the law into their own hands. Sam and his donkey are killed and, immediately thereafter, rain stops falling on Green Lake and the community does not survive.

Charles "Trout" Walker

Charles Walkers earns the nickname "Trout" because his feet smell like dead fish. (He has an incurable foot fungus that causes his feet to smell; it is the same foot odor problem that Clyde "Sweet Feet" Livingston has years later.) Trout is the son of a very wealthy man whose family owns most of the land on the east side of Green Lake when Green Lake is considered to be the largest lake in Texas. Trout is loud, stupid, arrogant, and disrespectful. He attends Katherine Barlow's evening class for adults in the one-room schoolhouse and consistently disrupts the lessons. Everyone is sure that Katherine will marry him because his family is wealthy, but she refuses even to ride on his motorized boat.

After Katherine is seen kissing Sam the Onion Man, Trout leads a mob of community members into the schoolhouse, which they destroy. When Katherine and Sam try to get away in Sam's rowboat, Trout's motorized boat runs into the rowboat and Sam is shot and killed.

Twenty years later, Katherine Barlow, then known as Kissin' Kate Barlow, is living in an abandoned cabin. Trout Walker and his wife, Linda Miller (whom the Warden resembles), break into Kissin' Kate's cabin and demand to know where she has hidden all the money that she has stolen. Kate indicates that she has buried the money in the dried-up lakebed. Trout's family, and future generations of Walkers, continue to dig, looking for Kissin' Kate's buried treasure for years.

Ms. Walker (The Warden)

The Warden is a tall woman with freckles and red hair. She wears black turquoise-studded boots (similar to the ones worn by Kissin' Kate Barlow years earlier). She is a descendant of Trout Walker and his wife Linda Miller. The Warden is a mysterious woman. She lives alone in a small cabin. She only seems to be interested in whether the boys have found something that has been buried in the dried-up lakebed. The buried treasure is the total focus of her life. The Warden will do anything to find it.

After Zero runs away, she has all of his files destroyed. She doesn't care about Zero. Her only concern is finding the buried treasure. She doesn't want her search halted for any reason. The Warden is a villainous and menacing person. She enforces the rules by threatening to scratch offenders with her nails, which are polished with rattlesnake venom. The Warden never gets the buried treasure. She is forced to close Camp Green Lake and sell her land, which eventually becomes a Girl Scout Camp.

Mr. Sir

Mr. Sir acts as the guard at Camp Green Lake. He wears a big cowboy hat and sunglasses and has a rattlesnake tattoo on his arm. He habitually eats sunflower seeds, which have replaced his habit of smoking cigarettes. Mr. Sir appears to be an extremely unhappy person. He is sarcastic and verbally abusive to the boys, always reminding them that they aren't attending a Girl Scout Camp. (Ironically, the camp does become a Girl Scout Camp at the novel's end.) Mr. Sir's actions are totally controlled by the Warden. Mr. Sir is humiliated when Stanley sees the Warden slap him (after she has painted her nails with rattlesnake venom) and hears the Warden tell him that she liked him better when he was smoking cigarettes than eating sunflower seeds (which he claims Stanley stole from his truck). Afterward, to show Stanley that he is in charge, he repeatedly neglects to fill Stanley's canteen with water. One day, Stanley is sure Mr. Sir put "some vile substance" in his canteen of water. By the time Stanley and Zero return to Camp Green Lake to dig up the suitcase, Mr. Sir is smoking cigarettes once again — an indication of a character weakness. Even though Mr. Sir appears intimidating to the boys at Camp Green Lake, his tough, mean demeanor is a façade. In fact, Mr. Sir is intimidated by the Warden and, therefore, does whatever she says.

Mr. Pendanski

Mr. Pendanski is the counselor for the boys in Group D. He has a shaved head and a "thick, curly black beard." The boys call him "Mom," and he calls each boy by his given name rather than by a nickname. He talks to the boys about their goals and dreams and about the importance of taking responsibility for their behaviors and actions. He wants the boys to become "useful and hardworking members of society." Mr. Pendanski, however, is morally ambiguous. He attempts to instill values and morality in the boys and then turns around and does the opposite. Whatever the Warden tells him to do, even if it means committing an illegal act (destroying Zero's file), he does it without question. Mr. Pendanski is a follower and not a leader.

X-Ray

X-Ray's name is pig latin for his given name, Rex. X-Ray wears glasses because he can't see very well, and he always uses the same shovel because he claims it is the shortest one (the holes dug by the boys are measured with their shovels). X-Ray is the unofficial leader of the boys in Group D. He is always first in line for lunch or to have his canteen refilled with water. X-Ray gives Stanley the nickname "Caveman." Stanley intimidates X-Ray because Stanley is bigger than he is and because Stanley is smart. For example, when Stanley gives X-Ray the gold tube he has found, he suggests that X-Ray wait until the next morning to show it to Mr. Pendanski, so that he can get more time off. To reward Stanley for his "loyalty," X-Ray tells Stanley to move up in line at the water truck.

After Zero begins digging half of Stanley's hole each day, X-Ray tells Stanley to be first in line because he is "better than all of us." Even though X-Ray appears to be sarcastic, there is a ring of truth to his words. Stanley takes the blame for the stolen sunflower seeds so the other boys will not get in trouble; he is also teaching Zero to read. In the end, when Stanley and Zero are back at Camp Green Lake, X-Ray acts as though he is jealous of Stanley — he is the only one of the group of boys who does not come over to talk to Stanley and Zero. Instead, he goes back to the Wreck Room alone.

Ms. Morengo

Ms. Morengo is a patent lawyer who is helping Stanley's father with a new product he has invented. After hearing about Stanley's case from his father, she investigates and finds proof that he has not stolen Clyde Livingston's sneakers. She has a court order from the judge who originally sentenced Stanley, releasing him from Camp Green Lake. She arrives at Camp Green Lake just as Stanley manages to climb out of the hole where he has found the buried suitcase.

Ms. Morengo is Hispanic. She has straight black hair and dark eyes. She speaks with a slight Mexican accent and she trills her r's. She is a short woman but she gives the impression that she is taller. She is self-confident and assertive, intimidated by neither the Attorney General nor the Warden. In fact, she threatens to sue them if anything happens to Stanley. Ms. Morengo has no tolerance for injustice, incompetence, or dishonesty.

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