The next morning, Stanley eats his lukewarm cereal, fills his canteen, and chooses a shovel before the sun comes up. He tries to dig the point of the blade into the ground, but it's baked hard. Stanley helplessly watches Zero, who already has a large pile of dirt next to his hole. Mr. Pendanski had told Stanley to report anything "interesting or unusual" to him, as interesting finds earn campers a day off—though he insisted that they're not actually looking for anything. Stanley wedges his shovel in a crack and finds that being overweight is helpful, as he can more easily sink his shovel in the ground. He marks the perimeter of his hole, and soon blisters form on his fingers.
Forcing teenagers to dig holes like this is far beyond what any normal or reasonable punishment would be; this again helps to situate Camp Green Lake as a place that functions outside of the formal Texas justice system. Especially given Mr. Pendanski's caginess regarding "interesting finds," it suggests that the camp itself has ulterior motives for making the campers dig holes and is abusing its power to obtain cheap labor.
The narrator jumps back in time to tell the story of Elya Yelnats. He was born in Latvia and at age fifteen, fell in love with fourteen-year-old Myra Menke. Myra's father decided that when Myra turned fifteen, she should be married. Both Elya and 57-year-old pig farmer Igor Barkov went to ask for Myra's hand. Myra's father insisted he'd rather have one of Igor's pigs than Elya's "heart full of love," so Elya went to see Madame Zeroni, an old Egyptian woman with only one foot.
Igor's age is intended to evoke a sense of disgust in the reader and make it seem as though, to any sensible person, Elya is clearly the more appropriate suitor based on age alone. When Myra's father doesn't see it this way, it again shows how he's able to use his power to promote what appears to be an unjust status quo.
Elya told Madame Zeroni about his plight, but she was unsympathetic. She insisted that Elya was too young to marry and that Myra was silly, foolish, and spoiled. She encouraged Elya to go to America like her own son did, but Elya remained unmoved. Finally, Madame Zeroni led him to her pigsty, where her sow had just given birth to piglets. She handed him the runt and instructed him to carry the piglet up the nearby mountain every day to drink from the stream. She said he also had to sing the piglet a special song.
Madame Zeroni's decision to help Elya is a very kind one; it shows that even if she doesn't necessarily agree with him, she wants him to be happy and is glad to use her implied magical powers to help him achieve happiness. The stream in particular introduces the idea that nature itself can be magical and unnatural(and can be helpful to humans at times).
Madame Zeroni said that Elya should carry the pig up the mountain for the last time on Myra's fifteenth birthday, at which point it would be fatter than Igor's pig. She assured Elya that as the pig grew, he'd grow strong enough to carry it. Finally, she asked that he carry her up the mountain and sing to her on the last day. She explained that she'd curse his descendants forever if he didn't do this. Elya thought nothing of it, though he did think he'd be happy to carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain right then if only he were strong enough.
At its heart, Madame Zeroni and Elya's agreement is designed to instill in Elya the belief that it's important to follow through on one's promises—it's one of the easiest and most effective ways to show another person kindness and care. Thus, this sets up he idea that Stanley will learn the importance of follow-through in his journey as he deals with the aftermath of Madame Zeroni's curse.
Stanley's hole grows to about three feet deep as the sun peeks over the horizon. His hands are covered in blisters, and Stanley can tell that everyone else's holes are far bigger. When he notices a moving cloud of dust following a red pickup truck, he lines up with the other boys to get water. X-Ray is first, while Stanley is last in line behind Zero. Mr. Sir fills their canteens and then follows Stanley to check his progress. As he encourages Stanley to hurry up, he spits sunflower shells into Stanley's hole.
It's worth noting that in the case of the holes, Stanley has no choice but to follow through and finish, no matter how badly it hurts. Again, this shows how power can be corrupted to taint things that even the novel suggests are fundamentally positive actions. Mr. Sir's spitting is a way for him to tell Stanley he doesn't actually care about him, even as he offers encouragement.
Elya did as he was told and as the pig grew big and strong, so did he. The pig was massive by Myra's birthday, so instead of carrying it up the mountain one last time as Madame Zeroni had told him to, Elya took a bath. Then, he presented his pig to Myra's father. Elya boldly asked to marry Myra, but her father insisted on weighing Elya and Igor's pigs. They weighed exactly the same.
The fact that the pigs weigh exactly the same provides some weight to the realness of Madame Zeroni's curse; it suggests that had Elya followed through, his pig would weigh more and he'd win outright.
As Stanley digs, his blisters rip open and new ones form. He tries to use his cap to cushion his hands, but the sun is hot on his neck. Stanley realizes he'll need to move his dirt piles—he's going to run out of room.
Because of what Stanley is being asked to do, nature is his enemy right now. This shows how even good characters can be placed in situations in opposition to nature; it's not the realm of villains alone.
Myra's father examined the pigs, declared them fine pigs, and couldn't decide whose pig to accept. When Elya suggested that Myra choose, both Igor and Myra's father were shocked, but Myra's father agreed on the grounds that he didn't care whom she married. He called Myra, explained the situation, and asked her to decide. She was extremely confused and couldn't decide, so she secretly chose a number and asked her suitors to choose a number between one and ten. Disgusted, Elya told Myra to keep his pig as a wedding present and marry Igor.
Myra's character shows the consequences of being given absolutely no power over one's own life, seeing as she's wholly unable to make a very important decision for herself. Further, the fact that she doesn't even seem aware that this isn't a good thing indicates that living without power can be normalized and in doing so, those such as Myra's father gain even more power.
At lunchtime, Mr. Pendanski drives the water truck out with sack lunches. While the boys eat, Magnet assures Stanley that the first hole is the hardest. Stanley wonders what they'd do to him if he just quit.
Magnet's assurance suggests that there could be a sense of camaraderie among the boys; his encouragement shows that they may be able to care for each other.
Elya wandered aimlessly until he ended up on a pier. He was heartbroken; he thought that Myra loved him. Madame Zeroni was right. Elya read a sign asking for deck hands on a ship to America, and the captain signed Elya up even though he didn't have any sailing experience. Elya didn't realize until the ship was in the open water that he'd broken his promise to carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain. He wasn't afraid of the curse, but he did feel bad for breaking a promise to a friend.
Madame Zeroni's curse may be even worse simply because Elya doesn't show it (and by extension, Madame Zeroni) an appropriate degree of respect. This reinforces that part of the curse has to do with punishing Elya for not following through on his promises and not being a good friend to Madame Zeroni.
Even though Zero is the smallest boy in Group D, he finishes digging first. In awe, Stanley watches Zero measure his hole, spit in it, and head back to camp. Zigzag declares Zero a "weird dude," but Stanley thinks that Zigzag is objectively weirder: his neck is long and skinny, and he has wild, frizzy blond hair. One by one, the other boys of Group D finish and head back to camp. After a while, Stanley realizes he'll need to move his dirt piles again. He feels as though he's digging his grave.
When Stanley feels like he's digging his own grave, he's developing the mindset that the natural world is his enemy, is out to get him, and is dangerous. Notably, this does begin to instill a sense of respect for the natural world in Stanley, as he begins to learn how to work with the earth to dig holes more efficiently in the future.
In America, Elya fell in love with a woman named Sarah Miller. She was smart and strong, and she and Elya loved each other very much. However, bad luck seemed to follow Elya. He remembered that Madame Zeroni mentioned having a son in America, so he began approaching people asking if they knew anyone named Zeroni. Finally, after Elya's barn was struck by lightning for the third time, he told Sarah about the curse. She was unconcerned but asked Elya to sing her the "pig lullaby." She loved it and a year later, when the first Stanley Yelnats was born, Sarah made the song rhyme in English and sang it to her baby.
Overwhelmingly, Holes suggests that it doesn't really matter whether Sarah believes in the curse or not; the fact of the matter persists that Elya appears to be extremely unlucky. This again suggests that, within the world of the novel, fate and destiny absolutely hold sway. When Sarah translates the lullaby and sings it to the first Stanley, she ensures that the song will remain family knowledge and be passed down to the present.
Stanley discovers that his hole is very close to big enough. He digs out a few more shovelfuls and finally, he can lay his shovel flat on the bottom. He feels a strange sense of pride and can't wait to show whomever is in the approaching water truck his hole. Stanley has to dig himself steps to climb out and discovers Mr. Pendanski, out to check on him. Mr. Pendanski asks for a high-five, but Stanley doesn't have the energy. Mr. Pendanski praises Stanley and offers him a ride back, though Stanley insists he'll walk. He spits in his hole before he starts for camp.
When Mr. Pendanski offers Stanley acknowledgement, it suggests that he does recognize how difficult survival is at Camp Green Lake and may take his role of counselor somewhat seriously. This suggests that not all of Camp Green Lake is overtly evil; kindness can still exist and when placed next to Mr. Sir's cruelty, for example, Mr. Pendanski seems even less offensive.