Louis Sachar

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Holes can help.

Cruelty vs. Kindness Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Fate and Destiny Theme Icon
Cruelty vs. Kindness Theme Icon
Justice Theme Icon
Power, Money, and Education Theme Icon
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Holes, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Cruelty vs. Kindness Theme Icon

Camp Green Lake is an impossibly cruel place. There, the Warden forces teenage inmates to dig holes five feet wide and five feet deep, seemingly for no reason other than to "build character." In addition to this backbreaking labor, the adults in charge, who are ironically referred to as counselors, also work hard to terrify the inmates and destroy their senses of self-worth—and in turn, they foster an environment in which cruelty and terror are valuable currency, while kindness is a joke when it exists at all. In this environment Stanley's kindnesses to his fellow Group D members, and specifically to Zero, stand in sharp contrast to the way the rest of the camp functions. Through the relationship between Stanley and Zero, Holes explores the truly transformative power of kindness, as well as the dehumanizing effects of cruelty, ultimately suggesting that kindness and friendship in particular can help to remedy some of the effects of cruel mistreatment.

Stanley is described as being a "good kid," and his actions and outlook on life are surprisingly generous given the circumstances. He's arrested because he's just "in the wrong place at the wrong time," but he's also trying to do something nice for his dad by bringing him the smelly pair of shoes that mysteriously fell from the sky (Stanley's dad is in the process of figuring out how to recycle old sneakers, and Stanley feels instinctively that the shoes will be the key to his dad's success). Stanley simply has no idea the shoes were stolen. Immediately upon arrival at Camp Green Lake, however, Stanley learns that his kindness and generosity aren't going to get him far in the cutthroat social structure of Group D or the camp at large. Mr. Sir, the cantankerous middle manager of Camp Green Lake, handles Stanley's intake and promptly reminds him that "this isn't a Girl Scout camp," a phrase that he repeats in some form nearly every time he speaks. Coupled with the fact that Mr. Sir is easily the nastiest adult in charge, second only to the Warden, his constant refrain about the Girl Scouts sets up the idea that the things and ideas that he considers embarrassingly feminine—in this case, things like kindness, empathy, or care for others—don't exist at Camp Green Lake, the goal is to be as toxically masculine and as cruel as possible, just like he is.

Mr. Sir and the Warden's insistence on cruelty filters down to the campers, which in turn keeps the campers from forming meaningful connections with each other, truly caring about others' fates, or being at all willing to help each other. Of the boys in Group D, Stanley seems relatively unique in that he clearly recognizes that the social hierarchy of Group D is based on terror and power, not camaraderie. Thus, Stanley "moves up one spot in line" for water only when he caves to X-Ray's intimidation, while any attempts he makes to express care or interest in his peers' wellbeing are met with explosive anger. The only person that this doesn't hold true for is Zero, who is spoken to with unmatched cruelty by both his peers and adults, even the relatively kind Mr. Pendanski. The fact that Zero and Stanley are able to form a friendship suggests that Zero, like Stanley, doesn't necessarily buy into the idea that behaving cruelly is the only way to get ahead in the world. Indeed, Zero doesn't participate in any of the group intimidation of Stanley and is the only camper who refuses to use Stanley's assigned nickname, Caveman. Zero's choice to instead be mostly solitary culminates in his decision to walk away from the camp altogether into the desert, a choice that suggests it's better to be alone than to live with the kind of cruelty that's commonplace at Camp Green Lake.

When Stanley decides to go after Zero, understanding that Zero has no chance of survival without water, he rebels dramatically by choosing kindness in a place where kindness is severely undervalued. The high degree of care that Stanley shows Zero while they wander in the desert, including carrying him up an impossibly steep mountain, finding him water, and feeding him onions, allows Stanley and Zero to become close to each other and become true friends. Stanley's kindness to Zero even allows him to break the curse that Madame Zeroni, a distant grandmother of Zero's, put on Elya Yelnats, Stanley's great-great grandfather. Finally, the lake's subsequent transformation into a real lake—and the fact that Camp Green Lake becomes a real Girl Scout camp after the Warden's operation is shut down—illustrates clearly that harmony among nature and people rests on kindness, while cruelty has the power to destroy both.

Related Themes from Other Texts
Compare and contrast themes from other texts to this theme…
Get the entire Holes LitChart as a printable PDF.
Holes PDF

Cruelty vs. Kindness Quotes in Holes

Below you will find the important quotes in Holes related to the theme of Cruelty vs. Kindness.
Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

Stanley was not a bad kid. He was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. He'd just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It was all because of his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather!

He smiled. It was a family joke. Whenever anything went wrong, they always blamed Stanley's no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.

Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

All of them had something else in common. Despite their awful luck, they always remained hopeful. As Stanley's father liked to say, "I learn from failure."

But perhaps that was part of the curse as well. If Stanley and his father weren't always hopeful, then it wouldn't hurt so much every time their hopes were crushed.

Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

"I see you're looking at my gun. Don't worry. I'm not going to shoot you. "He tapped his holster. "This is for yellow-spotted lizards. I wouldn't waste a bullet on you."

Related Characters: Mr. Sir (speaker), Stanley Yelnats
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

He wasn't afraid of the curse. He thought that was a lot of nonsense. He felt bad because he knew Madame Zeroni had wanted to drink from the stream before she died.

Related Characters: Elya Yelnats, Madame Zeroni
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Stanley waited for him to drive away, then took another look at his hole. He knew it was nothing to be proud of, but he felt proud nonetheless.

He sucked up his last bit of saliva and spat.

Related Characters: Stanley Yelnats, Mr. Pendanski
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 11 Quotes

The more he thought about it, the more he was glad that he agreed to let X-Ray have anything he might find. If he was going to survive at Camp Green Lake, it was far more important that X-Ray think he was a good guy than it was for him to get one day off.

Related Characters: Stanley Yelnats, The Warden, X-Ray/Rex
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 16 Quotes

It was wonderful to hear from you. Your letter made me feel like one of the other moms who can afford to send their kids to summer camp.

Related Characters: Stanley's Mother (speaker), Stanley Yelnats
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 17 Quotes

"That's your dirt," Zigzag said. "You have to dig it up. It's covering up my dirt."

Stanley felt a little dizzy. He could see a small pile of dirt. It took him a moment to realize that it was the dirt which had been on his shovel when he was hit.

He scooped it up, then Zigzag dug his shovel into the ground underneath where "Stanley's dirt" had been.

Related Characters: Zigzag/Ricky (speaker), Stanley Yelnats
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 18 Quotes

"Sorry," Stanley said again.

His muscles and hands weren't the only parts of his body that had toughened over the past several weeks. His heart had hardened as well.

Related Characters: Stanley Yelnats (speaker), Zero/Hector Zeroni
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 19 Quotes

Stanley kept his mouth shut most of the time. He didn't talk too much to any of the boys, afraid that he might say the wrong thing. They called him Caveman and all that, but he couldn't forget that they were dangerous, too. They were all here for a reason. As Mr. Sir would say, this wasn't a Girl Scout camp.

Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 23 Quotes

A lot of men in town were not educated. This didn't bother Miss Katherine. She knew they'd spent most of their lives working on farms and ranches and hadn't had much schooling. That was why she was there—to teach them.

But Trout didn't want to learn. He seemed to be proud of his stupidity.

Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 26 Quotes

Miss Katherine jerked her hand free. As she hurried to the door, she heard the sheriff say, "The law will punish Sam. And God will punish you."

Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

These are the facts:

The Walker boat smashed into Sam's boat. Sam was shot and killed in the water. Katherine Barlow was rescued against her wishes. When they returned to the shore, she saw Mary Lou's body lying on the ground. The donkey had been shot in the head.

That all happened one hundred and ten years ago. Since then, not one drop of rain has fallen on Green Lake.

You make the decision: Whom did God punish?

Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 1, Chapter 27 Quotes

Fortunately, Mr. Pendanski delivered the water more often than Mr. Sir. Mr. Pendanski was obviously aware of what Mr. Sir was doing, because he always gave Stanley a little extra. He'd fill Stanley's canteen, then let Stanley take a long drink, then top it off for him.

Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

Zero wrote the letters as Stanley said them. "Zero," he said, looking at his piece of paper. His smile was too big for his face.

Stanley watched him write it over and over again.

Zero Zero Zero Zero Zero Zero Zero...

In a way, it made him sad. He couldn't help but think that a hundred times zero was still nothing.

Related Characters: Stanley Yelnats, Zero/Hector Zeroni
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 30 Quotes

"He's a genius, all right!" said Mr. Pendanski. "He's so stupid, he doesn't even know he's stupid."

Stanley didn't know why Mr. Pendanski seemed to have it in for Zero. If Mr. Pendanski only thought about it, he'd realize it was very logical for Zero to think that the letter "h" made the "ch" sound.

Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 31 Quotes

He knew he never should have let Zero dig part of his hole for him. He still could've taught him to read. If Zero could dig all day and still have the strength to learn, then he should have been able to dig all day and still have the strength to teach.

What he should do, he thought, was go out after Zero.

But he didn't.

Related Characters: Stanley Yelnats, Zero/Hector Zeroni
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

"I don't think I can erase him completely from all the state files, said Mr. Pendanski. "Too many cross-references. But I can so make it so it would be very difficult for anyone to ever find a record of him. Like I said, though, no one will ever look. No one cares about Hector Zeroni."

"Good," said the Warden.

Related Characters: The Warden (speaker), Mr. Pendanski (speaker), Stanley Yelnats, Zero/Hector Zeroni, Mr. Sir
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 38 Quotes

Higher and higher he climbed. His strength came from somewhere deep inside himself and also seemed to come from the outside as well. After focusing on Big Thumb for so long, it was as if the rock had absorbed his energy and now acted like a kind of giant magnet pulling him toward it.

Related Characters: Stanley Yelnats, Zero/Hector Zeroni
Related Symbols: God's Thumb
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 43 Quotes

"Then later a boy asked me if I wanted a piece of cake, but then that same mother told me, 'Go away!' and she told all the kids to stay away from me, so I never got the piece of cake. I ran away so fast, I forgot Jaffy."

"Did you ever find him—it?"

For a moment, Zero didn't answer. Then he said, "He wasn't real."

Related Characters: Stanley Yelnats (speaker), Zero/Hector Zeroni (speaker), Zero's Mother
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 48 Quotes

"Will you do me a favor?" asked Squid.

"I guess," Stanley agreed, somewhat hesitantly.

"I want you to—" He turned to Ms. Morengo. "Hey lady, you have a pen and paper I can borrow?"

She gave it to him, and Squid wrote down a phone number which he gave to Stanley. "Call my mom for me, okay? Tell her...Tell her I said I was sorry. Tell her Alan said he was sorry."

Related Characters: Stanley Yelnats (speaker), Squid/Alan (speaker), Ms. Morengo
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis: