Holes follows fourteen-year-old Stanley Yelnats, a boy wrongly accused of stealing a pair of shoes, as he's sent to Camp Green Lake in the Texas desert to serve his sentence. For generations, Stanley's family has been haunted by the specter of Stanley's "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather." That great-great grandfather, Elya Yelnats, didn't follow through on a bargain he struck with a "gypsy" woman, Madame Zeroni, and the Yelnats family has been plagued by bad luck ever since. Opinion varies among the Yelnats family members as to whether this is due to a real curse put on the family by Madame Zeroni or a simple case of constant bad luck, but the narrator is quick to point out instances in which things seem far too serendipitous to be the work of mere chance. With this, Holes presents a world in which there's a very real chance that fate is at work, even if it's never possible for the characters to ever know for sure. In this way, Sachar is able to use fate and destiny as devices to make the plot of the novel feel especially dramatic, ordered, and satisfying.
It's worth noting that, at least according to what they say, none of the Yelnats family truly believes in the curse—even Elya. The narrator states that when Elya realized he broke his promise to Madame Zeroni, he was only fifteen and instead of worrying about his family being cursed for generations, he was simply sad that he'd broken a promise to his friend. Over the next several generations (Stanley the protagonist is the fourth Stanley Yelnats; the first Stanley was Elya's son), the Yelnats family is plagued by bad luck. Most notable is the first Stanley, who surprisingly did make his fortune on the east coast and then headed west with a valuable suitcase. In Texas, his stagecoach was attacked by the outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow, who stole his suitcase. He survived for seventeen days in the desert, married a nurse at the hospital where he was treated, and the Yelnats family has been in Texas ever since. Notably, Kate's story is also one in which fate factors dramatically. Before she was Kissin' Kate Barlow, she was Miss Katherine, the beloved schoolteacher of the idyllic Texas town of Green Lake. When she fell in love with Sam, an African-American onion seller, his murder by the wealthy white man Trout Walker propelled Kate into a life of banditry and put a curse of sorts on Green Lake: the narrator states that since Sam's death, 110 years before the present, not a drop of rain has fallen in the area.
Though Stanley's time at Camp Green Lake is horrific and makes little sense to him, his transformation over the course of the novel very much mirrors the transformation that young Elya went through as he entered into his agreement with Madame Zeroni. In order to win over his love, Myra Menke, Elya was to carry a piglet up the mountain every day to drink from a magical stream and sing it a special lullaby. This would both make him extremely strong and help his pig grow bigger than that of Igor Barkov, his rival for Myra's affection. On the final day, Elya was supposed to carry the pig up the hill and then carry Madame Zeroni herself to the stream. Stanley, on the other hand, digs holes five feet wide and five feet deep every day for about the same amount of time that Elya carried his pig up the mountain. At what comes to be the end of Stanley's sentence, he runs away into the desert after his friend, Hector "Zero" Zeroni. Zero becomes extremely ill and dehydrated after several days in the desert, leading Stanley to carry Zero up a mountain to where they believe there's water. Unbeknownst to both boys, Zero is actually the great-great-great grandson of Madame Zeroni—and after Stanley carries Zero up the mountain and sings him the special lullaby, it appears to break the curse. Stanley's dad promptly experiences a breakthrough in his formula to cure foot odor and, because of this, he is finally able to hire a lawyer to prove Stanley's innocence. Ms. Morengo isn't just able to clear Stanley, but is able to also take temporary custody of Zero and shut down Camp Green Lake. This in particular suggests that Stanley's actions also did something to atone for Sam's murder, as the Warden is Trout Walker's descendent—and following Stanley's release, rain finally falls on the lake again.
Though the characters remain seemingly unconvinced of the actual existence of the curse, the ways in which Stanley's completion of his great-great grandfather's task appears to set things right for the family suggests that fate and destiny clearly exist and hold sway in Stanley's world. In the end, it seems to matter less whether or not the Yelnats family truly believes or not in fate or curses—the success and relief that Stanley's family feels in the epilogue suggests that, even if they don't fully believe in the curse, Stanley's actions still somehow freed them from ever needing to blame their misfortunes on Stanley's no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.
Fate and Destiny ThemeTracker
Fate and Destiny Quotes in Holes
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.
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.
A lot of people don't believe in curses.
A lot of people don't believe in yellow-spotted lizards either, but if one bites you, it doesn't make a difference whether you believe in it or not.
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.
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?
He kept walking toward it, although he didn't know why. He knew he'd have to turn around before he got there. But every time he looked at it, it seemed to encourage him, giving him the thumbs-up sign.
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.
"It's got his name on it," said Zero.
Stanley's lawyer pushed past the tall man to have a look.
"See," Zero showed her. "Stanley Yelnats."
Stanley looked, too. There, in big black letters, was STANLEY YELNATS.
"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."