At its heart, Holes is a study of power dynamics. By considering the different ways that characters gain power, hold onto it, or are unable to do either, Holes questions the very nature of power and, specifically, the different ways that individuals are denied power due to poverty and a lack of education.
One of the first means of gaining power that the novel explores is through money. The Yelnats family is extremely poor, while Zero and Zero's mother lived in dire poverty until his mother disappeared, leaving Zero to live as an orphan on the streets. For both boys—and, indeed, their families as well—their economic standing is one of the main reasons why Stanley and Zero end up at Camp Green Lake in the first place. Stanley's family is unable to pay for a lawyer to defend Stanley, which puts him at the mercy of the criminal justice system that's more interested in convicting someone for stealing Clyde Livingston's shoes than discovering the truth of who did it. Stanley chooses to go to Camp Green Lake instead of prison because the judge pressures him into making a quick decision, which again illustrates how Stanley's lack of power in the courtroom relegated him to a horrendous fate: in the event that Stanley had lost his case even with the help of a lawyer, a lawyer still would've been aware that Camp Green Lake is no idyll and, at the very least, could've given Stanley more time to make an informed decision.
Zero is similarly victimized because his poverty forces him to petty theft in order to simply survive—he's arrested and sent to Camp Green Lake after stealing a pair of shoes from a shoe store, and he tells Stanley that he and his mother have always had to steal in order to eat. For Zero in particular, he believes that the only way to maintain power and control over his own life is to steal and hide from the authorities, as the government discovering that he's living as an orphan gives them the right to declare him a ward of the state—in other words, to take control over Zero's life.
Unlike Stanley or the other campers, Zero is victimized because of his lack of education; he's entirely illiterate when Stanley meets him. Stanley's opinion of Zero evolves relatively quickly—he very soon recognizes that Zero is exceptionally smart and worthy of consideration, regardless of whether or not he can read—but Zero's lack of education means that no one else at Camp Green Lake takes him seriously and he simultaneously has less power to stand up for himself. Though it's somewhat unclear if the other boys at camp are aware that Zero is illiterate, they nonetheless view him as stupid, uneducated, and only good for digging holes, and they use this image of him to justify their own superiority and their bullying and poor treatment of Zero. The power of education comes to the forefront when, at the end of the novel, Zero has learned to read well enough to be able to read Stanley's name on the mysterious suitcase he and Stanley dig up. This allows Zero to effectively make the case to Ms. Morengo that the suitcase belongs to Stanley, not the Warden, finally gaining a degree of power over a person who has, for the entirety of the novel, held Zero's life in her hands.
Though the epilogue doesn't reference education specifically, Stanley and Zero both earn a small fortune from the contents of the first Stanley Yelnats's suitcase. With this money, Stanley is able to buy a house, and Zero—who chooses to go by his real name, Hector—is able to finally reunite with his mother. This happy ending implies that, even if money can't necessarily buy happiness, it does indeed have the power to make it easier for one to move through the world and support one's family, which the novel ultimately suggests is one way to get closer to true happiness.
Power, Money, and Education ThemeTracker
Power, Money, and Education Quotes in Holes
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"I didn't go to the homeless shelter very often," Zero said. "Just if the weather was really bad. I'd have to find someone to pretend to be my mom. If I'd just gone by myself, they would have asked me a bunch of questions. If they'd found out I didn't have a mom, they would have made me a ward of the state."
"What's a ward of the state?"
Zero smiled. "I don't know. But I didn't like the sound of it."
"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."
"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.