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Holes study guide

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How to use this online resource

This resource is for students studying the book and film Holes. As you work through the questions, you'll develop your understanding of the story and characters, as well as how they're portrayed using narrative style and film techniques.

The resource is divided into chapters. Click the links to jump to the chapters, or just scroll down the page.

  1. Getting started with the text
  2. The protagonist
  3. The narrative style: fish-out-of-water
  4. Setting: Camp Green Lake
  5. Characters: the boys
  6. Characters: the Yelnats family
  7. Time structure in Holes
  8. The narrative style: non-linear storytelling
  9. What's the genre?
  10. Exploring mise-en-scène
  11. Character development

1. Getting started with the text

Holes is adapted from a novel by Louis Sachar who also wrote the screenplay for the film.

  1. What are some of the obvious challenges in telling a story in the form of a novel and then trying to tell the same story in the form of a film?
  2. What needs to be done differently?

Focus on the opening of the film and the book of Holes.

  1. Describe the two openings.
  2. How are they different?
  3. Why? Explain.

The end of the film is quite different from the end of the book.

  1. Why do you think the ending was changed?
  2. What does the final image of the boys in the pool add to the story?
  3. What does it take away?

How do the endings of the film and book differ? Why do you think the film team made that choice?

2. The protagonist

In both the film and the book, Stanley Yelnats is the protagonist.

  1. What does this mean?
  2. Describe Stanley and his role.
  3. What are some of the differences between the way that Stanley is depicted in the novel and the way that he is represented in the film?
  4. What effect do these changes have on him as a character and on the role he plays in the story?
  5. Why do you think these changes were made?

If you read the book first, is this how you imagined Stanley? How did you imagine him?

3. The narrative style: fish-out-of-water

In many stories, a character is taken out of his/her familiar environment and forced to adapt to somewhere very different from what he/she is used to.

  1. What do we learn about Stanley in the environment of Camp Green Lake?
  2. In both the film and the novel we see events from Stanley’s point of view. Explain some of the techniques used in the film to connect us to Stanley and his view of events.
  3. The fish-out-of-water story offers a perspective on the world that the new character enters. Describe some of the moments when we look at the world from Stanley’s perspective. What does his perspective add to our understanding of the other characters, their experiences and the world of Camp Green Lake?
  4. What are some of the film techniques used to create our initial impression of Camp Green Lake? Hint: think about Stanley’s arrival at the camp.
  5. How is the horror of Camp Green Lake further developed as the film progresses?

Holes was praised for its cinematography by film critic Roger Ebert, who said wide shots like this made it feel like a "limitless desert"

4. Setting: Camp Green Lake

The authorities who run Camp Green Lake boast that the harsh regime there builds character.

  1. What does this mean and do you think this is what happens?
  2. Do you think Stanley changes during his time at Camp Green Lake? Explain.
  3. If you do think he changes, do you think this is because the digging has ‘built character’?
  4. Give some examples of other stories where the main character (or protagonist) has been placed in an unfamiliar environment.
  5. What about you? Have you had an experience where you have had to adapt to a new environment with different rules and an unfamiliar group of people?

5. Characters: the boys

The boys are imprisoned at Camp Green Lake and have no hope of escaping.

Instead of working together to help each other endure the hardship and cruelty of life at the camp, they turn on each other.

  1. Why do some people who are bullied and treated cruelly do the same thing to other people?
  2. When Stanley first arrives at Camp Green Lake, X-Ray steals the food from his hand. Why do you think he does this? Why doesn’t Stanley protest?
  3. When and how is this moment repeated during Stanley’s time at Camp Green Lake?
  4. Why does it suit the adults to turn a blind eye to this behaviour?
  5. The boys have established what is called a pecking order. What does this mean?
  6. Have you ever felt that you were part of a pecking order or seen one in action?
  7. How does Zero fit into this world?
  8. What is the point of the boys’ nicknames? Why do we discover their actual names once the warden has been toppled?

The Yelnats family

6. Characters: the Yelnats family

Stanley’s family plays an important role in the story.

  1. Explain and provide examples from each of the different Yelnats generations we find out about.
  2. How important are Stanley’s father, mother and grandfather to his story?
  3. In what ways have they contributed to making him the kind of person that he is?
  4. How have they been affected by the Yelnats curse?

7. Time structure in Holes

The story told in Holes is complex because of the use of flashbacks.

  1. How do the events of the past connect with Stanley’s story?
  2. In a film, flashbacks can be a bit confusing so there are techniques for letting the audience know that they are being taken back in time. How is this achieved in Holes?
  3. Another technique that connects different time periods in Holes is the superimposition of images of the past onto the present (for instance Stanley’s glimpse of Sam from the window of the bus). Can you remember some other examples of this technique being used in Holes?
  4. How does this visual technique add to our understanding of the connection between the past and the present?

8. Narrative: non-linear storytelling

Gradually, as the story progresses, the gaps or holes in our knowledge are knitted together until all the separate details of the stories of the present and the past come together to become part of one large story.

  1. Make a timeline by listing all of the events and details depicted in the film. Are there any details that don’t link up with Stanley Yelnats’s story?
  2. How important are the events of the past in making us who we are today? Give an example from your own life.
  3. How might your life have been different if one of your ancestors had made a different decision or been given a different set of opportunities?
  4. At the beginning of Holes, Stanley tells us: ‘All my life I seem to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ What is Stanley referring to when he says this?
  5. By the end of the film, we discover that Stanley has in fact been in the right place at the right time, despite his hardship and misfortune. Explain.
  6. Describe Zero’s role in the story. How are Stanley and Zero’s lives connected? What are the events that lead to Zero being in the right place at the right time?

Sam's story is told in flashback. What do we learn about Camp Green Lake from his story?

9. Genre

Because Holes mixes fantasy with what might really happen, it could be described as ‘Magic Realism’.

  1. Make a list of the features of Holes that seem likely and realistic.
  2. Make a list of the elements of Holes that you consider fantasy.
  3. Choose a scene that combines the real with the fantastic.
  4. What other films or stories mix fantasy and realism like this?
  5. Holes could also be described as a kind of fairy tale. What are some of the elements of the story that contribute to this idea?

10. Mise-en-scène

Mise-en-scène is a film term that describes everything the viewer can see in the frame. It includes lighting, actors, costumes, the set, props, composition, framing.

Choose a particular scene and describe key aspects of the mise-en-scène using the following questions as a guide:

  1. Lighting: how is light used to explore the theme? For example, consider the way shadows, sunlight, moonlight or artificial light is used in this scene.
  2. Setting/location: where are we? Describe the setting. What do we know about this place? What colours are used?
  3. Where are the actors placed within the frame and why?
  4. How are other elements and objects placed and how do they connect with the actors?
  5. What do the costumes communicate to us? Describe their significance in this scene.

11. Character development

The story focuses on Stanley’s discovery of who he is and what he is capable of, but as Stanley learns and grows, we become increasingly aware of the significance of other people and other lives in making him who he is and helping him grow and learn.

Consider the following characters: Zero, X-Ray, Kate Barlow and the Warden.

  1. What do you know about your character at the beginning of the film? Provide an example that demonstrates what this character was like in the beginning.
  2. What do you know about this character by the end of the film? Did they change or learn anything? Provide an example.
  3. What did this character have to do with Stanley? Did they play a part in his growth, or alter his destiny in some way?

Kissin' Kate Barlow in Holes