Cover Art for Holes Young Adult Literature
Grant T. Smith, Ph.D.
Holes -- Discussion Questions

Reader Response Questions:  Respond to any of the following questions in your journal and be prepared to discuss your response with the class.


1.What were your favorite lines/quotes in Holes?  Cite the page number for the lines and comment on how the lines impressed you.


2.Are there any connections between Holes and your own experiences?  Please comment on how any characters and/or situations in Holes remind you of people and/or situations in your own life.


3.What emotions did Holes evoke as you read Stanley's story?  What questions did it raise?


4.With what character do you identify most closely or feel the most sympathy?  What is it about this character that makes you feel this way?


5.What issues in Holes are similar to real-life issues that you've thought about or had some kind of experience with?  How has Holes clarified or confused or changed your views on any of these issues?


6.Did the book or any of the characters remind you of other books or other characters you have read (or seen on TV or at the movies)?  How does this book and its characters compare to other stories you've read?


Study Guide Questions:  Please consider the following questions for class discussion.


1.Language seems to play such an important role in this novel.  How many examples can you cite of the author's "clever" manipulation of language?  How does language contribute to broader themes?


2.Sachar chooses Holes as his title.  How is this metaphor used in the novel?


3.Mr. Pendanski tells Stanley:"  You are here on account of one person.  If it wasn't for that person, you wouldn't be here digging holes in the hot sun.  You know who that person is?"


Stanley answers:  "My no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.  "This exchange makes the reader smile.  But it suggests a greater theme.  Would you care to discuss this?


4.What do you make of the different legends, folk tales, myths, and family histories told in Holes?  List all of the literary motifs used in the novel that we generally associate with fairy tales or legends.  Can you speculate on why the author chooses to use these motifs? 


5.What is it with all of these references to the sense of smell?  List how the "odor motif" connects characters, plot, and theme.


6.How is Holes a bildungsroman novel?


7.Holes is also a mystery story.  How do the following parts of the puzzle fit together?  (Or, as Louis Sachar says, how do you fill in the holes?)


The hole, the onions, the lake, Zero, Madame Zeroni, a Girl Scout Camp, Sam and Kate, Trout Walker, odors, sneakers, the lizards, and Camp Green Lake.


Holes -- Structuralism


We see in Holes the need to tell stories.


The legends--Stanley's destiny is linked to the family stories.


Zero's illiteracy -- his identity is linked to learning how to read. 


In structuralist theory, the meaning of structure differs from its use in formalism and in archetypal theory.  Formalism defines a work of art as a unified whole achieved through the repetition of structural and imagistic patterns.  Archetypal theory moves beyond the concept of form as an internal governing principle to locate a work as a recurring structure within the larger framework of literary traditions.  These theories share with structuralism an intense interest in system, but structuralism differs from the other two because its system is based on linguistic structures inside the work.  Like formalists, structuralists work inside the text itself; but instead of looking for patterns of architectural unity, structuralists analyze the ways in which language itself produces meaning.


Words and Signs


In traditional usage a word meant something fixed, solid, self-contained, independent.  In Saussure's grammar, word is replaced with sign, and he defines a sign as something fluid, changing, dependent.  What a sign means is based on its usage inside the culture that speaks the language.  This theory of signs is called semiotics, a way of making meaning that occurs when we read the signs of a culture.


·The meaning of a sign can be found not in itself but in its relationships with other signs within a system.  To interpret an individual sign, then, you must determine the general system in which it belongs.


·What we call social reality is a human construct, the product of a cultural mythology that intervenes between our minds and the world we experience.  Such cultural myths reflect the values and ideological interests of their builders, not the laws of nature or logic.  Truth is a problematic term in structuralist theory because reality is not a priori, that is, it does not exist as a universal idea outside the specifics of human experience.


In semiotic terms, cultures construct their own versions of truth within their own concept of reality, and language is the most important tool in these constructions. 


Interpretation results as we decode the signs of the text from the perspectives of our own cultural mythologies; consequently, our reading results in a unique text that only we can produce.  There is no universal, accepted reading of the text, so we produce a "veritable fabrication" of the world of the text.


We teach a "literary system" through which we decode or figure out the meaning of the signs of the text.


First we find the "mobile fragments" -- units which have no meaning in themselves, but acquire meaning from their relationships to other units in the text.  These fragments taken together create a group, an "intelligent organism" that we can know because it is different from all other groups in the text.  Once we have discovered these units through our dissection, we articulate the grammar rules that associate them, and in this way we construct our version of the text.


What figurative language (code) is used to construct Stanley?  What defines him?


What figurative language (code) is used to construct others? 


What defines the world(s) Stanley lives in?