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Juvenile Justice:
Annotations on Holes

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: February 26, 2000
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Reading for Local Narrative

Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata
Part of Teaching Series
Copyright: Curran and Takata, February 2000. "Fair Use" encouraged.

We asked you to read Holes for the same reason we present it to children. It's a nice happy, sort of, ending story that provides some insight into what a detention camp is like, what the children are like, what the counselors are like. It's a story. But sometimes a story is easier to talk about than the real world.

One of the nice things about a story is that you can read it, analyze it, and go back over it. It doesn't change. At least not in the book. In real life it's hard to get that kind of instant play back. So this story is for practice in listening in good faith to validity claims, some of which are never actively brought before us.


The first sentence provides a clue to what is to come. "There is no lake at Camp Green Lake." For those of us who are used to rampant urban change, that might seem right up there with normal. Lakes dry up, waters are dammed and diverted, wilderness turns to desert. But it bodes naught but ill for our story, for if there is no lake, how can one have a camp? Sachar has set the tone of labelling, certitude, knowingness, and unquestioning acceptance of the context, for it simply is. No emotion. No value laden terms. No adjectives. Just the facts, ma'am.

A little further down that first page, we find: "The Warden owns the shade." Again, unquestioning acceptance, despite the odd twist of language. One rarely speaks of "owning" shade. But in this desolate spot, shade seems something to be owned, property, belonging to the one in authority.

The last line of the first chapter, heightens the sense of hopelessness. If you are bitten by a yellow-spotted lizard, "[t]here is nothing anyone can do to you anymore." Not nothing that anyone can do for you. Nothing anyone can do to you. The tone has been set as one of external locus of control (Rotter). This means that the perception of the world is one of things happening to you, not being done for you. And things happening to you because of the external actions of others, not through your own agency.

Locus of control is a concept Rotter explored to understand why some people seem to make things happen, while others are content to let life happen to them. Rotter found that there are, in fact, both types. In the Simi Valley earthquake in the 70's in L.A., considerable counseling was needed to help victims to readjust. It was found that those with a strong sense of internal locus of control were more affected than others, for they had lost control over their world. Homes were collapsing, furniture flying across the room, walls collapsed. People with a strong inner locus of control were unable to accept that there was nothing they could do. People with external locus of control weren't surprised and frustrated by recognizing this situation in which they had no control.

The narrator of Holes, through the relative lack of emotional response, seems to indicate an external locus of control, an acceptance that there are many things we cannot control. This concept plays an important part in understanding both corrections approaches and prevention. To the extent that we convince a young person that we have external control to which he/she must bow, he/she is more likely to blame someone like Stanley's "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather." (At p. 7) To the extent that the young person believes in external locus of control, he/she is less likely to believe in his/her own power to control the world from within, by his/her own actions. How odd that we insist upon absolute external control of reward and punishment, and are then surprised that the young person doesn't show the intrinsic motivation to achieve.

Adorno and Horkheimer, in their conclusion that the Enlightenment, through which humans sought to gain ultimate truth through science and learning, had proven to be a double-edged sword. Adorno and Horkheimer pointed out that humans had sought to control nature to their own advantage, and, in so doing, had destroyed much that would have better served us uncontrolled. This is a sad conclusion, one that even Habermas rejects in the hope of still rescuing at least a metanarrative of critical reason by which we can make decisions in the public sphere.

How much and how far do we need to control? And how does this fit with out need for creativity? Such questions run through the entire criminal justice system.

And we meet the criminal justice system on p.5: "Camp Green Lake is a camp for bad boys."

The criminal justice theory is simple: "If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy." Of course, Sachar adds, "That was what some people thought."