What types of conflict are present in Louis Sachar's Holes: man versus self, man versus man, or man versus society?

Holes contains all of the common types of conflict, including man versus society, man versus nature, man versus man, and man versus self.

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Stanley Yelnats, the main character of Holes, experiences all of these types of conflict through the novel. This is just one example of each type of conflict, but there are many other examples in the novel.

From the omniscient narrator, the reader learns about Camp Green Lake, a dried-up Texas lakebed that frequently reaches ninety-five degrees and is home to rattlesnakes, scorpions, and yellow-spotted lizards. These elements of nature are what the boys of Camp Green Lake must battle with to “dig a hole every day in the hot sun” (chapter 2). This is an example of a conflict between man and nature.

We also quickly meet Stanley, who is “from a poor family” (chapter 2) and “overweight” (chapter 3). He is being sent to Camp Green Lake for a crime that he did not commit. At Camp Green Lake, they believe that if a “bad boy” digs a hole every day, it turns him into a “good boy” (chapter 2). Even though Stanly is innocent, he is sent to camp and must fulfill his punishment. Stanley’s lack of privilege also further distances him from seeing justice in the criminal justice system. This part establishes the conflict between man and society.

When Stanley learns to dig holes, he must overcome conflict within himself. When he first tries to stick his shovel into the ground, he is not able to. He thinks that the shovel “wasn't defective. He was defective” (chapter 7). Stanley also works throughout the novel to overcome his sense of shame about his body image and his family’s history. These conflicts within Stanley demonstrate a conflict of man versus self.

Stanley, along with all the campers, is usually in conflict with the authority figures of the camp. When one of the campers steals Mr. Sir’s sunflower seeds, Stanley takes the blame. After that, Mr. Sir does not fill Stanley’s canteen. Instead, he

held the canteen right next to the stream of water. Stanley watched the water splatter on the dirt, where it was quickly absorbed by the thirsty ground (chapter 24).

This conflict between Stanley and Mr. Sir is one example of the man versus man conflict in the book.

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Man versus nature occurs when the boys are working in the dessert. The boys must dig holes in the hot sun every day, which is exhausting work. The boys also have to watch out for the poisonous lizards that could kill them. Stanley and Zero also run away from camp and do not have anything to drink and have to fight to survive.

Man versus society occurs when Stanley is sent to a correctional facility for something he did not do. He is treated like a delinquent and forced to dig holes all day as a punishment. Another conflict in the story occurs in the flashbacks where Sam is killed for kissing Katherine, a white woman, which was illegal at the time.

Man versus man occurs between the boys and the guards. The guards treat the boys poorly, even forcing them to dig holes through the night. The guards are using the boys to locate the treasure. They do not care if the boys are exhausted and thirsty. They even pour the boys' water on the ground at one point. Zero, tired of the abuse, hits one of the guards in the face with a shovel.

Man versus self occurs when both Zero and Stanley struggle with feelings of worthlessness. Zero's feelings stem from poverty and homelessness.

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All three of those types of conflicts are present in Holes. The boys sent to Camp Green Lake have their own internal demons or weaknesses to confront: Zero is needy, insecure, and often seems surly from experiencing homelessness and having lost or been abandoned by his mother, Stanley has to learn to be less naive and develop a greater sense of self-confidence, and X-Ray is hampered in developing friendships by his tendency to be so transactional.

Cruelty or man's inhumanity to man is another important aspect of this novel. The boys at the camp have to learn to deal with the cruelty of the guards. The guards poured the boys' meager supply of water on the ground in front of them because they displeased one of the guards, which creates in the boys an "us versus them" mentality against their captors. Mr. Pendanski, for example, provokes Zero to such an extent that Zero hits him in the face with a shovel. Individual hostile authority figures present a constant threat to the boys.

Societal injustice is a central theme of this novel: the boys at the camp are victims of systemic injustice, being caught in a correctional system that routinely treats them with harshness. Stanley didn't even commit the crime for which he was sent to the camp. Societal greed conflicts with the boys' needs; the boys are subjected to digging holes in the hot desert by people in power who have internalized the larger society's valuing of material gain over the well-being of other, more vulnerable humans. Further, systemic racism comes into conflict with love and causes the people in the town of Green Lake to treat Kate and Sam cruelly when they become an interracial couple.

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Holes is packed as tight with conflict as the dry dirt beds of Camp Green Lake are packed with dirt. The book's author, Louis Sachar, doesn't throw just one type of conflict at Stanley, the book's main character. Stanley struggles with all three of these types of conflict.

First, let's look at "Man vs. Self." No, this doesn't mean Stanley tries to arm-wrestle himself. It refers to an inner struggle that he must overcome. Stanley's biggest inner struggle is to believe in his own worth and strength. You can see Stanley struggling with this throughout the novel. For example, in Chapter 7, Stanley has trouble digging a hole. He blames himself for not being strong enough:

He glanced helplessly at his shovel. It wasn't defective. He was defective.

"Man vs. Man" is a bit easier to identify. Who is Stanley's biggest adversary in the novel—the one who works against him the most and poses the biggest threat? In this case, it's the Warden. This comes across in many scenes. One example is when the Warden puts a stop to the arrangement Stanley has made with Zero, in which he teaches Zero to read and Zero helps dig Stanley's holes:

"Okay, from now on, I don't want anyone digging anyone else's hole," said the warden. "And no more reading lessons."

Stanley also struggles against society. After all, it's society that has allowed Camp Green Lake to exist. Society has further failed to ensure the safety of the boys who are sent there. It's society that failed to take care of Zero, who becomes very important to Stanley.

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