Chapters 18-20 Summary

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The next day, Mr. Sir takes the boys to a new part of the lake. They each go back to digging their own holes, five feet wide and five feet deep. Stanley is glad. He likes knowing how much he has to dig every day. It is also less nerve-wracking without the Warden hanging around.

Stanley has to move slowly and gingerly because his head aches from the accident with Zigzag’s shovel. However, the rest of his body is not sore. He is tougher and stronger than he used to be. He is still slower at digging than the other boys, but not by much.

That afternoon, Stanley writes to his mother again. He claims he has been learning to rock climb at camp. He stays in the tent so the other boys cannot tease him, but he keeps working when Zero comes in. When Zero looks at the note, Stanley tells him not to read over his shoulder. “I don’t know how,” Zero says. He asks Stanley to teach him to read and write. Stanley refuses. He does not know how to teach, and he is too tired after digging all day to try.

Sometime later, Stanley wakes up during the night and realizes Squid is crying. He asks Squid if he is okay, but Squid just says he has allergies. Later Squid threatens to beat Stanley up if he brings it up again.

Most of the time, Stanley does not talk. He is glad the other boys accept him, but he does not really feel like one of them. Unlike him, they are all actual criminals. One day during a water break, Magnet steals Mr. Sir’s sunflower seeds. The boys toss the bag around, saying they are grateful to eat something different for a change. When Zigzag tosses the bag to Stanley, he fails to catch it and the seeds spill into his hole. Just then, Mr. Sir returns.

Stanley knows he looks guilty. Cursing his bad luck, he says he stole the sunflower seeds. He knows nothing good will come if he tells on anyone else, so he also claims he ate them without any help from the other boys. The boys tease him and pretend to be mad that Stanley did not share.

Mr. Sir drives Stanley to see the Warden. On the way, Stanley feels relieved to be sitting down on a comfortable seat, not digging, and letting the wind blow on his face. He is surprised that he feels happy about anything.

The Warden brings Stanley into her air-conditioned house, where he confesses again. Mr. Sir tells the Warden he thinks Stanley is covering up for somebody else. The Warden listens to all this and tells Stanley to go get a flowered case from the other room. He obeys, and she shows him her make-up inside the case. She gets out a bottle of nail polish. She explains that its deep red color comes from rattlesnake venom but that it is only poisonous while it is wet.

While Stanley and Mr. Sir watch, the Warden paints her nails. She brushes her fingers lightly along Stanley’s face, which terrifies him. Then she turns to Mr. Sir and hits him in the face—hard—drawing blood and getting her venomous nail polish into the wound. Mr. Sir falls to the ground, writing in pain from the poison. She stands over him and says coldly that she does not care about his sunflower seeds.

The Warden orders Stanley back to his hole. Before he leaves, Stanley tries to ask a question, but he cannot get the words out. The Warden guesses what he wants to ask. “He’s not going to die,” she says. “Unfortunately for you.”

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