He didn’t have any friends at home. He was overweight and the kids at his middle school often teased him about his size. Even his teachers sometimes made cruel comments without realizing it.
Early in the novel, the narrator gives a description of Stanley Yelnats prior to his incarceration at Camp Green Lake. Stanley’s troubles start long before the false conviction on theft and his sentencing to Camp Green Lake. These lines explain how Stanley did not have any friends and was often bullied or mistreated by others. Readers later learn that his life feels so difficult that he even looks hopefully at his sentence as an opportunity to possibly make friends.
Back at school, a bully named Derrick Dunne used to torment Stanley. The teachers never took Stanley’s complaints seriously, because Derrick was so much smaller than Stanley. Some teachers even seemed to find it amusing that a little kid like Derrick could pick on someone as big as Stanley.
As Stanley faces the first night at Camp Green Lake, the narrator flashes back to describe Stanley’s life before going to the camp. Students bullied and mistreated Stanley, and occasionally some teachers failed to protect him from other teachers’ harsh treatment. Through this description, the narrator presents Stanley as a pitiful character who lacks confidence, endures persecution, and resigns himself to his difficult and painful circumstances.
He was glad they called him Caveman. It meant they accepted him as a member of the group. He would have been glad even if they’d called him Barf Bag.
The narrator describes how Stanley feels happy with the nickname Caveman given to him by the other boys at Camp Green Lake. Stanley feels accepted by the other boys, each of whom also has his own nickname. Stanley feels so desperate for friendship or simple acknowledgment that he will take any type of nickname. Later, as Stanley reflects on how his bully back home would never stand a chance against the boys at camp, his sense of inclusion allows him to naively hope he and the other camp boys may become friends.
“You don’t have to teach me to write,” said Zero. “Just to read. I don’t have anybody to write to.” “Sorry,” Stanley said again. His muscles and hands weren’t the only parts of his body that had toughened over the past several weeks. His heart had hardened as well.
Readers note how Stanley Yelnats begins to transform as Camp Green Lake’s harsh environment hardens him physically and emotionally. In this dialogue between Stanley and Zero, Zero breaks down his own walls, admits to Stanley that he does not know how to read and write, and asks Stanley to teach him to read. However, in this moment, Stanley can only think about surviving and refuses to help Zero. While he later does teach Zero how to read, this moment highlights the negative effects Camp Green Lake has on its residents.
Stanley angrily dug his shovel into the dirt. He was angry at everyone—Mr. Pendanski, the Warden, Zigzag, X-Ray, and his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather. But mostly he was angry at himself. He knew he never should have let Zero dig part of his hole for him. He still could have taught him to read.
After Zero hits Mr. Pendanski and runs off into the desert, the narrator describes Stanley’s continuing transformation. In this quote, the narrator observes Stanley’s anger with himself for getting Zero into a desperate situation. While first blaming everyone else, Stanley ultimately accepts his feeling of guilt and begins thinking about ways to help Zero. These lines reveal how Zero’s friendship has changed Stanley from a victim into a person who cares about what happens to him and those around him.
What worried him the most was the thought of his parents not knowing what happened to him, not knowing whether he was dead or alive. He hated to imagine what it would be like for his mother and father, day after day, month after month, not knowing, living on false hope. For him, at least, it would be over. For his parents, the pain would never end.
As Stanley and Zero try to survive by climbing the mountain to reach Big Thumb, the narrator explains how Stanley reflects on dying. Stanley worries more about his parents than his actual death. This reaction not only proves Stanley’s love for his parents, but also his genuine knowledge that his parents love him. Despite Stanley’s difficulties, he still has the valuable love of his family.
He thought only about each step, and not the impossible task that lay before him. Higher and higher he climbed. His strength came from somewhere deep inside himself and also seemed to come from the outside as well.
Stanley picks up Zero’s unconscious body and carries him up the mountain as they try to reach Big Thumb to find water. Here, the narrator describes how Stanley summons inner resources and focuses on Big Thumb in order to accomplish such an impossible task. Stanley’s act of strength, courage, and friendship redefines his character in the novel.
It occurred to him that he couldn’t remember the last time he felt happiness. It wasn’t just being sent to Camp Green Lake that had made his life miserable. Before that he’d been unhappy at school, where he had no friends, and bullies like Derrick Dunne picked on him. No one liked him, and the truth was, he didn’t especially like himself. He liked himself now.
The narrator describes Stanley’s inner transformation that occurs after arriving at Camp Green Lake. Not only has Stanley grown into a confident and happy individual, but he has also developed the awareness to note his own transformation, as well as the wisdom to recognize why such a transformation occurred. Stanley understands that making choices, taking action, and finding a friend have all led to his newfound inner strength and happiness. Through hardship, Stanley finally found self-confidence.
He tried to think about other things. He didn’t want to die with the images of the Warden, Mr. Sir, and the lizards etched into his brain. Instead, he tried to see his mother’s face.
Stanley and Zero face death again as they step in a nest of deadly lizards. Stanley chooses to focus on a reassuring and peaceful image: his mother’s face. Such a choice reveals his innocence and love for his mother. Despite Stanley’s personal growth and acts of courage and heroism, he remains a little boy who finds simple comfort in the memory of his mother.
Stanley stopped and turned to look at Zero. He couldn’t just leave him here. Zero gave him thumbs-up. “I can’t leave Hector,” Stanley said.
In one of the final chapters of the novel, Stanley demonstrates his full transformation as he stands up for his friend. As he prepares to leave Camp Green Lake, Stanley refuses to leave Zero, whom he identifies by his real name, Hector. At one point in Stanley’s life, he not only did not have friends, but he rarely stood up for himself, let alone anyone else. Here, on the verge of personal freedom, Stanley prioritizes the bond he shares with his friend.