Zero was the smallest kid in Group D, but he was the first one to finish digging. “You’re finished?” Stanley asked enviously. Zero said nothing. Stanley walked to Zero’s hole and watched him measure it with his shovel.
In Stanley’s first days at Camp Green Lake, the narrator describes Zero as the smallest kid in the group, but also the quickest hole digger. In this scene, Stanley observes Zero’s speed with envy. Zero responds wordlessly by measuring his hole, showing his pride in besting the standards with meticulous work. His ability to dig a perfect hole in the shortest time presents Zero as a quiet but strategic character.
”Why’d you help me?” Stanley asked . . . Zero stared at him. His eyes seemed to expand, and it was almost as if Zero were looking right through him. “You didn’t steal the sneakers,” he said . . . “I’ll try to teach you to read if you want,” Stanley offered . . . A big smile spread across Zero’s face.
This interchange between Zero and Stanley provides several clues about Zero as a character. First, Zero reveals his sense of fairness when he explains why he helped dig Stanley’s hole after Stanley takes the blame in the sunflower seed incident. He even hints at a connection with the stolen sneakers. In addition, he reveals his strong desire to learn to read and the joy he feels when Stanley offers to help him.
“I’m not stupid,” Zero said. “I know everybody thinks I am. I just don’t like answering their questions.”
While Stanley teaches Zero the alphabet, Zero demonstrates his impressive natural math abilities. Amazed, Stanley asks him about his math skills, and Zero explains that he understands he’s underestimated. People assume that his lack of participation in school settings equates to stupidity, but they misunderstand his motivation. At this point, Zero’s past remains a mystery, and this moment deepens the intrigue surrounding Zero’s life. The story portrays Zero’s native intelligence, as well as the failure of the system to teach him how to read and write.
Then, suddenly, Zigzag was off of him. Stanley managed to look up, and he saw that Zero had his arm around Zigzag’s long neck. Zigzag made a gagging sound, as he desperately tried to pry Zero’s arm off of him. “You’re going to kill him!” shouted Mr. Pendanski. Zero kept squeezing.
Zero comes to Stanley’s aid with an intense display of street fighting. When the group hazes Stanley for letting Zero dig part of his holes, Mr. Pendanski encourages a fist fight between Stanley and Zigzag that gets out of hand. Zero physically attacks Zigzag to get him to stop beating up Stanley. Despite being smaller than Zigzag, Zero doesn’t think twice about his actions, a decision that demonstrates his loyalty to Stanley as well as courage and physical strength. However, in this moment Zero also reveals a dark, almost uncontrollable rage as he nearly strangles Zigzag to death.
“I know you mean well, Stanley, but face it, Zero’s too stupid to learn to read. That’s what makes his blood boil. Not the hot sun.” “I’m not digging another hole,” said Zero . . . Zero took the shovel. Then he swung it like a baseball bat. The metal blade smashed across Mr. Pendanski’s face.
Zero, done with taking Mr. Pendanski’s verbal abuse, physically strikes Mr. Pendanski with a shovel. Earlier, Zero demonstrated his strength and anger with Zigzag, so readers already understood that, although small in stature, Zero possesses a dangerous mix of rage and fighting skill. In this moment, Zero decides that he has had enough of mistreatment and control. Zero has shown a thoughtful moral compass not characteristic of a person who is violent by nature. Rather, he has clearly reached a breaking point after suffering more emotional and mental abuse than he can take.
Zero had deep gashes in both hands. He had held onto the metal blade of the shovel, keeping it in place, as Stanley climbed.
When Stanley and Zero have to help each other up one of the difficult ridges of the mountain, Zero demonstrates his commitment to their survival and willingness to sacrifice for Stanley. The narrator describes how Zero incurs injuries to facilitate Stanley’s climb up the ridge. Zero literally bleeds for Stanley, showing his loyalty and strength of character.
When I was little, I didn’t even know it was stealing. I don’t remember when I found out. But we just took what we needed, never more. So when I saw the shoes on display in the shelter, I just reached in the glass case and took them . . . I didn’t know they were his. I just thought they were someone’s old shoes.
Zero finally reveals to Stanley his connection to Clyde Livington’s stolen shoes, genuinely admitting fault and showing regret. Zero explains how stealing was just a part of his upbringing, an act he and his mother did out of necessity. Zero’s admission reveals his strength of character. He legitimately believed he was just taking some old sneakers and truly regrets stealing. He never meant to harm anyone with his actions.
“I don’t know what happened to my mother,” Zero said. “She left and never came back . . . She couldn’t always take me with her . . . Sometimes she had to do things by herself.” Stanley had the feeling that Zero was explaining things to himself.
When Zero tells Stanley about some of his experiences with his mother growing up, he reveals a great deal about his past and how specific events affected him. Stanley’s response here shows understanding that Zero shares these details as a way to come to grasp with what he has experienced. Readers may infer that while Zero’s mother may have loved her son, she struggled with issues beyond her control and, as a result, both emotionally and physically abandoned Zero. As these details surface in the course of the story, readers and Stanley gain a better understanding of Zero’s character.
He jerked it free. “It belongs to Stanley . . . It’s got his name on it,” said Zero. Stanley’s lawyer pushed past the tall man to have a look. “See,” Zero showed her. “Stanley Yelnats.”
After Stanley and Zero find the treasure and escape the deadly lizards, Zero proves his intelligence, loyalty, and courage once again as he stands up to the Warden. In this moment, Zero demonstrates his newfound ability to read as well as his courage and fortitude in revealing that Stanley is the rightful owner of the briefcase. Zero’s intelligence and strength of character prove invaluable in this moment.
A woman sitting in the chair behind Hector was absentmindedly fluffing his hair with her fingers. She wasn’t very old, but her skin had a weathered look to it, almost like leather. Her eyes seemed weary, as if she’d seen too many things in her life that she didn’t want to see. And when she smiled, her mouth seemed too big for her face.
As the novel concludes, the narrator leaves the reader with the idea that Zero/Hector has finally been reunited with his mother, who gives him the love he truly deserves. The image of a young boy cherished by his mother replaces Zero’s tough, independent persona. The narrator also reveals a bit about Zero’s mother, a woman who has clearly survived her own share of pain and struggles. Yet despite the troubles Zero and his mother have experienced apart from each other, each feels more than happy to have reunited once again.