The House of the Scorpion

Meet the Author:

Nancy Farmer (website)
     Nancy Farmer lived with her parents and her two older siblings throughout her early childhood. They lived in Phoenix, Arizona near the United States-Mexico border. This landscape influenced the setting for one of her novels, The House of the Scorpion. She started running the reception desk at her father’s hotel when she was nine and many of the stories that she heard from travelers passing through influenced her. When she was young, her parents didn’t have very many rules, and she had free reign of the city. Her only real guidance in her early years was her older sister Mary, who clung to Farmer from the time she was born. This was because their mother had taken a special liking to their older brother, Lee. Although her older brother Lee was the most willing to learn among the three of them, Farmer loved to read. One time while walking in an alley, Farmer found a few pages that had been torn out of a book and thrown on the ground. She took them to the library, while she was supposed to be in school, and asked for the book they came out of. She took the book home and read it that night. Farmer joined the Peace Corps shortly after high school and was sent to Africa. By the time she began writing she had lived in Africa for 17 years. She knew what they liked and so she started writing books about America which sold easily in Africa. Farmer eventually got some of her books published in the United States. Now Nancy Farmer lives in Menlo Park, California with her husband Harold Farmer. Her books have been translated into over 20 languages.


Book Summary:

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     Significant Quote from the novel: "When you’re small, you can choose which way to grow. If you’re kind and decent, you grow into a kind and decent man...He grew large and green until he shadowed over the whole forest, but most of his branches are twisted" (Farmer 70).

     This quote is important because Tam Lin is able to show Matt that you can choose who you become and that Matt is not destined to become just like El Patrón because he is his clone.

     Youth: 0-6

          The story starts with a scientist named Eduardo. He is studying 36 dishes, each with the beginning of a clone in it. The memory of one of these clones is not blunted because one scientist says, "It’s a Matteo Alacrán." The story then skips to a period five years later, illustrating a boy named Matt. He lives in a small house in the middle of a poppy field with his care giver, Celia. He is not allowed to leave the house, but one day three children come to the window and he talks to them. The next day, Matt breaks the window and jumps out. His feet are cut by the glass so the three children begin to carry him back to their house. On the way they see a tattoo on his foot that says "Property of the Alacrán Estate." When the servants at the estate find out what it is, they throw him onto the front lawn. Matt is eventually put into a very small room with a hard bed and receives a new care giver named Rosa. María, one of the three children, brings Matt food and mango juice. They talk for a long time until Rosa saw María and forced her to go to bed. Matt is kept in the small room and mistreated by Rosa and the doctor, Willum. Rosa replaces Matt’s bed with chicken litter continuing his suffering. The doctor says that his health has improved because of the chicken litter. This section of the story ends with Matt staring solemnly at a dove feather and finding solace in the spiders and bees that enter his room.


     Middle Age: 7-11

          In this section of the story, Matt finally meets El Patrón. El Patrón is appalled at the way Matt has been treated and he has Rosa forced out the room by his two bodyguards, Tam Lin and Daft Donald. Matt is then given the opportunity to choose one of El Patrón’s bodyguards to play with. Matt chooses Tam Lin because he saw a "glint of friendliness" that had lately been missing in his life (Farmer 63.) Once María returns to her house in order to go to school, Matt gets a teacher. The teacher is an eejit who repeats the same thing over and over and makes Matt count the same things every day. A few days later, Matt and Tam Lin go on a picnic. When they are riding on a Safe Horse they come across an eejit in the fields. It is dead because it worked too hard and didn’t get enough water. The eejits continue working until they are told to stop. Tam Lin shows Matt a secret oasis that he found shortly after he started working for El Patrón. For a few weeks, Matt had been watching Felicia, Tom’s mother, play piano. One day, when Felicia didn’t come to play, Matt slowly crept to her piano. When the door suddenly opened, Matt had to hide in the closet. Upon flipping the light switch, part of the fall slid away revealing a secret passage which allowed him to sneak around the house. He tells El Patrón that he wants to learn to play piano so Mr. Ortega, a deaf piano teacher, is hired. At El Patrón’s next birthday party, Matt learns that El Patrón is now 143 years old and he wonders how anyone could be that old. Matt also learns that he shares the same birthday as El Patrón. At Matt and El Patrón’s birthday party, Matt demands a birthday kiss from María because he is mad at her for defending Tom. El Patrón describes his childhood and the story of how his siblings all died when they were young. He tells Matt that it is better to have wealth flowing in than it is to have wealth flowing out. Felicia and Tom trick Matt and María into meeting at the hospital. While there, they saw a strange creature on a hospital bed. María ran off crying because she knew that it was a clone and that it would eventually happen to Matt. Since María won’t talk to Matt, he drugged her dog Furball with laudanum and hid him in the shed by the pool. He left a note signed Matt saying that if she ever wanted to see her dog again she would meet him at a certain time and place. Tom found the dog and killed it so he could blame it on Matt. Celia tells Matt about El Patrón’s past. She also tells him that once El Patrón decides something belongs to him, he doesn’t let it go.

     Old Age: 12-14

          As Matt is no longer allowed to see María, he finds himself visiting the oasis more and more often. One day when he goes to get a Safe Horse, he sees Rosa. He is surprised to see that she has been turned into an eejit and she no longer recognizes him. When he reaches the oasis he finds a chest from Tam Lin which contains food and books. María finally returns with her father to visit. She tells Matt that he can be saved if he is good. "Brother Wolf, today is a new day and you're going to turn over a new leaf" (Farmer 158). They sneak through Matt's hidden passage and they see a room with a lot of computers. When Tom and Felicia leave the room, Matt and María go in to look at the security footage. They see that Tom and Felicia were the ones that killed Furball and María forgives Matt. Matt goes to the eejit pens and decides to free the eejits when he is helping the man in charge. Matt realizes that he is a clone who will provide spare parts for El Patrón when he overhears MacGregor and El Patrón talking. He learns that the thing on the bed was MacGregor’s clone and that he was killed so MacGregor could live. Matt also sees that El Patrón and MacGregor have different motives for what they do.

"El Patrón was moved by a motive very different from MacGregor’s. It was, the boy realized, simple vanity. When the old man looked at Matt, he saw himself: young, strong, and sound of mind. It was like looking into a mirror. The effect wouldn’t be the same if Matt were a drooling, blubbering thing on a hospital bed" (Farmer 192).

Matt travels to the oasis again in order to figure out a plan to escape, he learns that Esperanza Mendoza, the author of a book about Opium, is María’s mother. At Steven and Emilia’s wedding, El Patrón has a heart attack. Matt is confused as to what he should do, but he decides to hide in his passage. María comes and tells him that the entire house is searching for him and that Tam Lin wants him to stay there. María tells Matt that they can escape on her father’s hovercraft. When they arrive at the hovercraft, Steven and Emilia are waiting to tell everyone where they are. Matt is taken away and he wonders if he will ever be able to see Tam Lin, Celia, or María again.

     Age 14

          When Matt awakes, he is on the table that MacGregor’s clone was on. Celia tells El Patrón that he can’t used Matt’s heart because she poisoned him with just enough arsenic to where it would kill someone weak who tried to steal it. When El Patrón dies, Tam Lin is told to get rid of Matt. Instead of killing Matt, Tam Lin takes him to the oasis so Matt can have a chance to escape. The part of the story ends when Matt successfully outruns the Farm Patrol and makes it to Aztlán

     La Vida Nueva

          The Aztlános think that Matt’s family tried to cross the border so they put him in an orphanage. Matt had trouble fitting in with the other "Lost Boys" because he didn’t know anything about the outside world. Matt eventually made friends, such as Chacho and Fidelito, through their common hatred of Raúl, a Keeper of the orphanage. The three boys are sent to a plankton factory, which is run by a man named Carlos. Keeper Jorge tells Matt that everyone does bad things and that if he admits his he can become part of the hive. When Fidelito is about to be beat by Jorge, Matt stands up and takes the beating for him. Through Ton-Ton and Luna, Matt learns that the guards take laudanum every night and he quickly formulates a plan for escape. The next day Jorge decides to beat Fidelito to break Matt. Before he attacks, Matt knocks him to the ground and starts hitting him with the stick. When the other Keepers enter, the rebellion leaves the boys and they disperse. Chacho and Matt are taken to the Boneyard, a giant hole filled with the bones of dead whales. Matt is able to crawl out by the end of the next day, but when he calls to Chacho, he gets no response. Ton-Ton and Fidelito arrive with the shrimp harvester, a vehicle that only travels a few miles an hour. They are able to pull Chacho out of the bones, but he is injured. They decide to continue Matt’s plan of going to San Luis. Eventually the harvester breaks down and Matt and Fidelito walk ahead in order to try and find help. They ran into a woman and a man who took them to San Luis. They went to a castle atop a hill which turned out to be a convent. There Chacho was being held in intensive care. While trying to fight off attacking Keepers, Matt sees Esperanza Mendoza and María. They send Matt to Opium, which is on lockdown in order to try and install Matt as the new drug lord. When he gets there, he is surprised to find the house pretty much empty, except for Celia, Daft Donald, and Mr. Ortega. They tell him how El Patrón had a poisoned wine made for his family to drink on the event of his death. They drink it and they all die and therefore El Patrón’s massive wealth is not passed on to anyone of his family members.

Analysis of Themes:


Superman's doppelganger
          Matt and El Patrón are each others doppelganger. Since Matt is a clone of El Patrón, they are the same person, yet they have different personalities. When El Patrón was young, he lost most of his family due to their extreme poverty, and therefore when he grew up he was greedy and didn’t trust anyone. Matt had everything provided for him thanks to El Patrón’s money and Celia and Tam Lin’s love. He was able to overcome El Patrón’s anger, which he could feel within him, thanks to his decent childhood. Farmer uses Matt and El Patrón as each other’s doppelganger to emphasize her point that during one’s youth they have the opportunity to be what they want and decide what they want to do with their life.

     Duality of Human Nature

The greatest battle lies within.
         Matt and El Patrón also show the duality of human nature. They are the same person yet they have the exact opposite qualities of each other. Matt is kind, while El Patrón is cruel. When Matt acts like El Patrón at one of his birthday parties, he shows that human nature has two sides and a person can easily switch between the sides. As the poster of Spiderman 3 to the left says, the greatest battle lies within. Throughout The House of the Scorpion, Matt constantly struggles with the cruel hatred that he inherited from El Patrón and his judgment. Although by the end of the novel Matt had overcome this struggle, it will always be there because that part of El Patrón is still in him.

     Science and Profit

Science (chip) and profit (penny)
          In the case of The House of the Scorpion, the technology of cloning leads to what seems could be the chance at eternal life for El Patrón. El Patrón makes the technology available to himself through the use of his massive wealth. Instead of using his money to have the study furthered to where it doesn’t involve the murder of a clone or to where the masses could use it, he stops the development when it reaches his needs. It is stopped at the basics and El Patrón doesn’t care if a clone is murdered, as long as he still lives. Science and profit are often closely related. Many people enter the field of science hoping to become famous, which is a type of profit, but others, unlike El Patrón, hope to further mankind’s knowledge of the world and to improve it.
". . . for gold conjures up a mist about a man, more destructive of all his old senses and lulling to his feelings than the fumes of charcoal . . ." - Charles Dickens


Ash and Pikachu
          Friendship is an important theme in the novel as it shapes the way El Patrón and Matt live their lives. El Patrón loses his siblings when he is very young and therefore he lives his life full of anger and loneliness. Matt’s early life is filled with love from Tam Lin and Celia, making him happy and less prone to violence. Matt’s friendship are the reason he is able to be his own self and not to turn into El Patrón.

     Self-reliance/Overcoming Impossible Odds

some random game
          Farmer likes to write about success or triumph stories, in which a character is able to beat impossible odds. She likes to create stories in which there is a winner, and not in which the character continues to suffer after realizing some horrible truth. On her official home page, Farmer says, "I don't want to write 'victim' books. I want a triumph, a hero or a heroine, and that's what I write about" (Farmer).

^Farmer, Nancy. "Nancy Farmer Official Home Page." Nancy Farmer's Official Home Page - Home. Web. 15 May 2010.

^Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2003.

Word Count: 2645

Page Created by Cameron Van Zandt
Last Updated: 6/3/10 at 4:27 P.M. PST

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