The House of the Scorpion Dystopian Novel Analysis by Ralph K Jones

Dystopian Literature Review

The House of the Scorpion: Coming of Age in Opium

From growing up in a lonely little house, to proving you’re more than just an animal, to naive schemes of love and attention, The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer is a remarkable coming-of-age story told within a dystopian setting. The book effortlessly merges the trials and tribulations of growing up with the horrors of a society that has lost all sense of morality. As we traverse through the story, we find the most depraved and deplorable aspects of society, but we also witness triumphs over all of the bad. The story of The House of the Scorpion displays how there’s still humanity to be had amidst the madness.

The House of the Scorpion

The story takes place within the country of Aztlan, which was formerly called Mexico in a time long ago. Another country, known as Opium, sits on the border of Aztlan and the United States, which is ruled by a ruthless drug lord known as El Patron. People who try to cross the border illegally are caught and turned into mindless drones known as “eejits” and forced to work in poppy fields. El Patron considers everything and everyone his property, doing whatever he pleases with any of them. Worst of all, the other nations of the world turn a blind eye to his evils, allowing him to transgress with complete impunity.

The House of the Scorpion In-depth Review

The House of the Scorpion begins with a young boy named Matt, who lives in a secluded house with his caretaker Celia. Matt is not allowed to go outside, and is told very little about the world by his guardian. One day, while Celia is out at work, children come to his house and take interest in him. Matt wants to talk to them, so he breaks a window to get outside, but ends up cutting his foot on broken glass. The children take him back to an estate to get him help.

“After all, what is suffering but an awareness of suffering?”

― Nancy Farmer, The House of the Scorpion

As he receives medical care, a woman named Rosa notices that he has “Property of the Alacran Estate” tattooed on his foot, and they correctly presume he is a clone. Matt then starts being treated like an animal, and is confined to a sawdust-filled pen where he is tormented by a despicable child named Tom. However, Maria, one of the children from earlier, shows kindness to Matt, and the two become friends.

Later on, the 140 year-old El Patron comes to see Matt, and is appalled at how Rosa has been treating him. Matt instantly takes a liking to the old man, who reveals that he is his clone. El Patron ensures Matt’s protection, and allows him to select a bodyguard named Tam Lin, a burly Scottish ex-criminal.

Matt initially withdrew from everybody, but Tam Lin made him adjust his behaviour, and the two become fast friends. Over the years, Matt learns more about himself, El Patron, and the truth of his existence, as well as developing relationships with Tam Lin and Maria. All clones except him have their brains destroyed, and are used for organ transplants. However, Matt is convinced that he means more than that, and strives to prove it to everyone by excelling in school and the arts.

Run for the Hills

One day, during a funeral, El Patron has a heart attack, and Matt fears that he will now be used to fulfill his ultimate purpose. He attempts to flee with Maria, but is found out and sent to the hospital where El Patron is. However, Celia reveals that she had mildly poisoned Matt so his organs could not be used. El Patron dies shortly after, and Tam Lin helps Matt escape from Opium.

After he crosses the border, he arrives in an urban landscape and is sent to work at a factory. Matt forms friendships with some of boys there, and supports them when they are mistreated by the Keepers. However, after he defends himself the adults beat him and another boy and throw him into a pit of bones. He manages to escape, however, and travels to a convent where he meets up with Maria. Maria’s mother tells Matt that he is no longer a clone, and is the rightful ruler of Opium.

Matt then travels back to Opium and finds out from Celia that El Patron had poisoned everybody at his funeral, including Tam Lin. Although he is heartbroken at losing his dear friend, Matt vows to end the inhumane practices that El Patron maintained for so many years and make Opium a better place.

The House of the Scorpion Ralph’s Wrap Up

Matt’s identity struggle is vital to the overall story. Matt is constantly treated as less than a person by all the others at the big house, and his connection with El Patron further complicates how he sees himself. Genetically, Matt is identical to El Patron, so he naturally share some of the same personality traits as the maniacal drug lord, but Matt is overall a much better person than him. While Matt was convinced he was more than just the clone of an evil man-animal due to personal reasons, he was also correct in a larger sense. Instead of being used to further the tragic and inhumane ways of Opium, he ends up in a position to liberate the troubled nation. Although he and El Patron are inextricably linked, Matt represents the side of Matteo Alacran that looked towards light instead of darkness, and thrived off love instead of hate and fear.

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