The House of the Scorpion by Lauren Tran

AUTHOR'S BIOGRAPHY

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Nancy Farmer in 2004.
The House of the Scorpion is written by Nancy Farmer. She was born in Phoenix, Arizona, where she found the inspiration to eventually write books and become a novelist. She was the youngest of three. She had a much older brother and sister who were also extremely intelligent. As a child, she loved exploring and it was very evident that she had a much different, much spunkier attitude than her brother and sister did. Her background and experiences while she was being educated influenced her future choices and eventually paved the way for her career as a writer. She read many books as a little kid ─ French literature, Victorian books, myths, and Shakespeare as well as whatever her family members had lying around, including scientific magazines. Farmer was always the brightest kid in her class in elementary school, but she was not allowed to skip a grade. Her new principal thought that all children had the same intellect, and “he blighted” (Author’s Bio, Farmer) her education. Farmer had an early job at the hotel that her family had. She worked the hotel desk and rented rooms. It was all an adventure for her and it was very entertaining when the patrons told stories and such. Few kids were allowed to visit her because she lived in a tough area. She was surrounded by mostly cowboys, truck drivers, and railroad men. She visited her local library numerous times when she skipped school, and the librarian surprisingly never told on her. Farmer also did quite a bit of writing as an adolescent. She worked as a scientist in various places until she discovered that she could really make a career out of her writing.  When she was working for a weekly newspaper as a teenager, she learned not to take her writing too seriously. This was helpful later on because now she does not mind doing rewrites and playing around with her work.

Farmer started writing professionally when she was about 40 years old, a few years after she had her first son, Daniel. Prior to giving birth, she was working on the Tsetse fly control in Zimbabwe and believed that after she had her child, she could sling him on her back and continue working. After she had Daniel, it was not as she had imagined prior to his birth. She had to give up the fun of working as a scientist. She became very depressed until she wrote a story and discovered that she could actually become a writer. This inspired her to continue on the long trek that she knew was ahead of her. Farmer slowly trained herself to write by studying authors such as Stephen King and Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Africans in Zimbabwe were desperate for new literature, so she was able to easily market her books and receive money. What she really wanted, however, was to be published in the U.S. She entered a contest hosted in the U.S. and won the grand prize ─ $20,000. This skyrocketed her career forward because afterward, she began writing more and more, and she did not just enter her writings in contests. Sometimes, she injects her experiences in Africa into her books and novels; one example is The House of the Scorpion.


SYNOPSIS

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The House of the Scorpion is about a boy called Matt Alacrán, clone of a powerful drug lord named El Patron. He owns Opium. El Patron is immensely rich and because of this, he is able to make clones of himself to sustain his life span to over 140 years old. He uses his clones for their body organs. The Alacrán family lives in fear of him. Matt is the first clone whose brain has been kept intact, instead of being destroyed. Matt was harvested from the womb of a cow. He lived with his assigned caretaker, Celia, until he was found by the children of the Alacrán family. There, he first meets Maria, his love. He attempts to play with the children without realizing that there is glass on the ground.

After that, he is then brought to the huge mansion that contains nearly all of the Alacrán family and their servants to have a doctor examine him. Willum, the doctor, realizes that he is El Patron’s clone. He is put into a cell by Mr. Alacrán. While he is there, he is cruelly mistreated by a servant named Rosa and a boy named Tom, which hinders his ability to talk until later. While the other children felt disgust for him, Maria sympathized and tried to become friends, as they were approximately the same age. She kept him company and fed him food the first night. Their friendship gradually blossoms. After El Patron arrives at the mansion is he then released. He is given a bodyguard named Tam Lin, whom he becomes attached to. The whole family either has a deep disgust and hatred for Matt, or treats him as a loving pet. As a whole, he is not viewed as a boy, but more of a beast.

Tam Lin takes Matt on a tour, where they find a dead man on the ground. Tam Lin explains that this is an eejit, somebody who has had a computer chip implanted into their brain. Eejits mostly consist of immigrants who have attempted to travel across Opium to either Aztlán or the U.S. Matt becomes educated through an eejit tutor. He also finds that he has a great talent for piano. Matt learns that there is a secret passageway which Tam Lin explains is so that El Patron could escape from his many enemies. He also discovers that there is a secret room in which El Patron could spy on anybody in the gigantic mansion. One day, Tom plays a cruel joke on Matt. He exposes the actual nature of clones without any brains and frightens Maria, slowly closing the bond between her and Matt. This makes Matt hate himself and what he is. A clone. Matt realizes that the entire Alacrán family and their servants only tolerate him when El Patron is present.

El Patron soon gets a near-fatal heart attack during Steven and Emilia’s wedding and needs a heart transplant, requiring Matt to be present for the sole reason of getting his heart. Celia then steps up and says that she has given Matt just enough foxglove and arsenic to poison his heart, and to poison El Patron’s if he were to acquire Matt’s heart. Her defiance causes her to be soon turned into an eejit. El Patron dies and while the chaos is ensuing, Matt attempts to escapes with Maria, although her sister Emilia foils their plan. Here is where they confess their love to each other. Everybody has turned against Matt and found him. Tam Lin has betrayed Matt, but eventually, Matt finds out that Tam Lin is actually preparing Matt to escape to Aztlán to find Maria, because she has been taken away to her convent. Tam Lin also tells him that Celia was never turned into an eejit because he saved her.

On the way, he is transferred to a plankton plant for orphans, where “Keepers” operate the plant and are extremely unfair, although they claim that everything they do is based on fairness. They take advantage of the boys there and only feed them plankton. Matt is at first an outcast because he is seen as an aristocrat, but he soon proves himself brave in the eyes of the other orphans. He becomes a hero and soon leads a rebellion. They all have to exert immense bravery and perseverance, but they eventually find help within a couple. Matt then finds Maria and her mother, Esperanza, a political leader strongly against Opium and El Patron. Matt returns and finds Celia, and learns that El Patron is having a funeral.

The entire family is celebrating his death because they lived their lives fearing him. They open up a wine that was harvested the same year El Patron was born. The wine was poisoned and killed everybody except for Daft Donald, another bodyguard, and Tam Lin. Tam Lin eventually committed suicide by drinking the wine as well, despite knowing about the poison because he regretted doing all of his deeds in his life. He accidentally bombed a school bus full of 20 children when the bomb was originally intended for the English prime minister. Matt is now the leader of Opium and can do whatever he likes with it. Esperanza gives him her support if he destroys Opium and he says yes. Now, Maria is safely within his grasp and the story ends with him deciding what to do about Opium. Maria is safely within his grasp.

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A cheerful scorpion imprint. Below is the actual scorpion. *shiver.
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THEMES

There are various themes that can pertain to The House of the Scorpion. One of the themes in The House of the Scorpion is how friendship can be found in unexpected places. One such example is how Matt finds surprising and long-lasting friendship within Maria. At first, they bonded because they were about the same age. She shies away from him once she discovers that Matt is a clone, although she comes back because she feels sympathy for him and his situation. Very quickly, this sympathy soon transformed into playful friendship, which turns into ‘like/love’. Matt also finds a great friend in Tam Lin. Tam Lin’s exterior is very intimidating and rough. Matt does not want to get closer to him despite the friendly twinkle in Tam Lin’s eye, but he soon warms up to him. If he sees Tam Lin as only a bodyguard, but not personally his body guard, he most likely would have found him unapproachable and threatening. S

ince they had no choice but to be together, however, they made the most of their situation and formed a new bond. This bond can be exhibited when Tam Lin pretends to betray him in order for Matt to be able to escape and find Maria at her convent. The boys that Matt find in the plankton plant also turn out to be Matt’s true friends despite the rough beginnings that they had. Their first impression of Matt was that he was an aristocratic brat who did not know how to do anything except for things that normal people would not usually do. The circumstances that they were all put under made them able to connect with each other because they had a common goal; to leave the plankton plant in search for a better place. Another theme found within this novel is what it means to be a human and what makes a human. Tam Lin tells Matt a secret near the end of the book. He says to Matt that there is no difference between a clone and a human. This contradicts everything that Matt has ever known because he was always alienated because he was a clone, and therefore considered not human. Everybody in the family felt disgust for him, so he was called an “it”. He was not allowed inside of the church because clones were said not to contain a soul, therefore making them as bad as animals. Maria denies this, because at the convent, she learned that everything had a soul, even animals. She stands up for him because she believes that he is the same as she is. Because there is no way to distinguish between clones unless that clone has a specific mark, this bridges the gap between what makes up a human.

Because clones and humans are no different, then there are no certain classifications of what it means to be a human. This theme stirs up confusion between the two individual but not separate things. Matt eventually realizes that he is not just a beast, but he is the same as everybody else. A theme that also arises is how everybody has somebody who cares for them, no matter who the person is. El Patron does not seem like he has anybody to really care for him, but in reality, Tam Lin does care for him, despite El Patron’s “branches being twisted” (109, Farmer).  Matt has Celia, Tam Lin, and Maria caring for him. His desolation at being a clone can be made up for by having people who love him. Another example of this is how Tom has his mother who cares for him as well as Maria, despite his innocent but cruel nature. This surprises Matt because he is well aware that Tom is not the nicest person out there, but this further proves this theme. Many themes are incorporated into this novel.
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Opium Fields in Afghanistan.

ANALYSIS

Science and Profit are found heavily within this novel. It justifies why El Patron does many things in The House of the Scorpion. El Patron is very wealthy, so he can use his money to his advantage. Because of this, he is able to produce clones of himself in order to keep himself alive for a very tremendously long time. He is able to use science by means of cloning to profit himself by using their body parts. This can be seen as selfish, although only because Matt is actually a clone who feels emotions and has a brain. This seems to mean that Matt is a human as well as a clone, although many may argue upon the validity of that. The topic of cloning to gain profit off of it is controversial, as well. The controversy of cloning is because of moral ethics. Whether or not cloning another human just to kill it in the end is correct depends on the person’s stance on cloning. El Patron does this, although his lack of morality is replaced by his selfishness, so he is blinded by the fact that he will be able to live for quite a long time if he still continues to create clones simply for the purpose of sustaining himself.

The question of whether what he is doing is right still is up to the eyes of the beholder and their perspective of the situation, as well as their conscience and morality. Some may argue that because he does have the ability to do this, and because science has become so powerful and capable, that he is merely using what the technology is capable of and using it to reap benefits at the harm of nobody. That is, if clones can be considered nobody. This is also where the question of whether or not clones are humans comes into play. Using the technology available to the fullest of its abilities cannot be seen as wrong, although how somebody ruthlessly profits off of it can be viewed as selfish and greedy, and therefore wrong. Because after clones are created, they may be alienated as Matt was, or have a horrific future full of scientific tests and worldwide speculation, the ethicalness of the situation can tumble from the two different sides and views. Many of the Alacrán family have their fates already predetermined, although Matt is not quite sure because he does not know if he is a beast or a boy. He is considered part of the family because he has El Patron’s DNA, although he is clearly not accepted because he is a clone.

This alienation is due to him being cloned but by allowing him to keep his brain, he is then given the opportunity to think for himself and determine for himself what is right and wrong with his own eyes. Even though he is El Patron, by being given a chance to express himself and create his own individuality, he is considered different from him. Otherwise, if he had his brain destroyed at the beginning, then he would not be considered anything,  because he would not be able to think for himself and make his own decisions and opinions on what is happening with the situations concerning him and his family. Matt is the focal point of this controversial subject because he is actually a clone. Although Matt has everything that El Patron does, in the sense that he does everything that El Patron is capable of, he is different. He does not understand the morality and the right or wrong standpoint of his situation, but when he sees Macgregor’s clone, he is able to determine what his viewpoint on the ethicalness of cloning is. He views it as wrong, because they are torturing the clone.

Eventually, with the help of Tam Lin and Celia, he realizes that this might be the same fate that is in store for him as well. The Alacrán family might be repulsed by Matt because they think that cloning for the purpose of what El Patron is doing is wrong, however this is merely one opinion of why the family hates Matt. The whole process of cloning for a greater purpose can be viewed as if nothing is wrong with it, because using science to elevate it to a whole new level is what new technologies were created to do. However, one person gaining all of this profit and such is also seen as gluttonous and selfish because that one person is reaping the benefits. In the end, the new technology does pave a new road for others, but no benefits were reached overall for the whole of the population, unless they were to do the same thing as the selfish El Patron. He is seen as the bad guy in the novel because of his lack of regard for humanity, so whatever other actions that he does is also seen as wrong due to association.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Farmer, Nancy. "Bio." Nancy Farmer's official home page. Weebly, n.d. Web. 21 May 2010. < Nancy Farmer's official home page>.
  • Wikipedia contributors. "The House of the Scorpion." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 20 May. 2010.
  • "The House of The Scorpion ." Book Browse: Your Guide to Exceptional Books. BookBrowse LLC 1997-2010, n.d. Web. 30 May 2010. <http://www.bookbrowse.com/reviews/index.cfm?book_number=1106>
  • "Nancy Farmer: Innocence Abroad ." LOCUS: THE MAGAZINE OF THE SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY FIELD January 2004: 6. Web. 24 May 2010. <http://www.locusmag.com/2004/Issues/01Farmer.html>.
  • "The House of the Scorpion." BookRags. ©2006 by Wíkipedia, n.d. Web. 26 May 2010. <http://www.bookrags.com/wiki/The_House_of_the_Scorpion>.
  • Pictures are credited to Google.com