The House of the Scorpion


Nancy Farmer

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The House of the Scorpion Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Nancy Farmer

Nancy Farmer grew up in Arizona, near the US-Mexico border, where she helped her parents run a hotel frequented by fugitives. She attended Reeds College in Portland, Oregon, before serving in the Peace Corps in India in early 1960s. Afterward, she studied Chemistry at UC Berkley. In the 1970s, she took her unusual knowledge of insect pathology to Mozambique and Zimbabwe, where she helped remedy the spread of infectious disease with pest control. She met her future husband, Harold Farmer, at the University of Zimbabwe. Nancy Farmer began writing at the age of 40, after pregnancy prevented her from doing fieldwork. She first published books in Zimbabwe before publishing her first American book, Do You Know Me?, in 1993. Since then, her children’s and young adult novels have won three Newbery Medals and one National Book Award. Farmer and her husband currently live in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona and have one son, Daniel.
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Historical Context of The House of the Scorpion

On July 5, 1996, Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal successfully cloned from an adult symbiotic cell, was born in Scotland. Dolly’s birth caused much discussion both in the scientific community and the general public concerning the potential of scientific advancements and the ethics of cloning sciences. This advancement was followed by the successful cloning of a variety of other animal species, including primates, which is reflected in Matt’s character, who is a clone of the dictator El Patrón in the novel. Beyond the scientific context of the book, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002. This aspect of the government eventually led to increased enforcement regarding the flow of undocumented persons over the US-Mexico border, which plays out in the conflict between the corrupt government of Opium and the oppressed immigrant population in The House of the Scorpion.

Other Books Related to The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion is a futuristic dystopian novel; the roots of this genre reach back to classics such as George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. The 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is an example of a more contemporary work that also deals with the subject of clones created and raised for the purpose of donating organs to regular humans. Both novels use the topic of clones to explore themes of humanity and individual choice, but Never Let Me Go is more introspective in plot and tone, whereas the characters in The House of the Scorpion directly confront and overthrow the sociopolitical forces which oppress them. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is another young adult science fiction novel where a teenage protagonist confronts the corrupt government of a dystopia. In 2013, Nancy Farmer published a sequel to The House of the Scorpion, entitled The Lord of Opium. The sequel continues to follow Matt immediately after the events of the first book, as he becomes the leader of Opium and continues to struggle with his agency and morality as the clone of a cruel dictator.
Key Facts about The House of the Scorpion
  • Full Title: The House of the Scorpion
  • Where Written: United States
  • When Published: 2002
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction, Dystopian Novel
  • Setting: Opium, a fictional country occupying what was once the US-Mexico border.
  • Climax: Matt narrowly escapes being killed by fleeing Opium.
  • Antagonist: Matteo “El Patrón” Alacrán
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for The House of the Scorpion

Strong Language. According to Farmer, her publisher made her edit out parts of The House of the Scorpion where Celia, the main character’s caretaker, says “Damn” because “good” characters are not allowed to swear in children’s literature. “Good” characters are also not allowed to be written smoking. Farmer herself disagrees with these rules and says she would break them if she were to write the novel all over again.

Close to Home. Farmer was partially inspired to write The House of Scorpion after she and her husband encountered a dying Mexican man in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. The man was severally dehydrated and lost after fleeing from border patrol. Farmer and her husband gave the man water and helped him to the nearest city, but never learned what happened to him after that.