Thursday, November 24, 2016

House of Scorpions

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Nancy Farmer
Atheneum Books, 2002


The House of the Scorpion tells the story of a boy named Matt, raised without much contact with the outside world.  Throughout the story, he comes to discover that he is the clone of El Patron, the dictator of the land he lives in called Opium.

Even darker still, Matt slowly unfolds the mystery that he was created as a clone so that El Patron could harvest his heart or other organs and have them transplanted into his own body so he could live forever.

This story opens with a very confusing prologue about how Matt was placed into a cow for gestation.  When I first read this part, I will not deny that I was completely confused.  As the story goes on, however, things slowly are brought to light and it makes sense in the end.

I feel that this book in general suffered a bit from pacing problems.  Some sequences were really drawn out, particularly early on.  I understand that Matt's imprisonment by Rosa was a major part of the story and showed how Matt was treated like an animal, but it went on and on and on!

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The story also rushed certain parts, in my opinion.  Matt and Maria were very slow going in the beginning, and then suddenly when Maria returned from the convent, they were BFFs?  I get that Maria changed at the convent, but this was kind of out of left field in my opinion.

My favorite part of this story was not the characters, or even the plot.  I just really love looking at the rich symbolism in the book!

When I first started, I began annotating each time the Virgin Mary was mentioned.  I stopped counting after twenty-seven mentions in the first twenty chapters.  I also found it curious that Maria was the name of the love interest (obviously a call-back to the Virgin Mary).  

I am now fairly certain that Mary (and therefore Maria) are meant to symbolize acceptance and protection.  Celia, Matt's caretaker had a singular statue of the Virgin Mary she brought with her when she went under El Patron's control.  The statue is always referenced when Celia is hoping that Matt will be safe, and is mentioned when Matt feels nervous.

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Maria is one of the only characters that actually cares about Matt and accepts him even though he is a clone.  She tries to protect him from the start when she doesn't treat him like an animal as Rosa did, and even through the end she protects him by trying to get him safely to the convent.

Another symbolic thing I annotated for was the poppy fields.  I expected the fact that poppies were growing and the land was called Opium was going to factor into the story somehow, and maybe it does in the sequels, but in this book at least, it didn't become a huge component.  It was merely an explanation for El Patron's success.

I think that this symbolizes something deeper, however.  Karl Marx said religion was "the opiate of the masses" meaning that it was escapist or in denial.  Throughout the story, Matt desperately tries to convince himself that El Patron actually loves him and he isn't going to be harmed.  It's not until El Patron tries to kill Matt that he understands he needs to flee.

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Matt is escapist and in denial when it comes to understanding his ultimate fate.  When he eventually realizes El Patron regards him as expendable, he must flee Opium, and leave his denial behind.

This book has a lot of strong themes as well.  Acceptance, like I mentioned, is a huge point, but the limits of science are questioned (can science go to far?) and what makes someone a human is also brought up.

Throughout the story, I feel that one question pervades the story.  Most clones have their brains affected so they are not very aware of their surroundings and it's easier to harvest their organs when they're needed.  Matt was left conscious and able to think.  Was it an act of mercy for El Patron to give Matt his consciousness, or was it even worse of him to have him think he was living a regular life only to snatch it away?

What do you think?  Let me know.

Happy Thanksgiving to U.S. readers, as well :)

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