Story Cycling in The House of the Scorpion

Story Cycling in The House of the Scorpion

I reread The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer, in my spare time during the art camp and remembered why I loved the book. I’m going to analyze it in place of the other short stories I had scheduled. As always, this is not a review. There may be spoilers for those who haven’t read the story. If you would like to know why I take this stance, please see this post. Otherwise, away we go.

The book is about a young boy named Matteo (Matt) Alacran, who is the clone of a Mexican drug lord named El Patron. The story begins with Matt’s origins as a cell in a laboratory, grown into an embryo, born from a cow. Already, his birth marks him as different, unnatural. As Matt struggles to  escape the estate alive, he learns what it means to be a person through listening to others’ stories.

Storytelling in The House of the Scorpion works as a recycling of myth, as a passing of wisdom, or connecting one person to another. Each character has their narrative that shapes their interiority and makes them the character in Matt’s story, which makes his story seem not a singular story, but a colliding and braiding of many stories that drive an overarching narrative forward. For example, Tam Lin. Matt first knows him as one of El Patron’s security guards, who teaches him how to ride a horse, how to camp, and about people— one of the very few people on El Patron’s estate who treats Matt as a human. Later, Matt discovers Tam Lin’s past and the reason why such a kind person is working for El Patron. Because of his past, the guard feels compelled to punish himself for his sins yet also find forgiveness and mercy through Matt. Matt’s early childhood echoes Tam Lin’s past, in that Matt did something terrible for what he thought was a good reason, with ugly consequences. However, Tam Lin’s story does not end with his horrible action. His role in Matt’s narrative implies that there is not one single story that defines who we are.

Another great example of this is El Patron’s origins:

 

“I was a poor boy from a poor village [. . .] One year during Cinco de Mayo, the ranchero who owned our land had a parade. I and my five brothers went to watch. Mama brought my little sisters. She carried one, and the other held on to her skirt and followed behind. [. . .] During the parade the mayor rode on a fine white horse and threw money into the crowd. How we scrambled for those coins! How we rolled in the dirt like pigs! But we needed the money. We were so poor, we didn’t have two pesos to rub together. Afterward the ranchero gave a great feast. We could eat all we wanted, and it was a wonderful opportunity for people who had stomachs so shrunken that chili beans had to wait in line to get inside.

“My little sisters caught typhoid at that feast. They died in the same hour. They were so small, they couldn’t look over the windowsill— no, not even if they stood on tiptoe.”

“During the following years each of my five brothers died; two drowned, one had a burst appendix, and we had no money for a doctor. The last two brothers were beaten to death by police. There were eight of us, and only I lived to grow up.”

 

If you didn’t know who El Patron was, what kind of person do you think the boy in this story might have been? He might have been someone with great compassion to the poor, or someone who vowed to become rich to make his homeland better. El Patron, over 140 years old, a drug lord who creates mindless slaves and built a sprawling empire based on the addictions of two countries, feels he was owed his siblings’ lives. We the readers know El Patron by how he acts in Matt’s story, calling to mind another question: do origins truly matter? Origins made the characters who they were— let’s be real here— but their actions after their origin completed them. The constant redefining of the self and the battle to become someone rings out and drives the story to a surprising conclusion.

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