How to Teach The House of the Scorpion

Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion deals with several difficult concepts, including pollution, cloning, the drug trade, illegal immigration, and human slavery. In this dystopian future, a strip of land between the United States and Mexico, called Opium, is a powerful drug-producing area where El Patrón runs the largest estates and will do anything to stay in power.

As a piece of science fiction, the novel deals with cloning and human subjugation using computer chips implanted in the brain. Students would benefit from learning about the relationship between science fiction and dystopian fiction. Reading The House of the Scorpion alongside other novels such as Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World will enhance students' understanding of the two genres and why they are so closely connected.

Students might also benefit from an in-depth discussion of the topics that arise in the novel, such as the drug trade, illegal immigration, and pollution, especially as they concern two of the countries involved in the book's plot: the United States and Mexico. Such a discussion would allow students to have a stronger understanding of the history of these issues and the motivations behind the author's depicting them.


Matteo Alacrán is a clone. He lives in a country called Opium headed by the powerful and dangerous El Patrón, who will do anything to stay in power, such as cloning his own DNA. In the eyes of almost everyone around him, Matt is a monster. But El Patrón loves him as a member of his own family.

As Matt slowly discovers the purpose behind his existence, he learns that the only way he can be free is to escape the Alacrán Estate. He faces danger at every turn, but it's his sole chance for survival.

The House of the Scorpion

The House of the Scorpion


Matt is not an ordinary boy. He is a clone of his incredibly powerful and much-feared father. Struggling to understand his existence, Matt searches for allies, acceptance, and freedom. A Kirkus starred review praises this novel as "an inspiring tale of friendship, survival, hope, and transcendence." It is also the recipient of the National Book Award, the Newbery Medal, and the Michael J. Printz Award.

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Content Warning

This novel contains depictions of violence, murder, slavery, drug trafficking, cloning, and illegal immigration.

Objectives for Teaching The House of the Scorpion

  • Analyze the means by which El Patrón attempts to remain in power, and discuss Matt's relationship to his plans.
  • Discuss Farmer's use of issues such as drug trafficking, pollution, and cloning in the plot of the novel.
  • Determine how the novel compares to other pieces of dystopian fiction, and discuss the literary components that it shares with other novels.
  • Elucidate the importance of identity in Matt's life.
  • Analyze the characters' reactions to Matt as a clone, and discuss why they feel the way they do.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allegory
  • Allusion
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Symbolism
  • Third-person Narration

Themes and Motifs

  • Identity — El Patrón created Matt for a purpose, but Matt has his own ambitions and affection, which form a new identity.
  • Power — El Patrón wants to remain in power so badly that he does the unthinkable when he clones himself.
  • Survival — After Matt realizes the reason behind his creation, he knows the only way he can survive is to escape.

Key Facts

  • Length: 380 pages
  • Publication Date: 2002
  • Lexile Measure: 660
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10


  • Newbery Honor (2003)
  • Michael L. Printz Award (2003)
  • National Book Award for Young People's Literature (2002)
  • ALA Notable Children's Book
  • ALA Best Book for Young Adults
  • Buxtehuder Bulle (Germany, 2003)


A movie adaptation is in production, but no release date has been scheduled.

Your students will love:

  • The unconventional storyline.
  • The topical subject matter.

Students may have problems with:

  • Situations of violence, slavery, and murder.
  • The uneven pacing—students may find the plot boring or rushed at different points.

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The House of the Scorpion

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