The House of the Scorpion
by Nancy Farmer
Matt (Matteo Alacrán)
League of Super Friends
By the end of the book, Matt is the ruler of his very own country (we bet Max from Where the Wild Things Are would be pretty jealous). So we think that Matt needs to assemble his own league of Super Friends to help him run the show. He could invite people like Arthur from T.H. White's The Once and Future King, Frodo Baggins from The Fellowship of the Ring, Ender Wiggin from Ender's Game, Simba from The Lion King (really) , Nobody Owens from The Graveyard Book, Percy Jackson, and, of course, Harry Potter. Our League of Super Friends will of course welcome awesome female heroes (like Katniss from The Hunger Games and Coraline from, well, Coraline).
If it sounds like we're bringing in a lot of other people to talk about Matt, we are. That's because Matt is a bit of an everyman (and every-hero). But let's start off with Matt as an every-hero before moving on to him as an everyman, because that's a bit more fun.
First, what do all these characters in our new League of Super Friends have in common? Well, all of them are heroes in the classic, dictionary-definition sense of the term. A classic hero in a classic hero's tale often has a rough childhood and is often isolated from others. Matt's childhood definitely fits the bill here. He's abused and locked up for months when he's a little kid. He doesn't have many friends. By the time he's fourteen, he's dealt with multiple near-death-experiences, hatred and prejudice, and a lot of violence.
The classic hero also might have something that sets him or her apart, like a superpower, or, you know, being a clone. Eventually, the classic hero beats an evil-doer with the help of a small group of friends. The classic hero then goes on to live happily ever after, more or less. Our hero, Matt, survives the story, but he has a lot of grief to deal with at the end of the novel.
Not Your Typical Hero
Nancy Farmer definitely pulls a lot from the classic hero story in her depiction of Matt. But Matt's story also bucks convention in some key ways. Unlike a lot of classic heroes, Matt doesn't grow up to "meet his destiny," like Harry Potter does with Voldemort. Instead Matt tells destiny to mind its own business, and chooses instead to run away to Aztlán.
Think about it. We discover, along with Matt, that clones in Opium are created to serve as organ donors for people in power. They don't have any say in the matter. As it turns out, El Patrón has always intended to use Matt for his organs, especially his healthy heart. That's Matt's destiny. But Matt, with help from Celia and Tam Lin, refuses to let that happen. He's more than his destiny. In fact, he'll make his own, thank you very much.
Plus, unlike many of our typical superheroes, Matt lacks superpowers. Aside from the fact that he's a clone, Matt is a fairly ordinary guy. And this makes us like him. He's ever-so-relatable. After all, who hasn't had a Tom-like jerk in their life? And who hasn't fallen in young love like Matt has with María?
Matt struggles with things like bullies, prejudice, making friends, love, growing older, and making decisions for himself. If that sounds familiar it's probably because you (and we) have lived it. Matt makes a lot of mistakes, too, like when he kidnaps María's dog in Chapter 13. But those mistakes often have good intentions behind them, and he always learns from them. That's gotta count for something.
Perhaps what makes Matt most relatable is that, for the most part, he tries to do the right thing. And that's something most of us try to do, too. Take, for example, his friendship with Fidelito. When Matt learns that the orphaned boys are given food in proportion to how much work they get done, Matt steps up and helps him get more work done, because "[i]t seemed monstrously unfair that the little boy was deprived of food simply because he was slower than the larger boy" (27.5) See? Matt's quite the nice guy.
The Wonder Years
Let's be honest, though. Matt sure does make a lot of mistakes. At one point, Matt channels El Patrón and acts like a jerk at the birthday party in Chapter 11, demanding that María give him a kiss in front of all those people. But he quickly feels remorse and realizes that he shouldn't treat his friends that way.
Let's be fair, too. Matt is still pretty young. And he has a lot of influences tugging on him - El Patrón, Celia, Tam Lin, María. All these people teach Matt things and in their own ways help him to become a better person (for the most part). Celia acts as Matt's mother figure, and teaches him manners and respect and dignity. María teaches Matt compassion.
But in terms of influence, Tam Lin probably plays the biggest role in Matt's growth. He teaches Matt how to be self-sufficient and strong, and puts Matt on the path to sorting out who he is and who he wants to be. Tam Lin really puts Matt's dilemma best, when he says, "When you're small, you can choose which way to grow. If you're kind and decent, you grow into a kind and decent man. If you're like El Patrón [...] Just think about it" (7.40).
Matt definitely fits the "teenager learning major life lessons" bill. He has a lot of awful things thrown at him in his growing years. Yet in the midst of his sorrow, Matt finds a glimmer of hope in Tam Lin. Out of all the people who thought he was no better than a dog, someone believed he could be something more: "And I will be, Matt promised" (14.16-7).
By the novel's end, we're sure that Matt has grown into a kind and decent man. We can tell that Matt is a strong person who will make a good leader of Opium. After everything he has learned in his various adventures, he is fully aware of what's going on and he understands what he needs to do to help Opium become a better place.
In the beginning, of course, we expect El Patrón to have a huge influence on Matt. But in the end, we're quite thankful he doesn't. Early on, Matt cherishes his relationship with El Patrón, as our narrator tells us, "He was well pleased that he shared something with El Patrón" (6.53). But later, as Matt starts to come into his own, he realizes that though "El Patrón loved him, […] he was evil" (19.55). It's when Matt starts to put two and two together about El Patrón's intentions for him that he's able to see the leader for who he truly is and step out from under his shadow.
We're grateful for that, because if Matt had continued to love El Patrón without question, he might have become just like him. And If Matt had become El Patrón, then he would have gotten the whole package: "wealth, power [...] and the evil that created it." (37.44) That's definitely not what we're looking for in our hero.
Matt the Man
In the end, we feel pretty confident that Matt is going to be a good leader of Opium. Unlike the selfish El Patrón, Matt feels compassion for others and understands right from wrong. At the orphanage, Matt shows his ability to be a good friend (to Chacho, Fidelito, and Ton-Ton), his ability to stand up to bullies (the guards), and his ability to take charge in a crisis (like in the boneyard). We don't get to see Matt finish growing up, but we know at the end that he's on his way to becoming a good man and a good leader. Tam Lin tells us so. And we believe him. Do you?Timeline