Study Guide

The House of the Scorpion Choices

By Nancy Farmer

Choices

"When you're small you can choose which way to grow." (7.40)

Tam Lin is one smart dude. Whether he knows it or not, Matt's entire life before age fourteen is made up of a series of decisions about who he wants to become.

"He's deeply religious. He thinks God put him on earth for a certain number of years and that he mustn't ask for more."
El Patrón stared at Mr. Alacrán for a long moment. (11.51-2)

El Viejo chooses to believe in God. El Patrón choose to believe in... himself. The conflict between these two isn't explored much in the novel, but the contrast couldn't be more stark.

For an instant he wanted to say, Stop. It was a joke, I didn't mean it. But it was too late. El Patrón was watching them with obvious glee, and Matt realized it might be dangerous to draw back now. (11.87)

Poor Matt's bad decisions start to spiral out of control here. Plus, Matt realizes that once you make a bad call, it's really hard to take it back. Some things are irreversible.

"I always say the truth is best even when we find it unpleasant. Any rat in a sewer can lie. It's how rats are. It's what makes them rats. But a human doesn't run and hide in dark places, because he's something more. Lying is the most personal act of cowardice their is." (13.110)

A human is something more, indeed. Why? Because unlike a rat that's hardwired, humans can make choices and face the truth.

The regrets piled thickly on one another until Matt's thoughts were running around in his head like a hamster on a wheel. (14.8)

With choices come regrets. It's unavoidable. It's what Matt does with those regrets that will matter most.

"Give things away? I can't believe I heard that! What have they been teaching you?"

"It was only a suggestion," Matt said, aghast at the reaction he'd provoked. (18.61-62)

El Patrón's reaction and subsequent freak-out to Matt's seemingly innocent suggestion is pretty funny because it's just so extreme. But this scene also reveals just how selfish El Patrón is – he can't even comprehend giving things away.

"Maybe your plan won't work out. We need a backup," Celia said.

"You'll kill him."

She looked up at the secret camera. "I'd die rather than let that happen." (20.36-38)

Celia and Tam Lin are up to something regarding Matt. And once we learn just what that something is, Celia has won our hearts forever.

"Either you press that scorpion and we escape together, or we stay here and starve together. I'm not leaving you! Now or ever!" (22.76)

Way to go María! She's the one calling the shots in this scene, and it's a good thing, because Matt seems almost unable to make a choice.

Everything was ready for me. Tam Lin gave me maps and food and showed me how to climb mountains. I didn't understand. I didn't want to understand. (23.3)

Matt recognizes his own choice of blindness here. He didn't want to make any decisions that would change his life, so he opted to ignore the obvious, because it was easier that way. But now he knows – you have to choose to face the facts.

"I can't," Tam Lin's voice was sad. "You see, I've done terrible things in my life, and I can't escape the consequences." (24.36)

Do you think that Tam Lin makes the right decision here? Should he have gone with Matt? What would have happened if he had?

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