The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At age sixteen, Deborah gets pregnant. Though Bobbette is upset, she tells Deborah that she is going to have to continue school. Soon after giving birth to Alfred Jr.Cheetah’s son—in November 1966, Deborah returns to school, while Bobbette cares for Alfred. When Deborah graduates, she gets a job.
Like Henrietta, Deborah gets pregnant young—but unlike Henrietta, Deborah is able to continue with her education. The presence of Bobbette as a mother figure is crucial, but also highlights the absence of Henrietta herself.
Themes
Family and Faith Theme Icon
As for Deborah’solder brothers, Lawrence has opened a convenience store, and Sonny has joined the air force. Joe, however, has been fighting with teachers and fellow students. He drops out of school, ends up in court at seventeen for fighting, and joins the military at eighteen. After nine months, he’s discharged for fighting, “angrier than ever.”
The consequences of Henrietta’s death continue to affect her family—although Lawrence and Sonny seem to do well, Joe’s anger and antisocial tendencies are a direct result of the terrible abuse that he suffered at the hands of Ethel.
Themes
Family and Faith Theme Icon
Only weeks later, a boy named Eldridge Lee Ivy threatens Joe. For three months, Joe ignores him, but in September 1970, after a night of drinking with his friend June, Joe meets Ivy yet again. This time, Joe beats him. The next day. Joe finds Ivy and fatally stabs him in the heart. The family hides Joe in Clover, where he fights with so many of his cousins that they send him to DC. At last, Joe calls Sonny and says that he wants to turn himself in. On trial, he claims that he didn’t mean to kill Ivy. Neither the judge nor Joe’s court-appointed lawyer know about the abuse he experienced, but the judge asks to see Joe’s medical and psychiatric reports, and eventually decides to sentence him “only fifteen years out of a possible thirty.” In prison, Joe fights and challenges authority yet again. Eventually, he converts to Islam, and changes his name to Zakariyya Bari Abdul Rahman.
The story of Joe/Zakariyya, though an abbreviated one, includes crisis after crisis and conflict after conflict. Zakariyyaundoubtedly brings many of his troubles upon himself, but the anger and mental disturbance behind his crimes no doubt stems, at least in part, from his history of tragedy and traumatic abuse, and the fact that as a poor black man the decks are already stacked against him in society.Henrietta’s loss and the lack of monetary compensation to the Lackses continues to have far-reaching effects.
Themes
Racism, Classism, and Sexism Theme Icon
Family and Faith Theme Icon
Sonny, meanwhile, is honorably discharged, while Lawrence works on the railroad. Deborah has married Cheetah and borne him a girl named LaTonya. Cheetah becomes addicted to drugs and begins beating Deborah. Eventually, to defend herself, Deborah pushes Cheetah down a flight of stairs. He wakes up in the morning with no memory of the night’s events, and Deborah calls Bobbette to say that she intends to kill Cheetah. Bobbette, however, tells her not to, and so the next day, Deborah takes all her children and her belongings and moves out. She begins working two jobs to support her children.
Sklootreturnsagain to Deborah, whose life continues to be difficult and traumatic as she grows older. Yet Skloot also makes sure to emphasize Deborah’s strength, resilience, and tenaciousness. In many ways, Deborah is as much a hero of this story as Henrietta herself. Robbed of both her mother and her sister, Deborah continues to soldier on against all odds, a testament to the strength she inherited from Henrietta.
Themes
Racism, Classism, and Sexism Theme Icon
Family and Faith Theme Icon
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