The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrative returns to the present. A few days after speaking with Day, Rebecca drives to Baltimore to meet with Sonny, who has finally called her back. The plan is for Rebecca to page Sonny, at which point he’ll take her to meet Lawrence, Day, and maybe Deborah. Yet when Rebecca checks into her hotel, Sonny doesn’t reply to her page. She then decides to use the Baltimore phone book to look up different Lackses in the area. Before doing so, she reads an old Rolling Stone article from 1976 about the Lackses, by a writer named Michael Rogers. Halfway through the article, Rebecca realizes that Rogers too stayed in her hotel and used the telephone book to call the Lackses. Finally Rebecca digs up an old newspaper article with Henrietta’s former address and uses a map to find Henrietta’s old neighborhood, Turner Station.
Back in the present, Rebecca experiences a series of seemingly impassable obstacles in her quest to learn more about the Lackses. As readers, we also begin to hear about all of the reporters who came before Rebecca, and begin to understand a little better the family’s determination to have nothing to do with them.
Themes
Family and Faith Theme Icon
Progress vs. Privacy Theme Icon
Rebecca relates the history of Turner Station, explaining that in the forties, when Henrietta first arrived, “the town was booming.” By the end of WWII, though, more and more houses were demolished to make room for factories, leaving thousands of people homeless, most of them black. People begin moving out of the area, to Baltimore or the country, and the population fell by half.
Turner Station too becomes an important location within the narrative, as its rise and fall mirrors the ways in which African Americans’ economic status often rose and fell unpredictably along with the economy. Like Clover, Turner Station eventually becomes an emblem of the past.
Themes
Racism, Classism, and Sexism Theme Icon
The article that Rebecca’sfound refers to a woman named Courtney Speed who owns a grocery store and has created a foundation meant to build a Henrietta Lacks museum. When Rebecca arrives at the address of the grocery, however, she finds only an a mobile home with a few men loitering outside. Since Turner Station’s radius is under a mile, Rebecca continues driving around in circles to find the grocery. She finally arrives at the New Shiloh Baptist Church. When she stops, a man named Reverend Jackson comes to her aid. Although he hasn’t ever heard of Henrietta, he offers to take Rebecca to Speed’s Grocery Store.
Skloot’s quest narrative continues, injecting suspense and adventure into a book that could otherwise be fairly dry and unexciting. Readers also begin to catch glimpses of the extremely close community that has formed around the Lackses, as emblemized both by Reverend Jackson and Courtney Speed. This community will become more important as the narrative goes on, because of the support network it provides for Henrietta’s family.
Themes
Family and Faith Theme Icon
The two drive back to the mobile home with the men outside, who turn out to be some of Courtney’s sons. Courtney herself warmly welcomes Rebecca. When Courtney hears that Rebecca has come to talk about Henrietta Lacks, however, she becomes terrified, asking if she’s come from “Mr. Cofield.” Rebecca tries to reassure her, telling her that she doesn’t know anyone named Cofield, and that she’s been trying her best to contact the Lacks family. Courtney tells Rebecca to “follow me” in her car.
For the first time, we begin to understand that the suspicion and fear surrounding Henrietta’s cells extends beyond her immediate family, even to brave and grounded people such as Courtney Speed. The cells are powerful, but they are also controversial, and they seem to attract trouble almost everywhere they touch.
Themes
Racism, Classism, and Sexism Theme Icon
Family and Faith Theme Icon
Progress vs. Privacy Theme Icon
Get the entire Henrietta Lacks LitChart as a printable PDF.
The immortal life of henrietta lacks.pdf.medium
The car drive ends at the local public library, where a now-excited Courtney tells Rebecca that “February first is Henrietta Lacks day here in Baltimore county.” She is still working on the museum, despite “the Cofield situation,” although Deborah is now afraid to continue. Courtney takes Rebecca into the library, and asks the librarian for “the tape.” The two women then travel to a small beauty parlor that Courtney owns. Courtney promises again that she will tell Rebecca everything she knows as soon as the family gives the okay. She then tells Rebecca to watch the tape, and not to “open this door for nothing or nobody but me.”
As Rebecca moves ever closer to being connected with the Lacks family, the tension and suspense continue to build (especially heightened by Courtney’s seemingly-paranoid warnings). We also learn that Deborah is not alone in her belief that Henrietta should be recognized and honored. Instead, Henrietta has become a symbol for her community, one from which women like Courtney Speed draw strength and inspiration.
Themes
Family and Faith Theme Icon
Progress vs. Privacy Theme Icon
Rebecca watches the video: a BBC documentary about Henrietta called The Way of All Flesh. It begins with melodramatic narration and footage of a young black actress dancing. Soon after there is footage of Clover, Henrietta’s childhood home. It ends with an interview with Fred Garret standing near the family cemetery, where Henrietta is buried in an unmarked grave. He marvels at the “miracle” of Henrietta’s cells.
By the end of the documentary, the “miracle” and success of Henrietta’s cells clearly contrasts with her own end, in an unmarked tomb.
Themes
Racism, Classism, and Sexism Theme Icon
Family and Faith Theme Icon
Progress vs. Privacy Theme Icon
Immortality and Its Costs  Theme Icon
That night back at the hotel, Rebecca gets Sonny on the phone; he won’t meet her, and won’t say why. She asks him to put her in touch with the Lacks family members still living in Clover, but he refuses.
Right after getting closer than ever to meeting the Lackses, Rebecca experiences another setback. This pattern will in fact shape the rest of the narrative.
Themes
Family and Faith Theme Icon
Progress vs. Privacy Theme Icon