The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Rebecca Skloot (the author) Character Analysis

A young white woman, Rebecca becomes obsessed with Henrietta Lacks after learning about her story in high school. Despite the suspicions of Henrietta’s family, Rebecca uses persistence, patience, and honesty to gain their respect as she continues to research Henrietta and the fate of her HeLa cells. Rebecca eventually becomes a trusted part of the family’s circle, and pledges to use her powers as a writer to keep Henrietta’s legacy alive. She forms a special bond with Deborah, Henrietta’s only surviving daughter.

Rebecca Skloot (the author) Quotes in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks quotes below are all either spoken by Rebecca Skloot (the author) or refer to Rebecca Skloot (the author). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism, Classism, and Sexism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Random House edition of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks published in 2010.
Prologue Quotes

The Lackses challenged everything I thought I knew about faith, science, journalism, and race. Ultimately, this book is the result. It’s not only the story of HeLa cells and Henrietta Lacks, but of Henrietta’s family—particularly Deborah—and their lifelong struggle to make peace with the existence of those cells, and the science that made them possible.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Henrietta Lacks, Deborah (Dale) Lacks
Page Number: 8-9
Explanation and Analysis:

As she begins her story, the narrator--journalist Rebecca Skloot--reflects on its significance, and its personal effect on her. She emphasizes to her readers that this narrative is not simply about HeLa, the cells that revolutionized cellular biology, but about the human beings behind those cells.

Making clear that this will be a story of faith and family as well as science, Rebecca takes care to credit Henrietta's relatives--the very people who feel forgotten by history and by the medical establishment that profited off of her immortal cancer cells.

In so doing, Rebecca firmly states that her allegiance is to the descendants and their narrative, and that she means to harshly critique the medical establishment for the way it treated them. Although she by no means diminishes the scientific wonders achieved with Henrietta's cells, nor does she let doctors, researchers, and institutions off the hook for the bigoted and arrogant way that they treated both Henrietta and her relatives. 

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Chapter 1 Quotes

For Henrietta, walking into Hopkins was like entering a foreign country where she didn’t speak the language…she’d never heard the words cervix or biopsy. She didn’t read or write much, and she hadn’t studied science in school. She, like most black patients, only went to Hopkins when she thought she had no choice.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Related Symbols: Johns Hopkins
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Rebecca begins Henrietta's story at Johns Hopkins, a hospital renowned for its medical accomplishments and for its willingness to treat poor and minority patients. The narrative, however, questions Hopkins' inclusivity, noting how "foreign" and intimidating it would have seemed to Henrietta.

The narrator also takes this opportunity to introduce race as a vital and omnipresent theme throughout the book. She notes that many black patients viewed going to the hospital as a last resort, and later expands on the American medical establishment's long history of racism and unethical practices when it came to minority patients.

That Henrietta is willing to go go the hospital despite these circumstances also underlines just how sick she is. Although she fears the hospital, she is in too much pain to avoid going there any longer--an early sign of just how sick she is. 

Chapter 4 Quotes

Henrietta’s cells weren’t merely surviving, they were growing with mythological intensity...They kept growing like nothing anyone had ever seen, doubling the numbers every twenty-four hours, stacking hundreds on top of hundreds, accumulating by the millions.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Related Symbols: HeLa
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

With doctors having taken a sample of Henrietta's tissue, these cells now become a different entity from her entirely. While Henrietta is dying, her cancerous cells are thriving; in fact, they are "growing like nothing anyone had ever seen."

In this passage, Rebecca sounds almost hyperbolic, stating that Henrietta's cells seem to grow "with mythological intensity." She is not exaggerating, however. Instead, she is emphasizing for readers just how unprecedented this phenomenon was, and how awestruck researchers were when it occurred. In this way, Rebecca makes clear just how groundbreaking the discovery of HeLa was, foreshadowing the truly world-changing effect that it would have on multiple scientific fields. 

Chapter 8 Quotes

Each day, Henrietta’s doctors increased her dose of radiation, hoping it would shrink the tumors and ease the pain until her death. Each day the skin on her abdomen burned blacker and blacker, and the pain grew worse.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

As Henrietta grows sicker, her doctors turn the only treatment for cancer they know, radiation, in an effort to "ease [her] pain." This procedure, however, burns Henrietta's stomach skin black, and only makes her agony worse. 

In addition to being a story of faith, family, and legacy, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is also a narrative of cancer treatments, and their slow advance into the twenty-first century. While radiation was a huge step, as often as not it only increased patients' pain and heralded their demise.

Although it is comforting to tell ourselves that doctors know what they are doing, too often treatments are found to be as harmful as they are helpful. This was definitely true in the case of radiation, which in fact added to the agony and indignity of Henrietta's final days. Ironically, it was her cells that would later help researchers find more effective (and less damaging) cancer treatments that would help generations of patients after her death. 

Chapter 12 Quotes

Mary’s gaze fell on Henrietta’s feet, and she gasped: Henrietta’s toenails were covered in chipped bright red polish. “When I saw those toenails,” Mary told me later, “I nearly fainted. I thought, Oh jeez, she’s a real person. I started imagining her sitting in her bathroom painting those toenails, and it hit me for the first time that those cells we’d been working with all this time and sending all over the world, they came from a live woman. I’d never thought of it that way.”

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Mary Kubicek (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Related Symbols: HeLa, Henrietta’s Fingernails and Toenails
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:

A research assistant at the time of Henrietta's death, Mary Kubicek recounts her patient's autopsy, recalling distinctly her shock and dismay at seeing Henrietta's "chipped bright red [nail]polish." It was only at this point, she recalls, that she realized how HeLa had come "from a live woman."

Mary's account shines a bright light on how easy it is for doctors and researchers to dehumanize their patients. Although Mary is a decent and moral person, she has only been working with Henrietta's cancer cells--which of course feel far removed from an actual person.

Henrietta's toenails, however, deliver a sharp rebuke to the young researcher. In that moment, she sees Henrietta not as a test subject, but as a human woman who--not too long ago--engaged in activities as relatable as painting her toenails.

The vast majority of researchers who work with HeLa, of course, have never had such an experience. To them, HeLa is merely a useful tool, rather than the final remnant of a now-dead woman. 

Chapter 13 Quotes

Black scientists and technicians, many of them women, used cells from a black woman to help save the lives of millions of Americans, most of them white. And they did so on the same campus—and at the very same time—that state officials were conducting the infamous Tuskegee syphilis studies…

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Related Symbols: Tuskegee Institute
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in her narrative, Rebecca broadens out, moving from Henrietta's personal story to HeLa's initial effects on modern medicine. Even as she does so, however, she makes sure to stay focused on one of her main themes: race and science in America. 

In this passage, Rebecca spotlights the effort to discover a polio vaccine. In order to do so, researchers needed to mass-produce large amounts of HeLa, a task that fell to the black, largely female "scientists and technicians" of the Tuskegee Institute.

On one hand, this moment is an uplifting and optimistic one, as black women use "cells from a black woman" to help end the plague of polio which had been afflicting "millions of Americans." Yet there is a terrible irony in this effort's location: the Tuskegee Institute is also infamous for its syphilis studies, which involved letting huge numbers of black men go untreated and die in an effort by white researchers to further understand the STD. Thus, on one campus and at the same time, racial progress and deadly racism co-existed. 

Chapter 15 Quotes

No one told Sonny, Deborah, or Joe what had happened to their mother, and they were afraid to ask…As far as the children knew, their mother was there one day, gone the next.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Henrietta Lacks, Sonny Lacks
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

As she will do throughout the narrative, Rebecca makes sure never to stray too far from the story of the Lacks family, and the effects that HeLa and its fame had on Henrietta's descendants. At this point, Henrietta's children know nothing at all about HeLa--in fact, they do not even know how or why their mother died.

Although keeping children in the dark was a common practice at the time, the sudden and mysterious loss of their mother proved hugely traumatic for all three of the Lacks children. To find out decades later that researchers and doctors had benefited (both intellectually, practically, and financially) from their mother's death would only add insult to injury. 

As the book continues, Rebecca always takes care to trace the different ways that Henrietta's children were affected by her death--from the stoic Sonny to the troubled Joe (later Zakariyya) to the bereft but ever-determined Deborah. At no point does she allow her readers to forget that her characters are real people who mourn their mother's death (no matter how much the rest of the world profited from it).

Chapter 16 Quotes

It sound strange…but her cells done lived longer than her memory.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Hector Henry (Cootie) (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Related Symbols: HeLa
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

Rebecca returns to Cootie, who reflects on how "strange" it is that Henrietta's "cells" have lived longer than her "memory." In essence, he is saying, a part of Henrietta's body has survived despite the fact that almost everybody (including the people working with it every day) have forgotten who she was, or that she even existed. 

In short, the uneducated yet eloquent Cootie has just articulated the ultimate goal of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. A deeply humane journalist and scientist, Rebecca simply cannot bear the thought that Henrietta Lacks, a woman who made inarticulable contributions to medical and technological process, has become lost to history. With her book, she intends to resurrect Henrietta's "memory," ensuring that it will forever be paired with her immortal cells. 

Chapter 21 Quotes

Can you tell me what my mama’s cells really did?...I know they did something important, but nobody tells us nothing.

Related Characters: Lawrence Lacks (speaker), Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot (the author)
Related Symbols: HeLa
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

While being interviewed by Rebecca, Lawrence Lacks turns the tables, asking the reporter to tell him what Henrietta's cells "really did." While he knows that they were "important" in some way, he complains that "nobody tells us nothing." 

This short, plain passage vividly illustrates just how in-the-dark Henrietta's children were about her effects on the world. While they knew that HeLa was famous in some way, they had no real concept of what it had done, and of the huge benefits that their mother had provided for millions (if not billions) of people.

While the Lackses acutely feel that they have been cheated financially from profiting off of Henrietta's cells, this passage points to another loss: that this woman's own children do not understand how truly revolutionary HeLa was, and how many people Henrietta had helped. Instead of being proud of their mother, the Lackses are simply confused and indignant. Far from being their fault, this ignorance stems from the fact that no one had ever bothered to explain HeLa's--and Henrietta's--legacy to them. 

John Hopkin didn’t give us no information about anything. That was the bad part. Not the sad part, but the bad part, cause I don’t know if they didn’t give us information because they was making money out of it or if they was just wanting to keep us in the dark about it. I think they made money out of it, cause they were selling her cells all over the world and shipping them for dollars.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Sonny Lacks (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Related Symbols: HeLa
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

Rebecca interviews Sonny, another one of the Lacks children. Here he expresses anger at what he views as Johns Hopkins' cover-up of HeLa, and their continued quest to keep the profits from the cell from the Lacks children.

Although Sonny's view is an overly simplified one, his indignation is absolutely justified. At the time of Rebecca's research, most of the Lackses still struggled to get by, often living from paycheck to paycheck. Most ironically of all, many members of the family had spotty insurance at best, meaning that they could not benefit from the very medical advances that originated from their mother's cells. 

At the same time, Sonny's anger also reflects a suspicion widespread in the African-American community towards the medical establishment. In many ways, Sonny does not trust doctors anymore than Henrietta did. He believes them to be deceitful, racist, and greedy--and although such a view is an exaggerated one, it is undoubtedly true that the medical establishment treated the Lacks family in an immensely unfair and prejudiced manner. 

You know what is a myth?...Everybody always saying Henrietta Lacks donated those cells. She didn’t donate nothing. They took them and didn’t ask.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Bobbette Cooper (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Related Symbols: HeLa
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

Rebecca goes on to interview Bobbette, Lawrence's wife. Here Bobbette articulates another complaint within the Lacks family: that doctors didn't ask Henrietta for the cells, but rather stole them. To the Lackses, this makes the massive profits that the medical establishment has made off of HeLa even more illegitimate and unfair. 

In her anger, Bobbette also happens to be correct. Although it was customary at the time for doctors not to ask patients' consent before removing their tissue, such a practice would be unthinkable today. Further, physicians treated Henrietta with even less respect (and gave her less agency) because she was a black woman.

As a member of not one but two disenfranchised groups, Henrietta was particularly likely to be used and victimized by those in positions of authority. Although the doctors and researchers who discovered HeLa meant well and did not understand the harm in what they were doing, they nevertheless acted in immensely racist and sexist ways in their treatment of Henrietta, and their harvesting of HeLa. 

Chapter 29 Quotes

[Deborah] and I spent the day and night together as I soaked up as much of her story as I could, constantly worried she’d change her mind and stop talking to me. But in reality, it seemed now that Deborah had started talking, she might never stop again.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Deborah (Dale) Lacks
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

After months of attempting to gain Deborah's trust, Rebecca at last gains access. She is surprised to find a talkative and excitable woman, who--at first--seems more than willing to share the story of her family, herself, and her mother. 

Although it might seem strange that Deborah would be so excited and eager to trust a stranger (especially a reporter), her willingness to speak is in fact completely understandable. Although the Lackses have been caught up in the narrative of HeLa for decades, they have never actually been able to make their voices heard. Now, at last, Rebecca is offering Deborah the chance to tell her story.

By simply treating her like a person who deserves to be heard, Rebecca has done more for Deborah than almost all the researchers and reporters who came before her. 

Chapter 30 Quotes

Only people that can get any good from my mother cells is the people that got money, and whoever sellin them cells—they get rich off our mother and we got nothing…All those damn people didn’t deserve her help as far as I’m concerned.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Joe Lacks (Zakariyya) (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Related Symbols: HeLa
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:

Rebecca and Deborah go to visit Zakariyya, Henrietta's disturbed youngest son, still fuming decades later over his mother's death, and the medical establishment's profit off of her cells.

Zakariyya articulates an attitude of rage, suspicion, and jealousy. He believes that the world is ot to cheat him, and that the researchers and patients who benefited from Henrietta's tissue "didn't deserve her help."

Yet although Zakariyya might seem unreasonable and even unhinged, he in fact has every reason to be angry. Destitute and mentally ill, Zakariyya's never recovered from his mother's death, undergoing years of abuse and neglect as a result. Yet while he suffered from Henrietta's demise, doctors, researchers, and pharmaceutical companies thrived, using her cells to make both medical advances and profits. Given this disparity, it is easy to understand Zakariyya's rage, and his belief that the world has cheated him out of both money and a mother. 

Chapter 31 Quotes

Truth be told, I can’t get mad at science, because it help people live, and I’d be a mess without it. I’m a walking drugstore! I can’t say nothing bad about science, but I won’t lie, I would like some health insurance so I don’t got to pay all that money every month for drugs my mother cells probably helped make.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Deborah (Dale) Lacks (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Related Symbols: HeLa
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:

Deborah reflects on her mother's death, stating that she can't be "mad at science," because of how much it has benefited people in the twenty-first century, herself included. At the same time, though, Deborah wishes that she could have "health insurance" so that she could afford the drugs that Henrietta's cells "probably helped make." 

Although Deborah is uneducated and speaks plainly, she has here highlighted a tragic irony in the Lacks family's lives: that although their mother's cells helped to catapult modern medicine forward, they are too poor to benefit from many of those same advances.

At the same time, though, Deborah articulates an astounding amount of forgiveness and understanding. While Zakariyya and Sonny hate the medical establishment for supposedly cheating them out of HeLa profits, Deborah refuses to be "mad." She sees the bigger picture, realizing how much better off the world is due to HeLa. 

Chapter 32 Quotes

Deborah and Zakariyya stared at the screen like they’d gone into a trance, mouths open, cheeks sagging. It was the closest they’d come to seeing their mother alive since they were babies.
[Deborah] raised the vial and touched it to her lips. “You’re famous,” she whispered, “Just nobody knows it.”

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Henrietta Lacks, Deborah (Dale) Lacks, Joe Lacks (Zakariyya)
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:

Within Christoph Lengauer's lab, Deborah and Zakariyya are able to look at a living sample of HeLa under a microscope. Rebecca reflects that they haven't come so close to "seeing their mother alive" in decades. 

In this passage, Rebecca perfectly marries the blend of personal and scientific that defines her narrative. Together, she and Lengauer have used the science of microscopes and cell replication to bring two adult children close to what they consider the spirit of their mother. By acknowledging the humanity of Zakariyya and Deborah, the reporter and the scientist have used science for a moment of emotional healing and connection.

Equally poignant and moving is Deborah's decision to tell her mother--through a vial of HeLa--that she is famous, although "nobody knows it." Clearly, Deborah believes that she is in the presence of her mother. Her first impulse, in this deeply profound moment, is to tell her mother about all the good she has done, and how she has changed the world. Unselfish and limitlessly giving, Deborah wishes above all that her mother--a poor, uneducated, black woman--could realize her staggering importance. 

Chapter 36 Quotes

In that moment…I understood completely how some of the Lackses could believe, without doubt, that Henrietta had been chosen by the Lord to become an immortal being. If you believe the Bible is the literal truth, the immortality of Henrietta’s cells makes perfect sense. Of course they were growing and surviving decades after death, of course they floated through the air, and of course they’d led to cures for diseases and been launched into space. Angels are like that. The Bible tells us so.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Page Number: 339
Explanation and Analysis:

After having spent many months with the Lackses, Rebecca has often felt conflicted between her own scientific mindset and the deeply religious beliefs of those around her. In this moment, however, she has a revelation, realizing that the immortality of HeLa fits perfectly with the Christian idea that the Lord's chosen angels become "immortal being[s]." To many of the Lackses, the existence of HeLa proves the existence of the divine, as well as proving Henrietta's saintliness when she was on Earth.

This moment is a deeply personal one, filled with empathy and understanding. Although educated and well-informed, Rebecca never pretends to be omniscient, nor does she consider herself to be better in any way than the Lackses. Instead, she approaches their beliefs with openness and curiosity, qualities that allow her to have this deep and moving realization about the connection between HeLa and the Lackses' religious beliefs. 

Chapter 38 Quotes

Heaven looks just like Clover, Virginia. My mother and I always loved it down there more than anywhere else in the world.

Related Characters: Rebecca Skloot (the author) (speaker), Deborah (Dale) Lacks (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Related Symbols: Clover and Lacks Town
Page Number: 355
Explanation and Analysis:

Always nostalgic for her childhood, Deborah wonders what Heaven looks like, deciding that it must resemble "Clover, Virginia" where her family grew up. Even when imagining the afterlife, Deborah still clings fiercely to what she has lost, identifying herself closely with her mother, and yearning for an idyllic childhood that never actually occurred.

By the book's end, Deborah has died, and has not seen the publication of Rebecca's book. Yet rather than express regret or sadness over Deborah's death, Rebecca instead chooses to share Deborah's simple, generous, innocent vision of what Heaven must be like. At once lovely and deeply sad, this picture of Heaven as a quiet country town is the perfect illustration of Deborah's openness and optimism.

Although she lived an immensely difficult life, Deborah never lost her capacity for wonder, or her belief in better times to come. It is clear that Rebecca deeply admires this quality, and so chooses to celebrate it as she brings her narrative to a close. 

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Rebecca Skloot (the author) Character Timeline in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The timeline below shows where the character Rebecca Skloot (the author) appears in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue: The Woman in the Photograph
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The author, journalist Rebecca Skloot, describes the tattered photo of an African American woman that she has... (full context)
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Rebecca describes staring at this photo, wondering about Henrietta and her family, and contemplating how Henrietta... (full context)
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Rebecca remembers how she first learned about HeLa in 1988, thirty-seven years after Henrietta died. In... (full context)
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The author also reminds us of basic biology: how there are about one hundred trillion cells in... (full context)
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After class, Rebecca visits Defler’s office to ask him about Henrietta’sbackground, but he replies, “no one knows anything... (full context)
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Rebecca graduates high school and starts a biology degree in college, learning about HeLa in many... (full context)
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As Rebecca continues through grad school, she remains intrigued by Henrietta Lacks. She tells the reader that... (full context)
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The author details the many differences between herself and Deborah. Rebecca is white and from the Pacific... (full context)
Chapter 1: The Exam
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The author explains that it is unsurprising that Henrietta didn’t return for follow-ups; “like most black patients,”... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Birth of HeLa
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The author gives us background on George Gey: he was raised in Pittsburgh, where his family lived... (full context)
Chapter 5: Blackness Be Spreadin All Inside
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...house. While radiation treatments usually have terrible symptoms, no one remembers Henrietta feeling ill. The author describes Henrietta’s beauty, especially noting her well-kept fingernails and toenails, which she always paints red.... (full context)
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The author turns her attention to Henrietta’soldest daughter, the mentally impaired Elsie. Before her illness, Henrietta would... (full context)
Chapter 6: “Lady’s on the Phone”
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We move to 1999, eleven years after Rebecca learned about Henrietta’s existence. Rebecca has found a collection of papers from “The HeLa Cancer... (full context)
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On the phone with Pattillo, Rebecca displays her knowledge of the mistreatment of African Americans by the scientific establishment. She fills... (full context)
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Pattillo informs Rebecca that he’s organizing the next HeLa conference. He mentions that Deborah Lacks lives in Baltimore,... (full context)
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After three days of phone calls, Roland Pattillo at last gives Deborah’sphone number to Rebecca. He tells her the “do’s and don’ts” for their conversation: she must be honest without... (full context)
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Rebecca calls Deborah and tells her that she wants to write a book about Henrietta. Deborah... (full context)
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Deborah eventually gets off the phone but first makes Rebecca promise to call her on Monday. When Rebecca calls back, however, Deborah seems drugged and... (full context)
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The persistent Rebecca begins calling Deborah every day, as well as her brothers and father. After several days,... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Death and Life of Cell Culture
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Rebecca explains why Henrietta’s cells are so precious: because they allow “scientists to perform experiments that... (full context)
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...or her cells in the press, so the general public doesn’t learn about his innovation. Rebecca explains, however, that cell culture had become unpopular in the press in recent years. This... (full context)
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Rebecca describes the eccentric Carrel, who believed in telepathy and fortune telling. Newspapers and the public... (full context)
Chapter 8: A Miserable Specimen
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...her doctors that the cancer is spreading, but they assert that she is incorrect. The author explains the practice of “benevolent deception,” in which doctors would withhold information from their patients... (full context)
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Rebecca returns to Henrietta’s medical records, which show that she returned to Hopkins complaining of discomfort,... (full context)
Chapter 9: Turner Station
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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... (full context)
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Rebecca relates the history of Turner Station, explaining that in the forties, when Henrietta first arrived,... (full context)
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The article that Rebecca’sfound refers to a woman named Courtney Speed who owns a grocery store and has created... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Rebecca watches the video: a BBC documentary about Henrietta called The Way of All Flesh. It... (full context)
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That night back at the hotel, Rebecca gets Sonny on the phone; he won’t meet her, and won’t say why. She asks... (full context)
Chapter 10: The Other Side of the Tracks
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Rebecca describes Clover a community in Southern Virginia, which she visits on a warm day in... (full context)
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...one-room shacks, slave cabins, cinder-block houses, and trailers. An older man comes out to ask Rebecca if she’s lost. She asks if he’s heard of Henrietta, and he responds that he’s... (full context)
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Rebecca describes Cootie’s small house. He’s recently gotten indoor plumbing, but still prefers to use his... (full context)
Chapter 13: The HeLa Factory
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Rebecca explains the difference between HeLa and other human cells. Most cells in culture grow in... (full context)
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...vaccine works, and the New York Times runs an article about “Negro Scientists,” mentioning HeLa. Rebecca notes the significance of “black scientists and technicians, many of them women, us[ing] cells from... (full context)
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The timing, the Rebecca comments, is “perfect.” Scientists in the early fifties were just beginning to research viruses, and... (full context)
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Scientists also use HeLa to advance their research in cellular cloning. Rebecca explains that HeLa did not grow from one of Henrietta’scells, but from a cluster of... (full context)
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...and he adds that Gey should have finished his own HeLa research before releasing it. Rebecca adds that “as soon as HeLa became ‘general scientific property,’ people started wondering about the... (full context)
Chapter 14: Helen Lane
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Rebecca explains that considering how many people knew Henrietta’s name, it was impossible that the info... (full context)
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...publish Henrietta’sname. Berg fires back that the article will not be interesting without Henrietta’s identity. Rebecca explains that such an article “would have forever connected Henrietta and her family with the... (full context)
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...He also asserts that the sample was taken from Henrietta after she died, not before. Rebecca reports that there is no record of how these two pieces of misinformation originated, but... (full context)
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...in order to keep journalists off the scent of Henrietta’sidentity. If this was the aim, Rebecca says, it worked; from the fifties until the seventies, articles identified the originator of the... (full context)
Chapter 15: “Too Young to Remember”
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Rebecca explains that school is difficult for all of the Lacks children; they have all inherited... (full context)
Chapter 16: “Spending Eternity in the Same Place”
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During Rebecca’sfirst visit with Cootie, he tells her that no one ever talks about Henrietta. He muses... (full context)
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When Cliff learns that Rebecca is writing a book about Henrietta, he brings her to the now-dilapidated house where Henrietta... (full context)
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Rebecca explores Henrietta’sfamily history: she had a great-great-grandmother who was a slave named Mourning. A white... (full context)
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Rebecca recounts how omnipresent race still is in Clover. While all insist that race relations have... (full context)
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Rebecca goes to visit Carlton Lacks and Ruby Lacks, the oldest white Lackses. They are distant... (full context)
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Rebecca visits Henrietta’s cousin Gladys, who mentions Lillian,Henrietta’syoungest sibling. In the last letter she sent to... (full context)
Chapter 17: Illegal, Immoral, and Deplorable
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...because people with cancer seem to reject the cells slower than people without the disease. Rebecca asserts that he was deliberately withholding information, however, in order to keep people from refusing... (full context)
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Rebecca gives background on the Nuremberg trials, in which seven Nazi doctors were sentenced to death... (full context)
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Rebecca traces the origins of the phrase “informed consent,” first used in 1957 in a civil... (full context)
Chapter 18: “Strangest Hybrid”
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...genetic material. Though the technical term is “somatic cell fusion,” researchers name it “cell sex.” Rebecca explains that “genetically speaking, humans are terrible research subjects” because scientists can’t control our mating,... (full context)
Chapter 21: Night Doctors
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Two months after unsuccessfully trying to meet with Sonny Lacks, Rebecca waits for him on New Year’s Day. Just as she begins to give up, Sonny... (full context)
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Apprehensive, Rebecca walks into the house where Lawrence appears in the kitchen and offers her a pork... (full context)
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Sonny comes back, and Lawrence tells him that Rebecca’s been explaining HeLa’s legacy. The brothers are exhilarated by a speech thatPresident Clintonhas given about... (full context)
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Rebecca gets ready to record an interview with Day, but first asks if Deborah might want... (full context)
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Rebecca explains that many African Americans have believed for centuries that white scientists are kidnapping and... (full context)
Chapter 23: “It’s Alive”
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In the present day, Rebecca asks McKusick whether anyone ever attempted to get informed consent from the Lackses. He responds... (full context)
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Rebecca explains that during this time period, research oversight was changing quickly. In response to several... (full context)
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...collecting blood and tissue should be exempt from the law, but their requests are denied. Rebecca explains that McKusick’s contact with the Lacks family “coincided with the beginning of a new... (full context)
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...fixates on the photograph within it, wondering how McKusick got a hold of it. When Rebecca talks to him years later, McKusick doesn’t remember the photo’s origin, but supposes that the... (full context)
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Susan Hsu is shocked when Rebecca tells her that the Lackses believed that they were being tested for cancer. She wants... (full context)
Chapter 24: “Least They Can Do”
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...cells. They become certain that George Gey and Johns Hopkins stole Henrietta’s cells for profit. Rebecca reveals that George Gey never made money off of HeLa. In the present day, however,... (full context)
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...map of Henrietta’s DNA that will identify HeLa cells in culture. In the present day, Rebecca explains, a scientist would never connect a person’s identity with their genetic information, because of... (full context)
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...cancer, while Sonny and Lawrence are trying to strategize ways to get money from Hopkins. Rebecca then introduces the story of John Moore, a man who sued for the profits made... (full context)
Chapter 25: “Who Told You You Could Sell My Spleen?”
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Rebecca gives background on a man named Ted Slavin—a hemophiliac in the 1950s who is repeatedly... (full context)
Chapter 26: Breach of Privacy
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Rebecca explains that it isn’t illegal for a journalist to publish medical records, but wonders why... (full context)
Chapter 27: The Secret of Immortality
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...strains of which may cause cervical cancer. HeLa tests positive for a strain called HPV-18. Rebecca explains that there are over one hundred strains of HPV, and that thirteen of these... (full context)
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...that suppresses tumors. Scientists still don’t understand, however, why she then produced such virulent cells. Rebecca speaks to other researchers, none of whom can fully explain the growth of Henrietta’s cells. (full context)
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Rebecca recalls that every decade has made innovations due to HeLa. In the eighties, a molecular... (full context)
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Researchers begin to wonder whether HeLa cells may indeed contain clues about immortal life. Rebecca explains that normal human cells cannot grow indefinitely; they divide a set number of times... (full context)
Chapter 28: After London
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...named Adam Curtis decides to make a documentary about Henrietta in 1996—the same documentary that Rebecca eventually watches. Deborah believes that Curtis will make the world understand what her family went... (full context)
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Pattillo, Rebecca explains, grew up in a segregated town in Louisiana. After becoming the first in his... (full context)
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Rebecca introduces a new character into the narrative: Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield: “the cousin of... (full context)
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...few weeks later, Roland Pattillo gets in touch with Deborah to tell her that a reporter—Rebecca—wants to write about Henrietta. (full context)
Chapter 29: A Village of Henriettas
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For almost a year, Deborah refuses to talk to Rebecca, and so Rebecca conducts other research, periodically calling Deborah. One day, Reverend James Pullum picks... (full context)
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Deborah and Rebecca meet in July 2000 in Baltimore. Rebecca shows Deborah a gift from a Hopkins cancer... (full context)
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...chromosomes look, and expresses a desire to learn more about what HeLa helped to create. Rebecca invites Deborah to Lengauer’s lab, but Deborah says that she’s not ready yet. She once... (full context)
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Deborah then shows Rebecca all of the research that she’s done on Henrietta. Within the papers is a Mother’s... (full context)
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Deborah visits Rebecca for the next three days, but Rebecca is constantly worried that Deborah is going to... (full context)
Chapter 30: Zakariyya
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The next day, Deborah takes the apprehensive Rebecca to meet Zakariyya. They travel to his apartment along with Deborah’s two grandsons. Deborah assures... (full context)
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Rebecca describes Zakariyya’s tiny apartment, in which he’s hung pictures of Henrietta and Elsie. He expresses... (full context)
Chapter 31: Hela, Goddess of Death
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...call telling her not to trust any white people asking about Henrietta. Panicked, she tells Rebecca that they can’t speak anymore, but then quickly changes her mind. The two women continue... (full context)
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In an effort to gain Deborah’s trust, Rebecca begins sending Deborah every article she can find about Henrietta. Deborah begins to feel maternal... (full context)
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Rebecca recounts the many different things that “HeLa” denotes, including a Marvel comic book character who... (full context)
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Rebecca lists Deborah’s various medical problems, for which she takes around fourteen pills a day. She... (full context)
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...honor. Deborah is “ecstatic,” but paranoid about the dangers her appearance may bring. She tells Rebecca that she wants to see her mother’s cells before speaking. Only moments later, Deborah finds... (full context)
Chapter 32: “All That’s My Mother”
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...to work, and Lawrence refuses to go to Johns Hopkins (he is also convinced that Rebecca is being paid by Hopkins). On May 11, 2001, Rebecca escorts Deborah and Zakariyya to... (full context)
Chapter 33: The Hospital for the Negro Insane
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Rebecca explains that she has promised to help Deborah find out what happened to Elsie. After... (full context)
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...arrive at Crownsville, which has a beautiful, 1200-acre campus. The main office is abandoned, and Rebecca feels that the place is ominous. Eventually they find an old man named Paul Lurz,... (full context)
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Rebecca describes the nightmare of 1950s Crownsville, which was packed full of black patients, who were... (full context)
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Deborah thanks Paul Lurz before she and Rebecca leave. The pair decide to go to the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis to find... (full context)
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Deborah begins telling Rebecca repeatedly that when they stop for the night, the reporter may finally look at Henrietta’s... (full context)
Chapter 34: The Medical Records
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Moments later, a panicked Deborah—still clutching her photo of Elsie—knocks on Rebecca’s door and asks to read the records along with her. Rebecca offers to photocopy the... (full context)
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At last, Deborah tells Rebecca the story of Cofield, explaining how he betrayed her trust by trying to take “the... (full context)
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Exhausted from staying up with the records, Rebecca eats breakfast with Deborah, who has painted her fingernails red (just like her mother’s). Deborah... (full context)
Chapter 35: Soul Cleansing
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As the day progresses, Deborah grows covered with hives, and Rebecca becomes concerned. The two finally get to Clover, where Deborah asks Rebecca to take a... (full context)
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...son Gary comes in, and Deborah shows him the new picture of Elsie. He and Rebecca are both worried about the over-emotional Deborah, who’s still covered in hives. Deborah grows increasingly... (full context)
Chapter 36: Heavenly Bodies
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Still swollen with hives, Deborah goes home to a doctor, while Rebecca visits Gary again. Gary has her read a passage in the Bible out loud, telling... (full context)
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Rebecca contemplates the division between religion and science, realizing that for the Lackses, a religious explanation... (full context)
Chapter 37: “Nothing to Be Scared About”
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...her trip that she could have had a stroke or heart attack at any moment. Rebecca wonders whether this might be a medical explanation for Deborah’s strange behavior. To avoid stress,... (full context)
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...Foundation for Cancer Research, although she is terrified of getting up on stage. She tells Rebecca one day that she wants to go back to school in order to learn more... (full context)
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Rebecca becomes apprehensive as the conference approaches, worried that Deborah will become ill. Deborah’s brothers, meanwhile,... (full context)
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The doctors tell Deborah that she will probably recover completely, and Deborah calls Rebecca to let her know what has happened, telling her not to worry and to keep... (full context)
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...calling her every day. Deborah plans to rest so that she can continue researching with Rebecca, telling the reporter that she’s learned not to be “scared” anymore, and that she wants... (full context)
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Two months after Deborah’s stroke, Rebecca goes with the Lackses to see Reverend Pullum baptize Sonny’s granddaughter, JaBrea. Pullum calls on... (full context)
Chapter 38: The Long Road to Clover
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In January 2009, Rebecca pulls into the town of Clover to realize that all of Clover is gone—the businesses... (full context)
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When Rebecca finds the remains of Clover, she has not spoken to Deborah for several months. The... (full context)
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Rebecca explains that at the time of her death, Deborah was happy. Her grandsons, grandnieces, and... (full context)
Deborah's Voice
Rebecca includes a transcript of Deborah’s voice, as Deborah explains that her mother’s name was Henrietta... (full context)