The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Clover and Lacks Town Symbol Icon

Clover and Lacks Town, where Henrietta Lacks grew up, represent a bygone era for Rebecca Skloot. She sees both the idyllic, pre-industrial side, as well as the deep racial divides that lie underneath its surface. Rebecca also notes the extreme poverty in which its residents—especially African Americans—live. At the same time Deborah Lacks thinks of Clover as her favorite place on earth, because she associates it with her mother (and indeed, Clover is where Henrietta is buried in an unmarked grave). At the end of the book, Rebecca returns to Clover to find that it has disappeared entirely, a victim of an economic downturn and of racist and classist financial policies. Once learning that Deborah has died, Rebecca remembers that Deborah hoped that Heaven would look like Clover, and that she would see her mother and sister there. Thus in the end, despite its flaws, Clover becomes a symbol of the life that Deborah never got to have with her mother and her sister.

Clover and Lacks Town Quotes in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks quotes below all refer to the symbol of Clover and Lacks Town. 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.
Chapter 16 Quotes

The white Lackses know their kin all buried in here with ours cause they family. They know it, but they’ll never admit it. They just say, “Them Black Lackses, they ain’t kin!”

Related Characters: Cliff Garret (speaker)
Related Symbols: Clover and Lacks Town
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

Rebecca now turns her attention to the history of the Lackses--which, it turns out, is filled with mystery and racial divisiveness. Although some members of the Lacks clan are black while others are wait, the black Lackses claim that the white Lackses will never "admit" that they are related to the African-American branch of their family. And indeed, when Rebecca visits a family of white Lackses, they confirm this bigoted viewpoint. 

In exploring Henrietta's familial background, Rebecca has of course further humanized her, showing how many people Henrietta was tied to. At the same time, she also uses this passage as an opportunity to further explore America's deeply held problems of racism and classism. Even members of the same family, she reflects, can be divided by their skin color.

The pervasiveness and perniciousness of racism is a constant theme throughout the book, one that Rebecca continually returns to in order to prove just how deeply entwined it is with American history--and with the history of Henrietta Lacks. 

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Chapter 35 Quotes

Take one of me and my sister by her and my mother grave…It’ll be the only picture in the world with the three of us almost together.

Related Characters: Deborah (Dale) Lacks (speaker), Henrietta Lacks, Deborah (Dale) Lacks
Related Symbols: Clover and Lacks Town, Crownsville State Hospital
Page Number: 327
Explanation and Analysis:

In the midst of a road trip with Rebecca (and having found a photograph of her long lost sister), Deborah requests that the reporter take a picture of herself, the photo, and Henrietta's grave. 

In this moment, it becomes clear to both the reader and to Rebecca just how much Deborah has lost. Although she barely knew her mother or her sister, the adult woman still longs for them, yearning for a childhood of which she was robbed.

It is a mark of the humane nature of Rebecca's storytelling that this quiet moment of grief is treated with as much importance and significance as the famous scientific discoveries that she recounts. This passage, and others like it, make clear that Rebecca considers the story of Henrietta to be one of people, not of research subjects. 

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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Clover and Lacks Town Symbol Timeline in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The timeline below shows where the symbol Clover and Lacks Town appears in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Clover
Racism, Classism, and Sexism Theme Icon
Family and Faith Theme Icon
...later. Afterwards her father, Johnny Pleasant, took his children back to the family home of Clover, Virginia. The relatives divided the children up, and Henrietta was given to Tommy Lacks, her... (full context)
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Clover has a Main Street where, on nice days, the white members of the town would... (full context)
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...horses along the dirt road that runs through the former Lacks tobacco plantation (now called Lacks Town ). They have a cousin named Crazy Joe Grinnan who is desperately in love with... (full context)
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...most likely brought on by syphilis contracted and passed on by Day. The family at Lacks Town , however, originally just calls her “simple” or “touched.” (full context)
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Fred has returned to Clover to try to convince Henrietta and Day to come back to Turner Station with him.... (full context)
Chapter 5: Blackness Be Spreadin All Inside
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...are growing in a lab. She has returned home, taking her children on trips to Clover and keeping house. While radiation treatments usually have terrible symptoms, no one remembers Henrietta feeling... (full context)
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...Henrietta’soldest daughter, the mentally impaired Elsie. Before her illness, Henrietta would frequently take Elsie to Clover. As she grew older, however, Elsie began to have accidents. When Henrietta became pregnant with... (full context)
Chapter 9: Turner Station
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...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... (full context)
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...asks him to put her in touch with the Lacks family members still living in Clover, but he refuses. (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 December. By... (full context)
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The divide between Clover and Lacks Town is clear: on one side of the road there are well-kept farms,... (full context)
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...explains that he can’t read, and asks Rebecca if the piece mentions Henrietta’s childhood in Clover. (full context)
Chapter 11: “The Devil of Pain Itself”
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...sister to care for her children. After she falls asleep, Gladys goes back home to Clover. She then calls Day to tell him that Henrietta is going to die, and to... (full context)
Chapter 12: The Storm
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Days later, a train takes Henrietta from Baltimore to Clover in a cheap coffin. The Clover undertaker drives Henrietta’s coffin into Lacks Town. Cootie prays... (full context)
Chapter 15: “Too Young to Remember”
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The narrative jumps back to the 1950s. After Henrietta’s funeral, cousins from Clover and Turner Station help to care for her family. While Day works two jobs, Lawrence... (full context)
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...at dawn and forcing them to do chores. In the summers, she sends them to Clover to pick worms off tobacco leaves. If they ever stop, Ethel beats them. She focuses... (full context)
Chapter 16: “Spending Eternity in the Same Place”
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...original plantation to Benjamin Lacks, and the other half to the black Lackses—this land became Lacks Town . Sixteen years later, when Benjamin died, he split his land between his sisters, and... (full context)
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Rebecca recounts how omnipresent race still is in Clover. While all insist that race relations have never been bad there, only twelve miles away... (full context)
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...the eighties, Lillian expresses paranoia about why people know about her family, her life in Clover, and Henrietta. Gladys explains that because of her light skin, Lillian “converted to Puerto Rican.” (full context)
Chapter 19: “The Most Critical Time on Earth is Now”
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...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.... (full context)
Chapter 33: The Hospital for the Negro Insane
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...Elsie. After visiting Christoph’slab, the two women travel to Crownsville. They plan to stop at Clover and Roanoke on the way back. (full context)
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...to learn that the archives have no record of Elsie. They then move on to Clover, where an excited Deborah repeatedly shows passersby her new picture of Elsie. She grows increasingly... (full context)
Chapter 35: Soul Cleansing
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...progresses, Deborah grows covered with hives, and Rebecca becomes concerned. The two finally get to Clover, where Deborah asks Rebecca to take a photo of her with the two pictures of... (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 have all closed. She fills her... (full context)
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When Rebecca finds the remains of Clover, she has not spoken to Deborah for several months. The book is done, but Deborah... (full context)
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...Henrietta. After watching the interview herself, Deborah had told Rebecca that, “Heaven looks just like Clover, Virginia. My mother and I always loved it down there more than anywhere else in... (full context)