The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


Rebecca Skloot

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Symbols


HeLa is the cell line that comes from Henrietta Lacks. It is “immortal”—meaning that it can continue to regenerate indefinitely if given nutrients and space to grow. To scientists, HeLa represents essentially endless possibility…

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Statue of Jesus

In front of Johns Hopkins is a statue of Jesus, the toe of which patients and doctors alike rub for luck. For Rebecca Skloot, the statue represents the intersection of medicine and religion—two vital…

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Johns Hopkins

Like many symbols within the book, the research university and hospital of Johns Hopkins is a double-edged sword. Founded specifically to help the poor and minorities, it emblemizes cutting-edge medical advances and high quality of…

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Clover and Lacks Town

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…

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Henrietta’s Fingernails and Toenails

Henrietta’s relatives all remember her pristine fingernails and toenails, which she kept painted a vibrant red. Indeed, her female cousins only understood how sick she was once they saw how chipped her nails were…

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Get the entire Henrietta Lacks LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks PDF

Tuskegee Institute

Of all the symbols within the book, the Tuskegee Institute has one of the most dramatically double-sided legacies. On one hand, Tuskegee was the site of the cell-production factory where a staff of black, female…

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Crownsville State Hospital

Elsie Lacks’ family sent her to Crownsville (formerly known as the Hospital for the Negro Insane) after it became impossible to keep her safe and healthy at home. During the 1950s, however, Crownsville was…

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