The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Themes and Colors
Racism, Classism, and Sexism Theme Icon
Family and Faith Theme Icon
Progress vs. Privacy Theme Icon
Technology and Globalization Theme Icon
Immortality and Its Costs Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family and Faith Theme Icon

Throughout their various trials, the Lacks siblings manage to stick together, bonded by their love for each other and their shared anger and grief over what happened to their mother. As the narrative opens, they even express a great deal of suspicion towards the author of the book, believing that they can only trust one another after the many betrayals that they’ve experienced. The siblings are also, of course, tied together genetically by the very same genes that compose the HeLa cell line. Throughout the book the author, Rebecca Skloot (a white journalist) takes care to mention even the extended family—cousins, stepmothers, distant ancestors, etc.—by name, emphasizing the largeness and complexity of the Lacks clan. While before the world didn’t even know Henrietta Lacks’ name, Rebecca makes sure that her readers will know the names of everyone from the white Lacks family patriarch to Henrietta’s youngest great-grandchild. Just as the HeLa cell line spreads all over the world, so the Lacks family constantly expands and shifts, even further enhancing the reach of Henrietta’s genes.

Within the Lacks family, the idea of faith is a vital means of holding the clan together. Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter and one of the main characters in the book, believes deeply in Christianity, and even prays to God for Rebecca to take the burden of her mother’s memory away from her. Deborah’s brother, Zakariyya, turns to Islam in prison, attempting to use faith to stay sane while behind bars. For the Lackses, faith means family. One of the climactic scenes in the book comes when Deborah’s husband at the time, Reverend James Pullum, calls the author onstage to tell his congregation about the book she’s working on. An outsider for much of the narrative, Rebecca feels momentarily accepted and included in this scene. Despite being an atheist herself, she understands the power that religion has for the Lacks family, and the deep meaning that it gives to their lives.

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Family and Faith Quotes in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Below you will find the important quotes in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks related to the theme of Family and Faith.
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:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

Everything always just about the cells and don’t even worry about her name and was HeLa even a person…You know what I really want? I want to know, what did my mother smell like? For all my life I just don’t know anything, not even little common little things, like what color did she like? Did she like to dance? Did she breastfeed me? Lord, I’d like to know that. But nobody ever say nothing.

Related Characters: Deborah (Dale) Lacks (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Page Number: 61-62
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

Now I don’t know for sure if a spirit got Henrietta or if a doctor did it…but I do know that her cancer wasn’t no regular cancer, cause regular cancer don’t keep on growing after a person die.

Related Characters: Hector Henry (Cootie) (speaker), Henrietta Lacks
Related Symbols: HeLa
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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LORD, I KNOW you sent Miss Rebecca to help LIFT THE BURDEN of them CELLS…GIVE THEM TO HER!...LET HER CARRY THEM.

Related Characters: Gary (speaker), Henrietta Lacks, Deborah (Dale) Lacks
Related Symbols: HeLa
Page Number: 335
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Chapter 37 Quotes

This child will someday know that her great-grandmother Henrietta helped the world!...So will that child…and that child…and that child. This is their story now. They need to take hold of it and let it teach them they can change the world too.

Related Characters: James Pullum (speaker), Henrietta Lacks, Davon, JaBrea
Page Number: 349
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui

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