The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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The story of Henrietta Lacks has several settings but the most important of them is her hometown. Located in Clover, Virginia, Henrietta inhabits a small town characterized by farming and agriculture. In fact, the log cabin she lived in for quite some time was the slave quarters of a tobacco plantation where she spent her younger years helping her grandfather.

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Since this occurred prior to any of the civil rights movements of the later 20th century, her ethnicity and race were undermined greatly, one of the biggest health disparities she faced. Furthermore, she lived with her cousin who she eventually birthed several children to out of incestual marriage. These social determinants of health arguably set the tone for her life’s story and the unfortunate events that would come. More importantly, this story serves as evidence of how one’s background and environment can impact their health and well-being. Given her race, ethnicity, ancestral background, and low level of education, it is clear that social expectations of her are extremely low, if not nonexistent. Whereas the incestual relationship with her first cousin was not socially acceptable, I believe that Henrietta in part, needed it for survival.        

The other half of the story takes place in Baltimore, Maryland where Henrietta and her husband move to after talking with another cousin. This evidence shows the importance of family in Henrietta’s life. In a world where negros are viewed as less than equal and still discriminated upon regularly, living in the right setting is critical to their lives. Baltimore was also the location of Johns Hopkins Hospital, which would inevitably play a crucial role in her life. It is worth noting that at this time in the mid 20th century, healthcare and medical research was in the developmental stage. The concept of informed consent was rarely practiced and standardized laws regarding patient records and privacy were not valued.        

Henrietta Lacks is the main character of the story. She is a black woman who is diagnosed with cervical cancer. Although she eventually dies, the cells found in her tumor would be the backbone of medical vaccines and treatments in later years. Henrietta is married to David Lacks, her first cousin who impregnates her at the early age of 14. Together, they have 5 children, one of which suffers a developmental disability. Other main characters include her children. Deborah Lacks, the daughter of Henrietta, was highly responsible for the information Rebecca Skloot details in the novel. Joe Lacks, the youngest son of Henrietta, suffers great setbacks from his mother’s passing and in time winds up in jail which show the negative impacts on the lives of her family. Lucille Pleasant (Henrietta’s maiden name), is the daughter of Henrietta who is disabled.

According to the book and some external research,

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