An Analysis of Rebecca Skloot’s Narrative The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Elsie Lacks

Category: Discrimination, Ethics
Last Updated: 26 Jun 2023
Pages: 3 Views: 40

Today, when people speak of America, they tell stories of triumph and greatness. The American nation prides itself on the fact that it accepts all races, colors and genders. However, America has a dark past that is associated with inequality and injustice. Two of the biggest groups effected by inequality are black people and women. Being a black woman is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks that a human being can perform. Not only are these women restrained by racial influences; they are also expected to maintain the roles of a woman. In the Rebecca Skloot narrative "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks", the racial prejudice surrounding black women in the 1950's is explored.

This book focuses on the personal lives of the main female characters. These female characters include Henrietta Lacks, Elsie Lacks, Deborah Lacks and Bobbette Lacks. All of these women represented the black female archetype that populated 1950's America. Based on the upbringing and role of the main female characters, the complications that the female characters faced as women and the lasting influences of their life events; the audience can now see what complications were faced by several African American women. Essentially, poor education and gender roles, unwanted sexual advances and substandard medical treatment deeply affected the black women of the 1950's.

All of the existing Lacks women grew up in poverty. As a result of their poor families, many of these women were obligated to drop out of school before graduating with any degree. Henrietta for example, dropped out of school after reaching the seventh grade. Much like the other poor black women during the 1950's, Henrietta was ignorant to some of the technological advancements in America. Skloot stated that Henrietta "knew about harvesting tobacco and butchering a pig, but 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" (16 Skloot). Henrietta did not focus on her basic health because she did not think that anything was wrong.

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Black women directed their focus on matters concerning theirs homes and children. From an early age, young black women were forced to bear children. Inevitably, Henrietta would fall victim to this unjust social standard. Since "Henrietta and Day had been sharing a bedroom since she was four, so what happened next didn't surprise anyone: they started having children together" (Skloot 23). The sexual advances that occurred around the Lacks women, mapped out the rest of their lives. Another factor that negatively affected the Lacks women was finding a purpose. The oldest daughter of Henrietta Lacks, Elsie Lacks, suffered from a major mental illness. Because of their lack of education and limited understand of the work world, Black women could only fit into certain roles.

The status quo dictated that Elsie would function in society or she would not survive. Because of her uncontrollable behavior, Elsie was sent to "Crownsville State Hospital" to live out her days. Some of the cousins related to Henrietta Lacks claimed that "a bit of Henrietta died the day they sent Elsie away, that losing her was worse than anything else that happened to her" (Skloot 45). The loss of Elsie would disturb the already struggling Lacks family members, for years to come. The oppressive forces that interacted with the Lacks family was too strong to avoid. Today, the Lacks family still feels the repercussions of their difficult upbringing. Many of them are unfamiliar with the educational tools readily available to people today.

After the passing of Henrietta, the surviving female members of the Lacks family faced more sexual conflict than they could have ever imagined. For instance, when Deborah Lacks was assaulted and Battered by Galen Skloot stated that "Deborah cried the whole way home to Bobbette.

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An Analysis of Rebecca Skloot’s Narrative The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Elsie Lacks. (2023, Jun 26). Retrieved from

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