How is Rebecca Skloot a hero in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Clearly answering this question depends a lot on how the word "hero" is defined. Arguably, it could be viewed that Rebecca Skloot is heroic in the way that she champions the cause of a woman who has been forgotten and neglected by society, and to whom injustice has been perpetrated in the way that the world has benefited from her so much, but she has not received any thanks or recognition for that benefit. The fact that this woman was a poor black woman adds a racial element to this cause, as arguably if Henrietta Lacks were white she would not have been treated in the same way that she actually was because of her skin colour. Rebecca Skloot is heroic in the way that she moves beyond viewing Henrietta Lacks with a medical gaze and insists on uncovering her life as a human being. The quote she gives at the very beginning of the novel highlights the importance of this action:

We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.

Rebecca Skloot is therefore heroic in the way that she seeks to uncover the real Henrietta Lacks as a person rather than merely seeing her as a bundle of cancerous cells. She moves from the abstract, as this quotes to suggest, to a holistic view of who Henrietta Lacks actually was, thereby discovering a fascinating story. The way in which Skloot championed the Lacks family in this sense is reason enough why she could be viewed as a hero. 

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