What does the quote by Elie Wiesel mean in reference to this book?  We must not see any person as an abstraction.  Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its...

What does the quote by Elie Wiesel mean in reference to this book?  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 anquish, and with some measure of human triumph.

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For far too long, Henrietta Lacks was seen as an abstraction, as Elie Wiesel describes in his quote. Her cells were harvested, likely without her knowledge, to create the HeLa line of cells. While HeLa was well known in the scientific community for allowing researchers to make medical breakthroughs that helped countless people, very little to nothing was widely known about Henrietta Lacks herself until Skloot's book was published.

As stated in Wiesel's quote, Skloot's book turned Henrietta Lacks from an abstraction into a person with a touching story that had both anguish and triumph. While one of Henrietta's daughters had to be confined to a psychiatric institution (where she died in a fire), and Henrietta was the victim of poverty and racism, she also clearly had a personal warmth that lived on in her other children. Her story is not just the story of the cells she unknowingly bequeathed to medical science when she was dying of cancer, but also the story of an African-American family that has had its share of triumphs and tragedies. Skloot's book restores Henrietta Lack's humanity to her.

mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Elie Wiesel survived the Holocaust, wrote the books Night and Dawn which detailed what he went through, and has served as the conscience of many in this world who know about the  horror of the Holocaust.  In this quote, he is saying that individuals must be seen as a person, not a number or an experiment.  Each person in this world has worth with their own sadness and their own successes.  Henrietta was used as an experiment without being told, from which many profited millions of dollars. Never was Henrietta seen as a person who had her own rights, who was entitled to know that she was being used for the benefit of others, and as Elie saw it, treated much like the Jews of the Holocaust as a number and a non-person. Her life and her legacy should have been celebrated WITH her, not without her even knowing about her legacy. 

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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