What is the setting and its importance to the text The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

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jessarm6's profile pic

jessarm6 | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot takes place in the south in 1951. Both of these are key to the text.

First, the south is a place historically where African American people were not seen as people with equal rights. Therefore, it did not seem necessary for the medical professionals to ask her if they could take and use her cells. Nor did it seem necessary to inform her or her family shortly after this had happened. African Americans in the south were often seen as property.

The time period also plays a key role in the story. Even though slavery and discrimination had long since been abolished, it wasn't until the 1970s that many schools were integrated and even nowadays many people still are prejudiced. This makes it easier to understand (although it still was not right) why the medical professionals did not see the need to share what they were doing with her cells.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a nonfiction work detailing Rebecca Skloot's attempt to find out more about the woman behind the HeLa cell line. Her investigation takes her around many parts of the southeastern United States, and thus the book has multiple settings. 

The first important setting of the work is the Johns Hopkins Hospital, a major medical center in Baltimore, Maryland, where Henrietta was treated for cervical cancer. This is the place at which much of the research on the HeLa cells occurs.

The second major setting of the book is the Lacks family home in Clover, Virginia, a small town with a population of under 500 people, in Halifax County, Virginia, southeast of Richmond, Virginia.

Other parts of the work take place in Baltimore and Turner Station in Baltimore County.