Rebecca Skloot, the author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks , split the book into three sections to humanize the story and help the reader understand the ethical issues involved with the scientific use of HeLa cells in research. Skloot takes time throughout her book to introduce Henrietta's...
Rebecca Skloot, the author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, split the book into three sections to humanize the story and help the reader understand the ethical issues involved with the scientific use of HeLa cells in research. Skloot takes time throughout her book to introduce Henrietta's family members and including their stories. As the reader, we can see how the loss of Henrietta and the other traumas they have experienced have impacted the family. The use of three sections ("Life", "Death", and "Immortality") helps Skloot reinforce her thesis that what happened to Henrietta was morally and ethically wrong and that the Lacks family is owed some kind of reparations.
In the section "Life," Skloot introduces the reader to the Lacks family, tells the story of Henrietta's diagnosis of cervical cancer, and ends the section by talking about her death. Skloot jumps the reader between Henrietta's timeline and her own experiences as she tries to learn more about the Lacks family and their general mistrust of reporters and white people interested in Henrietta's cells. This is also the section where Skloot begins to tell the reader about the success of the HeLa cells. While Henrietta was dying from her cancer, her cells were growing in George Gey's lab.
In the section "Death," Skloot takes us through Henrietta's death and its impacts on her family and the scientists hoping to develop her cells into a viable research cell line. George Gey, the researcher at Johns Hopkins, pestered the family into approving an autopsy so he could collect as many tumor samples as possible and see if he could get them to grow into more HeLa cells.
In the section "Immortality," Skloot tells the reader about how the Lacks family found out about HeLa cells and how they were connected to Henrietta. She also tells us how a reporter had published a book that quoted extensively from Henrietta's medical records without asking or talking to her family before publishing. Skloot goes on to tell us about the first time Henrietta's children ever see HeLa cells and how they live knowing that their mother's cells were taken without permission and are used around the world in scientific research. In this way, Henrietta (or part of her) lives on forever.
The three sections work together to highlight the mistreatment of the Lacks family and the systems caused issues for the family. These sections also help the reader break the narrative of Henrietta, the author, and the cell line into three distinct sections that are related in time, space, and theme.