portrait of Henrietta Lacks with lines building on her image to a grid of connected dots

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot

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Student Question

What could Henrietta have been trying to convey with the storm, according to her cousin Peter in chapters 12–14 of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks?

Henrietta's cousin Peter said that Henrietta "was tryin' to tell us somethin' with that storm" (pg. 92).

Expert Answers

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If the storm described at the end of chapter 12 is interpreted as Henrietta’s voice, her message can be interpreted as predicting the illness and death of other family members. Chapter 12 begins the section of the book called “Death.” This storm occurred at the time Henrietta was buried, and it ripped down numerous power lines, one of which killed a Lacks cousin.

Professional and sometimes financial benefits were garnered by numerous individuals who applied the HeLa cells to medical research and development. The more altruistic benefits her cells enabled were the medical advances that resulted. However, no member of the Lacks family benefitted financially, and the medical benefits rarely reached any family members.

During the decades between Henrietta’s death and the publication of Skloot’s book, many Lacks relatives suffered various illnesses but, because of their poverty, rarely had access to adequate medical care. Among those who passed away were Day, Henrietta’s cousin and the father of her children, and their daughter Elsie. Even Deborah, Henrietta’s daughter, died before the book came out. The survival of the HeLa cells, however, represents the ongoing power of the “immortal” Henrietta.

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