Third and Final Part of the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Both the ending of the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and the actual act of finishing this novel was bittersweet. The third section, “Immortality,” importantly demonstrates Deborah Lacks’s personality, personal suffering, and resolute love towards her mother and sister. I appreciate this third part most, because readers are finally able to deeply understand the perspective of the Lacks family, rather than just snippets from accounts with doctors, scientists, or others who harassed the family. Rather than judge troubled characters, such as Zakariyya, the events in Part 3 foster a sense of empathy. I was emotionally stricken by the effects of trauma that the family has faced from HeLa, particularly Deborah, and how it motivates her to learn more about Henrietta and Elsie.

I immediately think about current social issues in cases of Deborah’s direct and indirect distrust towards white authority. It’s heartbreaking, and comes off almost childlike when Deborah repeats herself and changes her mind constantly about Rebecca. Once the reader is able to understand where these intrinsic fears come from, in this case “Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield,” it’s clear to the reader that this is just a human response to all she has been through; she isn’t inherently flawed. This serves white readers an important reminder of the trust we have in institutions/authority that many do not. Modern society hasn’t escaped the injustices that were apparent decades ago.

Many actions display Deborah’s strong character: her will and determination to go to school as an older woman, her focus on honoring her mother and sister rather than simply working for financial gain, and her obvious broken physical health that she pushes aside to continue finding information. Another passage from the novel that I found very interesting was Gary and Deborah’s interaction, and the way faith played into the rest of the book. As someone who is nonreligious but respects religious people, I was fascinated by the immensely powerful effect faith had on Deborah’s mental state, and sense of comfort it gave her. I wonder, would Deborah have survived her many strokes/health issues had faith not been a part of her life?

Rebecca Skloot may have instigated some of the mental stress that Deborah faced, but overall their bond was beautiful. Skloot served as one of the first outside, stable listeners in Deborah’s life which was so desperately needed. If Skloot didn’t exist, how would Deborah’s life have been different? Although I deeply wish Deborah had received better care and compensation for her mother’s ordeal, I find peace in the fact she died happily around people who loved her.

One thought on “Third and Final Part of the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

  1. Clio Hancock

    Iris’s post focuses on the emotional and personal aspects that are highlighted in Part III of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”. She speaks about the painful reality that Deborah has lived most of her life in, surrounded by unnecessary uncertainty which causes her great physical and mental stress. Iris also touches on the very important dynamic between Rebecca Skloot and Deborah, noting that they developed a very close relationship despite all of Deborah’s anxiety about sharing her mother’s story with a white outsider.
    Her argument about the importance of Deborah’s relationship with Skloot takes a more comprehensive picture. She highlights that the relationship between Deborah and the author is more just between two women, it is also about the relationship between Henrietta’s life story and its impact on Deborah. Deborah was desperate to get her mother’s story told correctly and Skloot was an empowered voice who could help her do that.
    This post brings up a concept from earlier in the class, the ethics of care. The ethics of care articulates how feelings of connection and love towards one you care for can be related to moral decisions. In this case, Deborah has felt a profound lack of care in her life. A difficult childhood with no strong caring figure (except for the tough love from Bobette) continued into a challenging adult life with continuous mistreatment by scientists or scheming journalists and con artists (Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield). All the people in Deborah’s life did not follow this moral direction, they all used Deborah as a means to an end. However, Skloot provides a different approach, she invests deeply in the Lacks family and slowly cultivates the caring relationship that goes on to provide Deborah with the support and voice that she had been searching for.
    Iris’s post brings up questions about how Henrietta’s story would have been told without Skloot. Was the appearance of Skloot in Deborah’s life a lucky meeting or was it a signal of shifting societal awareness surrounding this injustice? How would the experiences and background of a different writer change the way Deborah’s story is told?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *