Archetypes in “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

When I decided to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I had no idea what I was getting into. I chose this book because of the description on Amazon. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is about a poor, black woman that had some medical issues. When she went to the doctor, they sampled her cells- cells from her cervix-

Cervical cancer cells, SEM
Cervical Cancer Cells

and she was told she had cervical cancer. She wasn’t told, however, that her cells would be used to to help develop the polio vaccine, cloning, and gene mapping while she was getting radiation treatment for cancer. Millions of dollars were made from these cells, and no one told her, or her family after she died, that these cells played an important role in medical advancement and that people made a lot of money from her cells, called HeLa.


There are a few archetypes that can be analyzed so far in my reading. Johns Hopkins Hospital at first seems like it might be the hero of the story, but what happens inside of the hospital is far from heroic for Henrietta Lacks. Johns Hopkins Hospital is named after Johns Hopkins. He was born on a tobacco plantation in the late 1800s. His father freed his slaves more than 60 years before the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 (National Archives and Records Administration). Johns didn’t get married and made millions of dollars working as a banker and in a grocery store, and just before he died in 1873 he donated $7 million dollars to start a medical school and charity

The Johns Hopkins Hospital
Johns Hopkins Hospital today

hospital (Skloot 166). This hospital turned Henrietta’s family sour though after they found out the hospital was using Henrietta’s cells without anyone’s permission while her family was hungry and couldn’t afford health insurance. “Hopkins say they gave them cells away, but they made millions! It’s not fair! She’s the most important person in the world and her family living in poverty. If our mother so important to science, why can’t we get health insurance?” There were even rumours of “night doctors” that would kidnap black people at night and use them for medical research. “Snatchin people! Experimenting on them!” (Skloot 165).

I thought the hero might be Henrietta herself, but my interpretation of the hero is the author Rebecca Skloot. When she was 16, she was sitting in Biology class when her teacher told the class about the HeLa cells that came from the black woman, Henrietta Lacks. Her teacher told her to do some research for extra credit and her research lead to finding out what happened to the HeLa cells.

The colour red symbolizes passion and anger. Henrietta liked to have her toenails painted red.

Red toenails

When she died, the lab assistant Mary, saw Henrietta’s painted toenails when she was in the morgue. Mary said “When I saw those toenails I nearly fainted. I though, Oh jeez, she’s a real person. I started imagining her sitting in her bathroom painting those toenails, and it hit me for the first time that those cells we’d been working with all this time and sending all over the world, they come from a live woman. I’d never thought of it that way.” (Skloot 90-91) The red toenails could be interpreted as Henrietta being passionate about her life even up until she died, or interpreted as Mary being angry at not realizing that the HeLa cells came from a real person, Henrietta.


Lastly, the book is written in the dialect of Henrietta’s community. “Ain’t nothin serious wrong. Doctor’s gonna fix me right up.” (Skloot 31) And “ A knot. It hurt somethin awful-when that man want to get with me, Sweet Jesus aren’t them but some pains.” (Skloot 14).   I interpret this as the author trying to show that Henrietta and her family came from a poor background with only a little education- the dialect of her community in 1951. All of the white characters speak without dialect and with proper grammar.

I think these are some of the most important archetypes in first half of of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.


Works Cited

National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Web. 11 July 2017.
“Rebecca Skloot Journalist, Teacher, Author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Rebecca Skloot Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks FAQ1 How Did Skloot Learn about HeLa Cells Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2017.
Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Broadway, 2017. Print.


Archetypes in "The Immortal Life of Hebrietta Lacks" · Uncategorized

4U English in the 21st Century

I think grade 12 University English should be mandatory to get into University. I think this because post secondary education teaches students to think. They will come across new people from different backgrounds, values and belief systems and religions and students need to be able to listen to and understand what they are trying to say. To do that students would have to know how to listen effectively and be able to verbally agree or disagree respectfully. I feel this could be a skill taught in 4U English.

Some students enter the science program and need to perform experiments, make observations, describe methods and discuss conclusions. Those students need to write reports that are legible, free from grammatical and spelling errors so people can understand what they are trying to say and take them seriously. As an example someone found a cure for cancer but couldn’t communicate in writing then the scientific community wouldn’t take them seriously, but if they could communicate their thoughts and findings then they could possibly save many sick people.

Any program in University requires students to think critically. As a e49student I don’t want to be told what to think but be able to form my own opinion and to think critically on things I read and hear. A city in California almost banned styrofoam cups made with dihydrogen monoxide as it could potentially be poisonous. The City Council of this Orange County suburb had been scheduled to vote soon on a proposed law that would have banned the use of foam containers at city-sponsored events. One of the reasons for the ban was that the cups were made with a substance that could “threaten human health and safety.” They avoided embarrassment when they found out dihydrogen monoxide is just water. Critical thinking was much needed here.

Oral communication is important. We need to be able to organize our thoughts and ideas so that what we say makes sense. Now, if you were to ask me if my first attempt at 4U English prepared me to clearly communicate and think critically you would get the tragic answer of, “no”, because I barely passed the course. This was because our class covered archaic Greek plays and myths, like Oedipus Rex and a comedy I don’t know the name of. These don’t help produce oral communication skills, instead they made me question why 4U English was mandatory for University. I think that comedy can be taught in the context of the 21st century. For example, why can’t we cover modern literature in the classroom, so students can identify with it more? Why can’t we learn more about media studies and how to analyze television and text? Why don’t they teach us how to cite websites properly using Easybib or other similar tools, this is the age of computers, not the stone age. 4U English was a tragedy for me, and why do we need the seven stages of tragedy and comedy anyways?

Back to the question; do I believe that 4U English should be required for University admission? I still say yes, but it needs to be adapted for the 21st century.

Work Cited

“Local Officials Nearly Fall for H2O Hoax.” NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 15 Mar. 2004. Web. 05 July 2017.