I hope you are having a wonderful Friday and that you are as excited about this blog post as I am. This is my first multimedia blog and I am very proud of the final product. Below you will find my video analysis of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks through the post colonial perspective theory.
What did you think? Do you believe that Henrietta’s treatment would have been different if she would had been white?
P.S. Stay tuned because later on today I will be posting another blog! #twoinoneday
1920s House. N.d. Pinterest. Web. 20 July 2017.
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Brizee, Allen, J. Case Tompkins, Libby Chernouski, and Elizabeth Boyle. “Post-Colonial
For my Course Culminating task, I have decided to read the novel The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. What really drew me in about this novel was the subject matter. For my readers who know me well, you are aware that I have a keen interest in medicine and am an advocate for racial equality. As these are the main components of the novel, I knew that I would enjoy reading Rebecca Skloot’s book. Have any of you read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? I would definitely recommend this book as a summer read because I cannot put it down. I’m halfway through the novel and it is shaping up to be a real page turner.
Thus far, I have noticed a lot of reoccurring symbolism and archetypal characters emerging. If you haven’t read the novel, I will give you a brief overview without any spoilers (you’re welcome). Rebecca Skloot, the author and narrator of the novel, is extremely interested in the woman behind the famous HeLa cells. These cells came from Henrietta Lacks and were used in countless medical endeavors, like the polio vaccine, without her willing consent. Henrietta passed away before her “immortal” cells reformed cell culture as we know it. Her family was never informed of her cells’ vitality until decades after their widespread use in medical research. This impoverished African American family was shocked that they had been left in the dark for so long while the medical community made millions of dollars in profit from Henrietta’s cells (Skloot 1-7). This true story baffled me because of the strides the medical community has made since the 1950’s.
If I’ve peaked your interest, read along for my analysis of half of this novel using an Archetypal perspective.
What initially peaked my interest was the author’s first person narration of the novel. This writing gives the novel a personal feel and it is almost as though Skloot is speaking directly to you. According to Carl Golden’s definition of the major literary archetypes, Skloot is both a Hero and a Sage within the novel (Golden). Throughout the novel, Skloot fearlessly and tenaciously pursues her objective: to tell Henrietta’s story. After her professor’s brief introduction of the woman behind the HeLa legacy, Skloot decided to “…write a book that was a biography of both the cells and the woman they came from – someone’s daughter, wife and, mother” (Skloot 6). Prior to this novel, minimal information was available about Lacks. This is the very reason why Skloot made it her personal mission to give this woman and her family the recognition they deserved.
As the hero, Skloot embarks on a journey to uncover the truth behind the HeLa cells. She was faced with many questions and obstacles along the way but courageously overcame them all. For years, Skloot attempted to get an interview with Henrietta’s family. She even resorted to calling the Lacks family, on a daily basis, but was met with rejection time and time again (Skloot 54). Skloot ultimately embarks on her hero’s journey as she leaves the comfort of her home and travels across the country for answers (Skloot 67). During her journey, Skloot must “overcome fear and commit to change” in order to accomplish her goal of writing the novel (Vogler). Her incredible drive is a result of her underlying “self-type” of being a Sage (Golden). Skloot’s desire for uncovering the truth behind the HeLa cells and belief that “there has to be more to the story” is what makes her such a devoted and unique author (Golden) (Skloot 4).
The second archetypal character I recognized was Dr. George Gey. Dr. Gey was a prominent scientist within the field of cell culture because he received the original HeLa cells from Henrietta’s biopsy (Skloot 33). More than anything, Gey desired to gain the fame and publicity of growing “the first immortal human cells” thus confirming that Gey’s archetype is the Ruler (Skloot 41) (Golden). As a Ruler, Gey’s main goal is to be successful within the scientific community. With a focus on prestige, Gey is regularly interviewed about his groundbreaking successes within cell culture (Skloot 57). Immediately after the HeLa cells immortality is confirmed, Gey ships the cells around the world for mass production and global experimentation (Skloot 56). He fits the mold of Rulers who are “high achievers with a long list of accomplishments to their name” (Smith).
As Gey is willing to take Henrietta’s cells, without her willing consent, I also perceive him as the Villain. Without him, Henrietta’s cells would have died along with her and her family would not have been subjected to years of harassment by the press (Skloot 55). Despite all the benefits the HeLa cells ultimately had for the medical community, it was unethical for Gey to harvest them and make a profit from Henrietta’s genetic property as “…her family had no idea her cells were alive” (Skloot 109).
Speaking of Henrietta’s cells, I believe that they are a motif within the novel. By their very definition, “cells are the basic building blocks of all living things… Cells also contain the body’s hereditary material and can make copies of themselves” (What is a Cell?). The cancerous cells removed from Henrietta’s cervix were her genetic property. When Gey took the malignant cells from her biopsy, Gey stole what was rightfully Henrietta’s (Skloot 33). These cells not only represent HeLa’s legacy and immortality within the medical field but they also represent Henrietta herself.
Cells are responsible for containing “…all the genetic information that makes you you” (Skloot 3).
The HeLa cells are a portion of Henrietta that lives on to this day but they should have died with her because she was not informed of their distribution. Not only were her cells robbed from her but Henrietta’s life was robbed by the inaptitude of the medical community itself. To put it into perspective for my readers, Henrietta was treated with Radium, a life-threatening element, and was denied proper treatment because of her race (Skloot 32). Henrietta lives on through her cells and we will forever be indebted to her because of the great injustice she faced.
Two other symbols that Skloot includes within the novel are “Lacks town” and Clover, in addition to the famous photograph of Henrietta. Henrietta grew up, impoverished, within a segregated community, “…the upper plot-now known as Lacks Town-went to the black Lackses” (Skloot 123). Not only were the Lackses separated from society because of their race but they were even barred from living amongst their Caucasian relatives (Skloot 125). The deteriorated areas of “Lacks Town” and Clover represent the segregation of African Americans due to the racial discrimination they faced.
The photograph of Henrietta is another key symbol I discovered. Skloot recalls:
I’ve spent years staring at that photo, wondering what kind of life she led, what happened to her children, and what she’d think about cells from her cervix living on forever-bought, sold, packaged, and shipped by the trillions to laboratories around the world (Skloot 1-2).
This photograph is tied to Henrietta’s identity and ultimately represents her humanity because it gives a face to the woman behind the cells. For years, Henrietta was misidentified or neglected altogether but this photograph acts as evidence of her mortality (Skloot 109). Without this photograph, Henrietta would remain an abbreviation and her story may have never been told.
Skloot’s use of roles, symbolism and motifs aids the reader’s connection to and comprehension of the text. They are extremely important for the reader to identify with the characters and to become invested within Henrietta’s life story.
Do you agree with my analysis? Please comment below and let me know. As always, this Girl with an Opinion wants to hear your opinion!
Until my next post,
Golden, Carl. “The 12 Common Archetypes.” Soul Craft. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.
Skloot, Rebecca. “About The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Rebecca Skloot. N.p., n.d.
Web. 12 July 2017.
Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Penguin Random
House, 2010. Print.
Smith, Nyla. “Brand Archetype: The Ruler.” N-Vision Designs. N.p., 24 May 2016. Web. 12
Vogler, Christopher. “Hero’s Journey.” The Writer’s Journey. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2017.
“What is a Cell? – Genetics Home Reference.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. National
From a very young age, I have always had a passion for the English language. I find writing very therapeutic and enjoy using my vocabulary to communicate my thoughts and ideas. English classes have always intrigued me as I love discussing literature and learning about the world around me. Sadly, many of my peers do not share a mutual love for English. Common opinions include that English courses are “boring,” “useless,” and “outdated.”
I could not disagree more.
Many high school students look at English on a very small scale. They question why it is required to study Shakespeare in 2017 and how this will ever benefit them. While the Shakespeare novel itself may not be a life changing read, the skills they gain from the course, as a whole, outweigh any “boredom”. The skills students learn from taking grade twelve University English, benefit them both within and outside of the classroom.
As a student currently taking grade twelve University level English, I firmly believe that this course is vital for the success of students in post secondary education and agree that it should be required for entry into all universities.
Many authors also share my point of view. In Steve Strauss’ article entitled Why I Hire English Majors, the Huffington Post author writes about the skills associated with English students. Not only are these students able to write and speak eloquently but they have a reputation for being critical thinkers, proficient in time management and confident in their ideas (Strauss). These skills will aid students in their future careers by allowing them to stand apart from the crowd with their unique abilities. Had they not taken grade twelve University English, they would be unable to perform as well as those who took the course. I firmly believe that by taking this course, students will benefit greatly as their skills will be recognized by future professors and employers.
The way an individual speaks tells a story about who they are. When someone speaks using a wide range of vocabulary to convey concise and clear points, it can be assumed that they are intelligent and highly educated. This proficiency in speech translates into writing as well and increases the credibility of the individual. Contrasting this, if someone writes and/or speaks with errors and does not think clearly, they will be viewed as less than their peer who has the ability of proficiency. Matt Mayberry of Entrepreneur writes on the importance of word choice:
Within the words we speak is an emotional potency. Each word that we use can have a colossal impact. A word from a manager or boss, may, at first glance, seem inconsequential. But never think of words as inconsequential. Instead, think of them as powerful. Words can build up or tear down. They can motivate or discourage. Words influence others and build relationships at work and personally. They can tear down relationships. Simply put, language holds massive, colossal power to manifest change, whether it’s good or bad (Mayberry).
Having English as a required course aids students in learning how imperative language is while simultaneously preparing them for their future in any workforce.
English courses provide a solid foundation of skills that are applicable to each and every University program. Whether a student pursues an education in the sciences, maths, humanities or any other studies, use of their linguistic skills will be required on regular occasions. Regardless of the area of study, writing, reading and speech are key components of learning and are essential for success. Without having taken grade twelve University level English, students will be ill prepared for their future area of study and will likely fall behind the rigid expectations of University.
With English being the language that is most frequently studied throughout the world, the English speaking population continues to rise from its estimated 527,000,000 native speakers (Noack and Kamin). As the popularity of English is on the rise, omitting the grade twelve University level English course as a requirement would hinder the opportunities available for students in their future careers.
Without the high school students being required to complete their English courses before University, they would miss out on the opportunity to refine employment skills, increase their credibility and professionalism and be well versed in the most studied language in the world.
Do you agree?
As I’ve voiced my opinion on this debate, I now open the floor to my readers. Do you think that grade 12 University level English should be a requirement for entry into all University programs? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.