The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Study Guide

Rebecca Skloot

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Part 1, Chapter 10 : The Other Side of the Tracks (1999) | Summary



Skloot goes to Clover, Virginia, to speak with any remaining cousins in Henrietta's family, and she discovers everyone in Lacks Town—which consists of a street filled with shacks and rundown mobile homes—is related to Henrietta. Most people there don't remember her anymore, however. She meets Henrietta's cousin Cootie, who had polio as a child and still suffers from its effects. While a preacher sermonizes on a radio in the background, Cootie tells Skloot everyone loved Henrietta: "she just lovey dovey, always smilin, always takin care of us when we come to the house." Cootie also says Henrietta didn't seem to understand she was dying, and he is pretty sure her cancer was "man-made," or voodoo, or caused by spirits, because cancer "don't keep on growing after a person die."


Skloot's conversation with Cootie shows people's perceptions of disease may differ according to their background. The poor black families in Lacks Town don't have the educational opportunities many white families take for granted; this means the opinion of a preacher on the radio or a fearful neighbor can have great sway.

Cootie's instant hospitality is a welcome change for Skloot, who has grown accustomed to the mistrust of Henrietta's immediate family; unlike Cootie, they have dealt repeatedly with strangers out to exploit the family for gain. Cootie's stories about Henrietta match what others have said about her loving and nurturing ways.

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