The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Study Guide

Rebecca Skloot

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Study Guide." Course Hero. 11 Aug. 2017. Web. 20 Jan. 2019. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, August 11). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved January 20, 2019, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Study Guide." August 11, 2017. Accessed January 20, 2019.


Course Hero, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Study Guide," August 11, 2017, accessed January 20, 2019,

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Part 1, Chapter 6 : "Lady's on the Phone" (1999) | Summary



Returning to her own research story line, Skloot tries to find out more about Henrietta, calling Roland Pattillo, who had been one of George Gey's only African American students and who is organizing a conference about HeLa cells. Pattillo, however, doesn't want to give Skloot any information about the Lacks family, grilling Skloot about what she knows of how African Americans are treated in medicine. He finally decides she is honest and has the right intentions, so he puts her in touch with Deborah Lacks. Deborah is excited at first about talking with Skloot about Henrietta, hoping someone will finally write the story of her mother, but she also tells Skloot about her health troubles caused by previous attempts to talk about her mother's cells. In their second phone call, Deborah changes her mind, saying the men in the family will decide if she can talk with Skloot. Deborah gives Skloot contact information for her brothers, Lawrence and Sonny, and her father, Day Lacks. Skloot calls Day, but he hangs up on her when he finds out she wants to talk about his wife's cells. He says, "I had enough 'a you people."


Roland Pattillo is extremely protective of the Lacks family, even giving Skloot the "dos and don'ts" for talking with Deborah to avoid exacerbating her stress. Skloot's knowledge and ethical approach convince Pattillo she is an honest journalist who is not trying to take advantage of the family.

Deborah's reactions show how desperately she wants someone else to care as much about her mother's experiences as she does. She hopes Skloot will not only listen to her and validate her concerns but also help her learn more about Henrietta. But in her second phone call with Skloot, it's clear Deborah still feels distrustful; she's haunted by the family's past emotional difficulties and her brothers' unwillingness to go through them again.

Day's reaction to Skloot's phone call is both humorous and sad. Skloot misunderstands what he is asking, leading him to tell her to leave him alone and let his "old lady's cells" talk to her. But his reaction makes it clear no one has been generous to the family—they have only taken from them.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!