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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Transcript of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Language Arts Prompt #4
"In classic and contemporary literature, what does it mean to be "immortal"?"
SO, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE IMMORTAL?
In the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the book is ended with this quote from Deborah.
"But I tell you one thing, I don't want to be immortal if it mean living forever, cause then everybody else just die and get old in front of you while you stay the same, and that's just sad...But maybe I'll come back as some HeLa cells just like my mother, that way we can do good together out there in the world..."
In the sense of classic and contemporary literature, being immortal was essentially living forever.
An example from the book in this sense is Henrietta's immortality. Her cells live on forever, thus achieving this kind of immortality.
However, this isn't the only type of immortality that is mentioned in the book.
From the quote on page 310, the quote also raises questions about Spiritual Immortality.
What is spiritual immortality in the case of this book, then?
Henrietta's immortality, at least in the classic sense, is achieved through the HeLa cells.
From the text, it states,“Henrietta’s were different: they reproduced an entire generation every twenty-four hours, and they never stopped. They became the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory.” (Pg. 4)
Spiritual Immortality is immortality, however in an entirely different case than before. This kind of immortality is the immortality of the spirit, not the body. Where HeLa cells are the immortal body of Henrietta, her family believes her spirit lives on in the cells.
How is Spiritual Immortality shown in this book?
"'HeLa?' I asked Gary. 'You're saying that HeLa is her spiritual body?'...I understood completely how some of the Lackses could believe, without a doubt, that Henrietta had been chosen by the Lord to become an immortal being. (Pg. 296)"
How does Deborah achieve immortality then?
Unlike Henrietta's physical immortality, Deborah achieves the spiritual immortality that was mentioned.
From the text, it states, " 'She's in a better place now, Sonny told me. 'A heart attack just after Mother's Day-she wouldn't have wanted it another way. She's suffered a lot in life, and now she's happy...'She's with them now,' he told me. 'You know there's no place in the world she'd rather be. "
Most examples of immortality in classic and contemporary fiction are of beings who are beyond the human race. They can't be killed by normal means and are immune to disease, injury, and age. Some examples include phoenixes from Greek Myths, Cthulhu from H.P Lovecraft's works, and dementors from Harry Potter.