Study Guide

Ethel and Galen in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Ethel and Galen

If George Gey is the villain for the Lacks family on the scientific side of things, Ethel and cousin Galen fill that role on the personal side. After Henrietta's death, Ethel and Galen move in with Day to "help take care of the children." But Ethel always had a hatred for Henrietta because Galen was attracted to her, and she transferred that with gusto to the children. She forces them to work the farm all day without food or drink and beats them if they disobey.

Ethel focuses her abuse on young Joe—reason unknown. As a result, Joe/Zakariyya suffers psychologically and finds it difficult to adjust to society for the rest of his life, spending a whole lot of time in prison for violent offenses. Galen, on the other hand, preferred to mess with Deborah. And despite her protests, he molests her as often as he can.

Although Bobbette steps in to put a stop to the abuse, the damage is done. Ethel and Galen's destructive effects on the life of the Lacks children make the loss of their mother even more terrible.