Study Guide

Lawrence Lacks in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Lawrence Lacks

The Big Kahuna

Lawrence is the guy you want on your side: he's the big brother who has good stories to tell (fake I.D. for pool hall gets him drafted? Win!) and who's ready to sift through your acquaintances to see which ones are worth keeping. Sonny explains to Skloot that she has to see the "Big Kahuna" first before she can talk to Deborah or continue with her work.

The only person who has greater authority in the family is Lawrence's wife, Bobbette, who seems to feel the loss of Henrietta and the violation of her privacy almost as intensely as her husband does. Together, they do their best to protect the younger Lacks siblings from predators, as they had from the time they took the children out of Ethel and Galen's care.

The Only One

Sonny tells Skloot that Lawrence is the only one of the Lacks children who remembers their mother. But when Skloot asks Lawrence about Henrietta, he tells her that he's willfully erased most of his memories of that time because it was too painful.

"I blacked it out of my mind because of the sadness and hurting." (161)

He remembers two striking things: "She was pretty," and she was strict with him:

"She'd make me go fetch a switch to get a beatin with, then send me back out again sayin get a bigger one, then a bigger one, then she'd wrap them all together and haul off on my tail." (161)

It's just a sketch of the woman whose absence changed everything about their lives, but it's all that he or the other children have.

Other people seem to have more of her—her actual cells—and her children didn't even know about them. No wonder Lawrence is so angry. He never liked to talk to people about Henrietta, and he was convinced at several points that Hopkins was paying Skloot to write her book. Deborah told Skloot that, "Brother gets mad when white folks come askin about our mother." (159) But Lawrence invited her into his home, cooked her a big breakfast (he thinks she's too skinny), and let her know how proud he was of his mother's contribution to science:

"You know what I heard? I heard by the year 2050, babies will be injected with serum made from my mama's cells so they can live to eight hundred years old." He gave me a smile like, I bet your mama can't top that. "They're going to get rid of disease," he said. "They're a miracle." (161)

Lawrence needs to see that his mother is still a presence somehow in the world. He's appreciative of Skloot's explanation about HeLa, because he realizes his knowledge is very limited.

Lawrence never stopped taking care of Deborah. He put $6,000 on his credit card to pay for her funeral.

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