Study Guide

Sadie and Margaret Sturdivant in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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Sadie and Margaret Sturdivant


These ladies are Henrietta's cousins and her confidantes. It's to Sadie and Margaret that Henrietta shares the secret problem of the "knot" on her womb. She shows them the charred skin on her belly—the effect of radiation treatment.

Sadie gives Skloot some of the most intimate details about the type of person that Henrietta was: how she liked to step out with her cousins to go dancing when the men were off to work, or how she liked to keep her nails freshly covered with bright red nail polish. She reveals that Galen had a huge crush on Henrietta, which made his wife torment Henrietta's children after she died. She remembers Henrietta's pain when Elsie was sent away to Crownsville.

Eternally Girls

It's also Sadie and Margaret that Henrietta tells about her disease. In one of the most poignant moments in the book, Henrietta waits until the three of them are riding the Ferris wheel at a local carnival before telling them she has cancer:

The three of them climbed onto the Ferris wheel as usual, and she waited till it got so high they could see across Sparrows Point toward the ocean, till the Ferris wheel stopped and they were just kicking their legs back and forth, swinging in the crisp spring air. (46)

This is the last "normal" moment we see with them—young women just being girls together before Henrietta's life really changed.

Sadie admits to having some pretty weird ideas about Henrietta's cells, maybe that something crawled up inside her from the pond or from space, and that got her sick. But she knows these ideas don't make much sense:

Sadie laughed when she said this because she knew it sounded crazy. "But that did went through my mid," she said. "I ain't lying. Everything just go through your mind, you know? How else you gonna explain them cells growin like they do?" (214)

Good point, Sadie.

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