The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rhetorical Analysis

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction to the Significance of HeLa Cells and Henrietta Lacks
  2. The Use of Rhetorical Strategies in Skloot's Narrative
  3. Ethical Implications and Emotional Impact in Skloot's Writing
  4. Narrative Techniques and Storytelling in 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'
  5. Analyzing the Impact of HeLa Cells on Science and the Lacks Family
  6. Conclusion: Reflecting on the Legacy of Henrietta Lacks and HeLa Cells
  7. Work Cited

Introduction to the Significance of HeLa Cells and Henrietta Lacks

In 1951 the first immortal cell was found, a cell that would change science and medicine forever, but no one knew where it came from. 59 years later a book was published, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and in this book, Skloot tells the story of HeLa and the authors search for answers. This book is the result of her use of audience appeals and rhetorical modes like ethos, pathos, and logos; Additionally, narrating, comparing and contrasting, and analyzing causes and effects. This is very important because when someone can use all these audience appeals and rhetorical modes correctly, they can have a well put together book and are able to prove their point in an organized way that their audience will appreciate. Skloot was able to use all the audience appeals and rhetorical modes to show how important HeLa cells are and where they came from; In addition, as she does this the audience is able to see the injustice the Lacks family had to endure while they just wanted answers.

The Use of Rhetorical Strategies in Skloot's Narrative

Logos, pathos, and ethos can be explained in many ways, and can also be used in many ways. Take logos, for example, someone may use it when they are trying to build credibility and when they are trying to persuade an audience or another person. When someone is employing logos, they are using facts and statistics to prove a point, and they are coming to logical conclusions to persuade their audience. Also, organizing their ideas in logical ways is another aspect of logos. Logos is different from ethos and pathos because someone is not just trying to build credibility or use emotional manipulation to persuade people. Someone is mainly trying to show people the facts as they are. Although, there might be some pathos in the way someone says or writes those facts. In the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Skloot uses logos often as supporting evidence to prove her point. An example of this is when Skloot used quotes from Johns Hopkins letter to his board of trustees for his medical school saying that he wanted to help low-income families by only charging people who can afford it, and to house orphaned African American children (Skloot 167). This important because she wanted to show that Johns Hopkins wanted to help African American families not harm or take advantage of them and their situation. Another example of Skloot using logos is when, in the book, she goes back and forth on in the timeline. She started the book when she was just getting in touch with the lacks' family, then she goes back in time and starts the story of Henrietta and while the book progresses the two stories continue side by side. One more example is when the author uses the research of other scientists to talk about how many different discoveries were made because of HeLa cells (Skloot 99-100). Skloot does this to show the reader how important the HeLa cell was and how they have changed and helped many people's lives. Skloot's use of logos by organizing her book in a logical was and using different experts' experiences is a prime example of how using logos is very important. Because she is not only building credibility, she is also organizing her book in a certain way that is pleasing the reader to read.

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Pathos, on the other hand, is all about using emotion to persuade someone to think a certain way, whether that is to agree or disagree about something. With pathos, people are not trying to build credibility and people are not just giving facts. An author is using someone's emotion to make them more inclined to agree with their way of thinking. An example of this is when Skloot used the story of when Henrietta had to send her daughter Elise to a mental asylum (Skloot 44-45). She does this to show the reader how much Henrietta loved and cared for her children. Another example of pathos is when Skloot used the firsthand account of Deborah and what she went through during her childhood to show how strong and resilient Deborah is (Skloot 110-116). One other use of pathos the author used was when, in the book, Skloot talks about when she was talking to the Lacks family and they were upset that no one had told them anything at all (Skloot 164-169). The author does this to show the injustice the family faced, and hoe Gey didn’t do anything to inform the family. By using pathos, she was able to provoke certain emotions to make the reader feel upset about how the Lacks family was treated.

Ethos is used when someone wants to build credibility, and credibility is one of the most important things when someone is trying to persuade someone. Because they want to know that that person knows what they are talking about. When someone is trying to establish credibility, they are either trying to find common ground with another person or using other professional sources to gain second-hand credibility. When they are trying to build credibility, they don't really want to use pathos or logos. An excellent example of Skloot's use of ethos is when she talked about how she first heard of the HeLa cell in a community college biology class (Skloot 2). She does this to find common ground with her audience. An author would really have to know their audience when they are trying to find common ground though because if someone reading never when to college, they wouldn't be able to relate with Skloot on that. However, she still would gain credibility because it shows that she has some knowledge on the subject. Another example of ethos is when Skloot used gynecological oncologists to bolster her credibility when talking about Henrietta's cervical cancer (Skloot 172). She does this throughout the book, using other doctors firsthand accounts, to continually build her credibility. Another example is throughout the whole book Skloot is using ethos because she talked directly to the family to get their stories and she didn't change their words or how they talked it gave her more credibility. The author used other professionals through her book and by doing that she always had credibility, especially when she was talking about something, she didn't have any expertise in.

Ethical Implications and Emotional Impact in Skloot's Writing

Some rhetorical modes Skloot used are, narrating, comparing and contrasting, and analyzing causes and effects. She uses narrating in most of the book, and she does this by telling the firsthand accounts of the people she interviewed. When someone is narrating, they are doing it to prove a point through a story. An example of when Skloot used this is when she told the story of when she and Deborah first meet to show how reluctant Deborah is to trust and talk to Skloot (Skloot 233-240). When she does this it makes the story so much more interesting because she shows the journey, they both made from strangers to acquaintances to friends. Another example is when she told the story about the doctors who resigned because Southam wanted to inject patients with HeLa cells without telling them the cells were cancerous, and how it started a worldwide debate about the ethics in science (Skloot 129-134). It showed how little the doctors cared about asking for consent or informing people about when they were taking/giving, and how the doctors thought rules didn’t apply to them. She was able to prove each point she wanted to make because she used narrating which were her own and other people’s stories.

Narrative Techniques and Storytelling in 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'

When someone is comparing and contrasting, they are trying to find the similarities and differences between two things or ideas to prove a point. Someone might do this to show that their idea or object is better, to persuade people to get the object or agree with their idea. An example of Skloot’s use of comparing and contrasting is when she told the story of how a judge compared multiple experiments American scientists did, to experiments Nazi scientists did (Skloot 167-168). Skloot used the judge’s comparison to show how similar the experiments were, in the way that the scientists did experiments on people without consent and how torturous the experiments were to the subjects. The author used this did this to show readers how inhumane the way the doctors treated patients were. Another example is when Skloot compared two different types of cervical cancers (Skloot 3). She did this to explain the cancers to readers, so they can understand the type Henrietta had. One last example is when the author compared the Lacks family's situation to Moores’ situation regarding the theft of cells (Skloot 198-199). While neither of them got monetary compensation or recognition at the time, Moores at least realized what was happening and was able to stop it. The Lacks’ didn’t even know what was even happening with HeLa cells. The author was able to show how unjust the Lacks family were treated and how little doctors cared about patients' rights, and she was able to do those because she compared two different situations.

Analyzing the Impact of HeLa Cells on Science and the Lacks Family

When analyzing cause and effects someone might be trying to find the causes of something to prove a point and trying to find the effects of something to prove a point. So, they might try to find the effects of smoking to prove how dangerous smoking is. Or they might try to find the causes of animal homelessness to prove that people should neuter/spay their pets. Skloot does this multiple time through the book. An example of this is when she said that Elsie fell on her head when she was born, and people would say that's why she was epileptic (Skloot 23). She does this so show that Elsie falling was the cause and her being epileptic is the effect. Another example is when Skloot said that Henrietta's syphilis could have been one of the reasons her cancer spread so fast (Skloot 173). The cause would be syphilis and the effect would be the fast rate of the cancer spreading. Another example is when the author talks about the history of African American families in turner station (Skloot 25-26). Surmising that because the need for steel rose during WW2 African American families started moving to turner station looking for work which was called the Great Migration.

Conclusion: Reflecting on the Legacy of Henrietta Lacks and HeLa Cells

In conclusion Skloot was able to use all those audience appeals and rhetoric modes to shed light on how important HeLa cells were and still are; Additionally, she was able to show the injustice the Lacks family had to go through. By reading this book I was able to have a better understanding of how the use of audience appeals and rhetoric modes can bolster a book or essay; Also, by doing that so the author will be able to get their point across in a more organized way. I plan on employing these methods in my future essays so my they can be more developed and persuasive.

Work Cited

  1. Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Crown Publishers, 2010.
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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rhetorical Analysis. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-cell-that-changed-the-world-critical-analysis-of-the-immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacks-by-rebecca-skloot/
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