We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

by Karen Joy Fowler
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 260

Karen Joy Fowler's novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves describes the childhood in retrospect of narrator Rosemary Cooke, daughter of animal behavior scientists from Indiana. Rosemary is a college student at the opening of the novel's events; she is implicated in a fight involving her college friend, Harlow, which results in both of them being arrested.

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At this point in the narration, the reader doesn't yet know that Rosemary's self-avowed "twin sister," Fern, is a chimpanzee. Ironically, readers see humans (specifically, Rosemary's friend, Harlow) behaving in an animalistic fashion, before knowing the extent and depth of Rosemary's relationship with an actual chimp. This represents one of the novel's major themes: the close affinities between humans and animals.

Another prominent theme is subjectivity, specifically the unreliability of both memory and rumor. Rosemary's brother Lowell's location is largely unknown to her and her family until he approaches her at UC Davis. Thereafter, we learn that he has run away and is wanted by the FBI precisely because he went to rescue Fern (where she had been taken at a lab). Rosemary herself withholds the significant detail concerning her sister, Fern, until much later in the novel.

A final theme in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is the meaningfulness of relationships. Rosemary is much happier once she is able to visit Fern at the laboratory (after finishing college and taking a teaching job near the novel's close). One she reestablishes this relationship with Fern, Rosemary's relationships with her biological family improve. Transparent communication and openness is a hallmark of meaningful relationships.

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