We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Rosemary Cooke Character Analysis

Rosemary is the narrator and main character, and the entire novel is told through her perspective. Born in Bloomington, Indiana, she is the younger sister of Lowell. When Rosemary is one month old, her parents adopt Fern and raise her as Rosemary’s twin. The sisters are the subjects of an extended scientific experiment conducted by Rosemary’s father and a team of graduate students. As a child, Rosemary is very talkative, but after Fern leaves she feels that no one is interested in her talking and becomes exceptionally quiet. Rosemary is highly intelligent, but struggles to fit in among other humans and to understand social norms. At UC Davis, she fails to bond with her freshman roommate, Scully; the only person she is able to connect with is Harlow, who Rosemary feels drawn to because she behaves in the same impulsive, animalistic way as Fern. Rosemary is traumatized by her strange childhood and her feelings of guilt and confusion over the disappearance of Lowell and Fern. However, as time passes she is able to comprehend that her siblings’ absence is not her fault and confronts the memories that she previously tried so hard to repress. By the end of the novel, Rosemary is working as a kindergarten teacher in Vermilion, South Dakota, near the laboratory where Fern is kept. She is happy to have found a fulfilling career and to live in proximity to her mother, her sister, and her “niece,” Hazel.

Rosemary Cooke Quotes in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

The We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves quotes below are all either spoken by Rosemary Cooke or refer to Rosemary Cooke . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the G.P. Putnam’s Sons edition of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves published in 2013.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

In 1996, ten years had passed since I'd last seen my brother, seventeen since my sister disappeared. The middle of my story is all about their absence, though if I hadn't told you that, you might not have known. By 1996, whole days went by in which I hardly thought of either one.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Lowell Cooke (aka “Travers”), Fern
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
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Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

The idea that we would spend the holiday talking about anything as potentially explosive as my arrest was a fiction, and we all knew this even as I was being made to promise to do so. My parents persisted in pretending we were a close-knit family, a family who enjoyed a good heart-to-heart, a family who turned to each other in times of trial. In light of my two missing siblings, this was an astonishing triumph of wishful thinking; I could almost admire it. At the same time, I am very clear in my own mind. We were never that family.

Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

After Rosemary is arrested for smashing her dishes in the cafeteria, her father manages to get the charges against her dropped. In exchange, he makes her promise to come home for Thanksgiving, which she does reluctantly. Here she discusses her parents’ tendency for dishonesty, repression, and denial. While all families arguably have such tendencies—presenting themselves as more harmonious and normal than they might be in reality—Rosemary points out that such “wishful thinking” is especially bizarre in her family, considering that her two siblings are gone. As the reader will later learn, it is even more bizarre in light of the fact that one of these siblings is a chimpanzee.

There are moments when history and memory seem like a mist, as if what really happened matters less than what should have happened. The mist lifts and suddenly there we are, my good parents and their good children, their grateful children who phone for no reason but to talk, say their good-nights with a kiss, and look forward to home on the holidays. I see how, in a family like mine, love doesn't have to be earned and it can't be lost. Just for a moment, I see us that way; I see us all.

Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

During the 1996 Thanksgiving holiday, Rosemary’s mother tells her that she’d like to give her her old journals, a gesture Rosemary finds moving. Her father then gives her a note he’d saved from a fortune cookie saying “Don’t forget, you are always on our minds.” In this moment, Rosemary loses herself in a fantasy of what she wishes her family were like. She imagines that they are kind and loving, free of all tension and conflict.

Such fantasies are clearly seductive, as evidenced by the fact that Rosemary’s parents seem to buy into them wholeheartedly. Rosemary, however, is more cynical, and only entertains the fantasy for a moment. Of course, this quotation invites us to question whether any family is truly as harmonious as the one Rosemary imagines. Although her family may perhaps be more tumultuous than most, there is surely no real family like the one she fantasizes about here.

Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

Bed-hopping was an established custom in the house—Fern and I had rarely ended the night in the bed where we'd started. Our parents felt that it was natural and mammalian not to want to sleep alone, and though they would have preferred we stay in our own beds, because we kicked and thrashed, they'd never insisted on it.

Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

After Fern disappears and the Cooke family move into a new house, Lowell and Rosemary both suffer as a result of Fern’s absence and their mother’s subsequent nervous breakdown. Feeling sympathy for his little sister, Lowell occasionally lets her get into his bed in the night. This passage presents Rosemary’s family as more idyllic and loving than has previously been the case. Their absolute closeness is symbolized by the fact that they switch between each other’s beds, remaining in intimate contact with one another even at night.

The passage also illustrates the curiously scientific way in which Rosemary’s parents approach childrearing. Whereas other parents might resort to inherited wisdom or the advice of friends when deciding things like whether “bed-hopping” is permissible, Rosemary’s parents think about it in biological terms. The phrase “natural and mammalian” implies that the natural way is inherently morally correct; furthermore, it suggests that what is natural for mammals is necessarily natural for humans. While on one level this is correct (humans are mammals, after all), it could be argued that there are “natural” behaviors that humans do not share with other mammals. For example, human babies are exceptionally helpless, more so than many other animals. The “natural” way of looking after a human baby, therefore, is quite different to the tactics used by other mammals.

Lowell’s room smelled of damp cedar from the cage where three rats, washouts from our father's lab, would chirp and creak in their spinning wheel all night long. In retrospect, there was something incomprehensibly strange about the way any of the laboratory rats could transform from data point to pet, with names and privileges and vet appointments, in a single afternoon. What a Cinderella story!

Related Symbols: Cages and Cells, Lab Rats
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

In the Cookes’ new house, Lowell sometimes allows Rosemary to come and sleep in his bed during the night. In this passage, Rosemary describes Lowell’s bedroom, which smells like the lab rats he keeps as pets. Rosemary’s reflection on the transformation of lab rats from experimental subjects to pets is one of the most important statements on the relationship between humans and animals in the book. Rosemary points out that our understanding of animals is largely socially constructed and dependent on context; we perceive and treat animals different depending on the situation in which we encounter them.

This is certainly true of the rats. In the lab, the rats are monitored and kept alive simply in order to be tested, and are subjected to sometimes cruel experiments. When rats run wild in cities, they are exterminated as vermin. Yet in Lowell’s bedroom, the rats are cherished and cared for. Of course, what is true for rats is also true for Fern. Chimpanzees are treated differently depending on whether they are found in the wild by poachers or encountered by excited children at the zoo. The unique peculiarity of Fern’s position lies in the fact that she exists between several different categories: part “data point,” part pet, and part sister. Indeed, this is part of the reason why Rosemary often feels that her relationship to Fern is at odds with what the world expects.

Psychoanalysis was completely bogus, he would say, good only for literary theory. Maybe it was useful, when plotting books, to imagine that someone's life could be shaped by a single early trauma, maybe even one inaccessible in memory. But where were the blind studies, the control groups? Where was the reproducible data?

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Rosemary’s Father
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

I would say that, like Lowell, I loved her as a sister, but she was the only sister I ever had, so I can't be sure; it's an experiment with no control.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Lowell Cooke (aka “Travers”), Fern
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Rosemary has finally revealed to the reader that Fern is not a human, but a chimpanzee. Rosemary explains that she kept this fact a secret up until this point because she wanted the reader to truly understand and believe that she loved Fern like she would a human sister, without having this understanding be influenced by any assumptions about the impossibility of meaningful human-animal connections. In this passage, however, Rosemary admits that she can only hope that she loved Fern as a sister—but she can’t be sure, because she didn’t have any other sisters to compare Fern to. Once again, Rosemary uses scientific language to frame her relationship to Fern, showing how deeply entrenched scientific thinking is within her mind.

The phrase “an experiment with no control” also speaks to the tragedy at the heart of Rosemary’s existence. By adopting Fern, Rosemary’s parents turned their intimate family life into a scientific experiment, and like many experiments, this one went wrong. The family was forced to give away Fern and the two remaining children—Rosemary and Lowell—were left deeply traumatized. Unfortunately, because the experiment was so all-consuming, Rosemary does not have a chance to try again. She only has one life, and this life will forever be haunted by the “experiment” of her sisterhood with Fern.

I told him that his mother was cutting up a pumpkin. Only I used the word dissecting.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Russell Tupman
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:

Rosemary and Mary have climbed up the maple tree in Russell Tupman’s yard, and Russell has come out of the house to aggressively ask Rosemary what she is doing. Dodging the question, Mary tells Russell that his mother is “dissecting” a pumpkin, which she can see from her vantage point up the tree. Once again, Rosemary uses scientific language to describe ordinary human activities, showing just how deeply affected she has been by growing up within an extended scientific experiment, surrounded by note-taking graduate students. Indeed, Rosemary’s unusually scientific understanding of the world—and her use of unusual terminology—inhibits her from making friends and leaves her vulnerable to teasing by people like Russell.

Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

Was my father kind to animals? I thought so as a child, but I knew less about the lives of lab rats then. Let's just say that my father was kind to animals unless it was in the interest of science to be otherwise. He would never have run over a cat if there was nothing to be learned by doing so.
He was a great believer in our animal natures, far less likely to anthropomorphize Fern than to animalize me. Not just me, but you, too––all of us together, I'm afraid. He didn't believe animals could think, not in the way he defined the term, but he wasn't much impressed with human thinking, either. He referred to the human brain as a clown car parked between our ears. Open the doors and the clowns pile out.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Rosemary’s Father, Fern
Related Symbols: Lab Rats
Page Number: 94-95
Explanation and Analysis:

At the age of 8, Rosemary suddenly remembers a moment when her father ran over a cat that was taking too long to cross the street in front of him. However, she is not sure if the memory is real, or if her father is the kind of person who would run over a cat. In this passage, she reflects on her father’s relationship to animals and his assessment of the human/animal divide. True to his cynical nature, Rosemary’s father does not think particularly highly of either animal or human intelligence. Indeed, the anecdote about the clown cars suggests that Rosemary’s father’s career as a psychologist—which involves opening the “doors” of the brain—is the cause of this cynical mindset.

This passage is also an important meditation on the ethics of science. Rosemary’s father is “kind to animals unless it was in the interests of science to be otherwise.” Unfortunately, as Lowell’s investigations of animal abuse in scientific labs demonstrates, it often is in the interests of science to be unkind to animals. While for Rosemary’s father, science is justification enough for cruelty, overall the book proposes that there needs to be a more rigorous application of ethics when it comes to the treatment of animals.

Part 3, Chapter 2 Quotes

For a brief period in the third grade, I pretended that Dae-jung and I were friends. He didn't talk, but I was well able to supply both sides of a conversation. I returned a mitten he'd dropped. We ate lunch together, or at least we ate at the same table, and in the classroom he'd been given the desk next to mine on the theory that when I talked out of turn, it might help his language acquisition. The irony was that his English improved due in no small part to my constant yakking at him, but as soon as he could speak, he made other friends.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Dae-jung
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

After Fern leaves, Rosemary starts school, but she has trouble fitting in. At her first school the other children call her “monkey girl,” so she is transferred to a hippie school where she meets a young boy called Dae-jung, who has just moved from Korea. Given Rosemary’s relationship with Fern, it is hardly surprising that she is drawn to Dae-jung. Rosemary feels comfortable around him because, like Fern, he does not speak English, enabling her to spend hours speaking happily “at” him. Of course, this is not particularly respectful to Dae-jung himself, who arguably cannot be blamed for ditching Rosemary as soon as he is able to make new friends. At the same time, this turn of events demonstrates Rosemary’s tragic inability to relate to other humans in a normal manner.

Part 3, Chapter 5 Quotes

I came to UC Davis both to find my past (my brother) and to leave it (the monkey girl) behind. By monkey girl, I mean me, of course, not Fern, who is not now and never has been a monkey.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Lowell Cooke (aka “Travers”), Fern
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Rosemary admits that at a certain point in her teenage years, she vowed to stop thinking about Fern altogether. At college, she avoids all courses that have anything to do with primates. In this quotation, she explains that while she chose to attend UC Davis in the hope of finding Lowell (who the FBI claims is living there), she fled Indiana in order to escape her association with Fern. These somewhat paradoxical aims hint at the impossibility of Rosemary achieving her dream; it is not exactly straightforward to reconnect with one of your siblings while strictly renegading the other to the past.

This quotation is also significant due to Rosemary’s comments about Fern not being a monkey. Such a statement at first appears odd. While Rosemary does at first withhold Fern’s chimpanzee status from the reader, she is never in denial about the fact that her sister is a chimp. On the other hand, Rosemary never uses the word “monkey” to describe Fern. Perhaps this word in particular evokes human misconceptions about chimps, including the prejudices and understandings that most humans harbor about animals (and also the fact that chimps are apes, not monkeys). It is possible that Rosemary is not objecting to Fern being classified as a monkey in a technical sense, but rather that she doesn’t want people to think of Fern as inferior to humans.

Except that now I'd achieved it, normal suddenly didn't sound so desirable. Weird was the new normal and, of course, I hadn't gotten the memo. I still wasn't fitting in. I still had no friends. Maybe I just didn't know how. Certainly I'd had no practice.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker)
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:
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Part 3, Chapter 6 Quotes

I didn't want a world in which I had to choose between blind human babies and tortured monkey ones. To be frank, that's the sort of choice I expect science to protect me from, not give me. I handled the situation by not reading more.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker)
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:
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Part 3, Chapter 7 Quotes

What is a normal sex life? What is normal sex? What if asking the question already means you aren't normal? It seemed as if I couldn't get even the instinctual, mammalian parts of my life right.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker)
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:
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Part 4, Chapter 7 Quotes

It seemed to Lowell that psychological studies of nonhuman animals were mostly cumbersome, convoluted, and downright peculiar. They taught us little about the animals but lots about the researchers who designed and ran them.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Lowell Cooke (aka “Travers”)
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:
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Part 5, Chapter 5 Quotes

Poor Mom and Dad. All three of their children incarcerated at once; that really was bad luck.

Related Symbols: Cages and Cells
Page Number: 245
Explanation and Analysis:

Shortly after Lowell leaves Davis, a police officer knocks on the door of Rosemary’s apartment and takes her in for interrogation. She confirms that she is Lowell’s sister but refuses to say anything else until she can speak to a lawyer. Rosemary imagines what will happen if she tells them about Lowell’s whereabouts, how all three of her parents’ children would end up “incarcerated at once.” This phrase frames Fern’s life in the South Dakota laboratory as akin to being in prison, further emphasizing the connection between (animal) cages and prison cells.

It also indicates that there is something about the Cooke children that makes them predisposed to incarceration. Indeed, throughout the book Rosemary explores how people who do not obediently observe the strict boundary between humanity and animality are punished by some form of incarceration. Rosemary’s own first two trips to jail are brought on by her behaving like a “monkey girl” with Harlow, and it is Lowell’s animal rights activism that leads him to be hunted by the FBI.

Sigmund Freud has suggested that we have no early childhood memories at all. What we have instead are false memories aroused later and more pertinent to this later perspective than to the original events. Sometimes in matters of great emotion, one representation, retaining all the original intensity, comes to replace another, which is then discarded and forgotten. The new representation is called a screen memory. A screen memory is a compromise between remembering something painful and defending yourself against that very remembering.
Our father always said that Sigmund Freud was a brilliant man but no scientist, and that incalculable damage had been done by confusing the two. So when I say here that I think the memory I had of the thing that never happened was a screen memory I do so with considerable sadness.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Rosemary’s Father
Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:

Rosemary is still being kept in the interrogation room, and as she sits alone she is lost in a “fantasyland” of memories from her past. She reflects on the nature of memory, wondering if her memories are accurate or if they are what Sigmund Freud would call “screen memories,” false recollections that we come to believe as true. Throughout the book, Rosemary calls into question her own understanding of the past, wondering if even her sharpest and most important memories could be false. Her father is dismissive of Freud’s theory of screen memories—again accusing the founder of psychoanalysis of being unscientific—but at least in Rosemary’s case, the Freudian explanation of false memories rings true.

Part 6, Chapter 7 Quotes

Three children, one story. The only reason I'm the one telling it is that I'm the one not currently in a cage.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Lowell Cooke (aka “Travers”), Fern
Related Symbols: Cages and Cells
Page Number: 304
Explanation and Analysis:

Rosemary has revealed that just as she and her mother were preparing to publish their book, she was informed by her agent that Lowell was arrested for planning an attack on SeaWorld Orlando. At the time she is writing he has been awaiting trial for three months and is in a bad mental state. Rosemary notes with sadness that she is the only one of her siblings who is not “in a cage,” again drawing a connection between animal cages and prison cells. Although Rosemary does not say so explicitly, she also implies that it is rather arbitrary that she is the only one of her siblings not to be incarcerated. They have all had brushes with the law, and Rosemary alone was able to escape incarceration in part because she was the most successful at suppressing the animalistic side of her personality.

This quotation is also important in light of Rosemary’s ongoing investigation of the nature of memory and truth. Toward the end of the book, she realizes that her understanding of the past differs drastically from that of parents. She comes to acknowledge that even though her version of events feels like the truth, it is in fact only one of many possible versions. It is thus possible to detect a sense of guilt in Rosemary’s assertion that “the only reason” why she’s telling her family’s story is because she’s “not currently in a cage.” She implies that it is not necessarily fair that her story is the one that will be counted as the truth, but that this is simply the way things are.

Rosemary Cooke Character Timeline in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

The timeline below shows where the character Rosemary Cooke appears in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Family, Tradition, and the Past Theme Icon
Absence, Silence, and Denial Theme Icon
Rosemary writes that people who know her now will be surprised that she was very talkative... (full context)