We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Part 2, Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Rosemary recalls more memories of Fern. In the first, Rosemary and Fern are both three years old, and are sitting on a loveseat while Rosemary’s mother reads them Mary Poppins. Rosemary keeps interrupting to ask about the story, which aggravates her mother. Rosemary feels jealous that Fern is praised for listening quietly when she isn’t even capable of speech, and believes that her mother loves Fern best. In another memory, Rosemary, Fern, their mother, Grandma Donna, and the graduate students are all dancing joyfully together. In another, it has just snowed and Rosemary’s mother is worried about how to dress Fern, as Fern refuses to let shoes be put on her feet. Rosemary’s mother generally dislikes putting clothes on Fern, but because Rosemary wears clothes Fern must wear them too.
Many of Rosemary’s memories have a surreal and comic quality. The idea of Rosemary’s family dancing with a group of graduate students or of Fern being forced into a snow outfit is rather amusing. At the same time, the light-hearted nature of these recollections is undercut by Rosemary’s own feelings, which emphasize the extent to which the memories are emotionally traumatic and painful. Rosemary’s jealousy toward Fern, for example, is shown to be a foundational element of her personality, and has arguably had a damaging impact on her in later life.
Themes
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Family, Tradition, and the Past Theme Icon
Science, Knowledge, and Experiments Theme Icon
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Outside, Lowell is building a “snow ant.” Fern tries to play with him, but he is not interested and leaves his sisters to play by themselves. Rosemary and Fern build a giant snowball together and roll it down the hill, and Lowell is impressed. Soon, the graduate students arrive to take them sledding. Rosemary admits: “We are so excited that… we’re completely beside ourselves.”
The inclusion of the book’s title illuminates the significance of this passage. Rosemary emphasizes that the time with Fern was the happiest period in her life. The phrase “beside ourselves” evokes Rosemary’s joy at having her sister, her constant companion, beside her to share in life’s pleasures. At the same time, it also calls to mind ideas of twinning and disembodiment, connecting to the novel’s larger theme of humans, animals, and the blurry divide between the two.
Themes
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Family, Tradition, and the Past Theme Icon
Science, Knowledge, and Experiments Theme Icon
Normalcy vs. Deviance Theme Icon
Even when Fern acts in a wild and unpredictable way, Rosemary is always sure she knows what Fern is thinking. She asks why Fern has to learn human language instead of the family learning Fern’s language, and her father replies that it is unclear whether Fern is even capable of learning a language. Rosemary explains she’s well aware that in psychological experiments, “the thing ostensibly being studied is rarely the thing being studied.” The first people to raise a child and a chimpanzee together, the Kelloggs, supposedly did so in order “to compare and contrast developing abilities,” and this was the same reason for the study conducted by the Cookes. However, Rosemary suspects that the study actually has a different purpose.
Once again, Rosemary suspects that her father is being dishonest, and must attempt to deduce the truth through her own knowledge and reasoning. Her confusion over why her family don’t try to learn Fern’s language highlights the profound impact that being raised alongside Fern has had on her. Unlike most people, Rosemary has not internalized the idea that humans are superior to animals, and instead views herself and Fern as existing within an equal, reciprocal relationship. This puts her at odds with other humans and leads her to struggle with many aspects of human life.
Themes
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Family, Tradition, and the Past Theme Icon
Absence, Silence, and Denial Theme Icon
Science, Knowledge, and Experiments Theme Icon
Normalcy vs. Deviance Theme Icon
Rosemary references another study which shows that “twinness” affects language learning. This rings true to her, as she and Fern together developed a system of Rosemary acting as Fern’s “translator.” Rosemary wonders if her father was really discovering how well she and Fern could communicate with one another. One grad student argued that before Rosemary learned to speak, she and Fern shared an “idioglossia”: a secret system of communication. However, Rosemary’s father dismissed this as “unscientific” and “whimsical.”
Again, Rosemary’s father is shown to have a harsh and bitter attitude toward life, including his two daughters and the possibility of animal-human connection. Rosemary’s own experience—particularly her feeling of total communicative fluency with Fern—indicates that the grad student’s theory about their shared language is correct. However, Rosemary’s father seems inordinately suspicious of such a view.
Themes
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Family, Tradition, and the Past Theme Icon
Absence, Silence, and Denial Theme Icon
Science, Knowledge, and Experiments Theme Icon
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Fern is sometimes interested in chimpanzees she sees on TV, but when another chimpanzee is brought to the farmhouse, Fern expresses dislike of him. As with most chimps raised among humans, Fern believes she is also human. Although nobody suspected it, this confusion works the other way around, too, as Rosemary identifies more with chimps than people. When Rosemary starts kindergarten, the other kids call her “monkey girl” or just “monkey.” They are clearly disturbed by the ways in which she acts like a chimp. Over time, Rosemary slowly learns how to tone down her chimp behaviors, but she finds it difficult to convincingly adopt human ones. Rosemary hopes that Fern is better at adapting to life among her own kind. She fantasizes that Fern is teaching the other chimps the human skills she learned, like sign language.
Both Rosemary and Fern suffer as a result of their unusual upbringing together. Just as Fern loses her sense of affinity with other chimpanzees, so does Rosemary lose hers with other humans. Furthermore, Rosemary has trouble adopting the behaviors that in human society are seen as “normal.” Even the fact that she is eventually able to behave in a normal human manner is somewhat tragic, as it involves the denial of her true personality and further distances her from Fern and her past.
Themes
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
Family, Tradition, and the Past Theme Icon
Normalcy vs. Deviance Theme Icon