We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Part 6, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Rosemary and her mother prepare the journals for publication. Rosemary’s mother tells her that she was “the prettiest baby anyone ever saw.” She also discusses how cute Fern was as a baby. Rosemary’s first word was “bye-bye,” which she signed at 11 months and spoke aloud at 13. Fern’s first sign was “cup,” at 10 months old. Fern was born in Africa, to a mother who was killed and sold as food. When Rosemary’s parents were discussing adopting a chimpanzee, Rosemary’s mother insisted it had to be a baby “with nowhere else to go.” When Fern was purchased from a group of poachers, she was very ill with diarrhea and swarming with fleas.
This passage continues to explore the distinction between the “normal” aspects of Rosemary’s childhood and the more unusual, scientifically significant elements. Rosemary’s mother’s record of the sisters’ first words is a common practice among parents—but this record could also be studied from a scientific perspective in order to understand the development of Rosemary and Fern’s cognition. (Note that the fact that Rosemary’s first word was “bye-bye” foreshadows the role of loss and absence in her life.)
Themes
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
Family, Tradition, and the Past Theme Icon
Absence, Silence, and Denial Theme Icon
Science, Knowledge, and Experiments Theme Icon
Normalcy vs. Deviance Theme Icon
Fern arrived at the Cookes’ house when Rosemary was one month old. For Fern’s first two years of life, she would cling to Rosemary’s mother so hard that she left bruises. Rosemary’s mother fell “in love” with Fern, who was clearly deeply traumatized. Rosemary’s parents originally assumed that Fern would live with them forever. One night, Rosemary and her mother are finishing a special dinner to celebrate the sale of the journals in the form of a book. Rosemary asks if her mother worried about the “impact” Fern’s presence would have on Rosemary. Rosemary’s mother replies that she certainly did, but it was clear that Rosemary was “a happy child” who “adored” Fern.
This passage introduces another side to the Cooke family’s relationship with Fern: the fact that they helped Fern to survive the early trauma of her life. At other points in the book it appears as if the Cookes were simply using Fern as a means to their own end. However, this passage indicates that Rosemary’s mother also served an important and irreplaceable role in Fern’s life by filling the void left by Fern’s own biological mother and enabling Fern to recover from her mother’s loss.
Themes
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
Family, Tradition, and the Past Theme Icon
Absence, Silence, and Denial Theme Icon
Science, Knowledge, and Experiments Theme Icon
Rosemary and her mother watch an old VHS tape made by one of the graduate students, which shows Rosemary and Fern in a room they have turned to carnage, lying side by side in identical poses. Rosemary predicts that they will eventually be able to embed videos into the book, but for now they rely on images to highlight the similarities between Rosemary and Fern and Fern’s total immersion in the family dynamic.
It is clear that Rosemary and her mother want to convey what they perceive to be the reality of their life with Fern to the wider world. Just as Rosemary hid the fact that Fern is a chimpanzee for the first chapters of the book, so does she now feel the need to provide evidence of her family’s love for Fern that will counteract the perceived impossibility of animal-human familial relations.
Themes
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
Family, Tradition, and the Past Theme Icon
Science, Knowledge, and Experiments Theme Icon
Normalcy vs. Deviance Theme Icon
In 2012, Rosemary is living with her mother in Vermillion, a university town in South Dakota. Rosemary has taught kindergarten for seven years, and knows she is a talented teacher. She teaches her students “chimp etiquette” and chimp sign language. They go on field trips to the lab where Fern is held, and stand behind a wall of bulletproof glass separating them from the chimps. Rosemary’s “niece” Hazel is still there too. Although Fern is not the oldest or a male, she seems to have the highest status among the group. Rosemary’s mother volunteers at the lab every day, making sure Fern gets her favorite foods. When Fern saw Rosemary’s mother for the first time, she refused to look at her, but eventually they rekindled their relationship.
Just as Kitch predicted, Rosemary makes an ideal teacher. This seems to be because of a natural affinity between human children and chimpanzees. Rosemary is able to use the behaviors and knowledge she gained as Fern’s sister in order to be a better teacher and expose her students to the positive sides of her own early life with Fern. Although there is now a more solid boundary between Rosemary and Fern—symbolized by the bulletproof glass at the laboratory—their lives are in sync just as they were when they were both children.
Themes
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
Family, Tradition, and the Past Theme Icon
Science, Knowledge, and Experiments Theme Icon
Get the entire We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves LitChart as a printable PDF.
We are all completely beside ourselves.pdf.medium
Rosemary wonders what she would tell Fern about their father and Lowell, but Fern has never asked. The chimps who live in the center are no longer subject to scientific experiments. However, Rosemary clarifies that their lives are still “not enviable,” and that they would be better off in the natural world. Rosemary dreams about a sanctuary where she and Fern could live together, but has read enough about chimp attacks to know that she will never touch Fern again. Still, she hopes to raise money for a sanctuary for Fern through the book sales and through donations.
This passage indicates that there is a kind of value to fantasies even when we know that they are unrealistic and will never actually be realized. Even though Rosemary is aware that she cannot actually live with Fern again, it still comforts her to retreat to her childhood dream of imagining herself and Fern living harmoniously together with no walls or cages to divide them.
Themes
Humans vs. Animals Theme Icon
Family, Tradition, and the Past Theme Icon
Absence, Silence, and Denial Theme Icon
Science, Knowledge, and Experiments Theme Icon
The book is about to be published, and Rosemary is keenly aware that after that point, she will never be able to hide her past again. She will be making media appearances, but knows that the version of herself she will reveal to the world will inevitably be incomplete. The plan is for Rosemary to end up “widely admired” and Fern “stealthily influential.”
The end of this chapter represents a complete reversal of the relationship Rosemary had to her past in earlier parts of the book. Whereas before she made every effort to hide her family’s history from the world, she now feels compelled to share it publicly.
Themes
Family, Tradition, and the Past Theme Icon
Absence, Silence, and Denial Theme Icon
Science, Knowledge, and Experiments Theme Icon