We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is concerned with the relationship between humans and animals (and the ways in which humans abuse that relationship), and thus cages and cells play a central role. Rosemary and Fern’s early life together is defined by a remarkable absence of cages; part of the radical premise of Fern’s existence in the Cooke household is that she is fully integrated into their lives, with none of the usual barriers that separate humans from animals. However, Fern is then taken away and spends the rest of her life in an enclosure at a laboratory in South Dakota. Rosemary’s dream of building a sanctuary for her and Fern to live in speaks to her desire to rescue her sister from imprisonment within a cage.
Significantly, it is not just Fern who ends up imprisoned. As a result of her friendship with the chimp-like Harlow, Rosemary spends two nights in county jail, during which time she is haunted by thoughts of Fern being enclosed in a similar state. Ezra is sentenced to eight months in prison for attempting to free the monkeys at the UC Davis primate center, and the end of the book sees Lowell incarcerated for his actions with the Animal Liberation Front. There is a clear sense of irony over the fact that both Lowell and Ezra are imprisoned as punishment for their attempt to free animals from their own prisons. Furthermore, the fact that Rosemary, Lowell, and Fern all spend time in cages and cells illustrates the way in which humans strive to control and contain not just actual animals, but also people who exhibit “animalistic” behavior. The book arguably suggests that just as the confinement of animals to cages is arbitrary and unjust, so too is the incarceration of humans.
Cages and Cells Quotes in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
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!
Poor Mom and Dad. All three of their children incarcerated at once; that really was bad luck.
Three children, one story. The only reason I'm the one telling it is that I'm the one not currently in a cage.