We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves


Karen Joy Fowler

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Madame Defarge Symbol Analysis

Madame Defarge Symbol Icon

Madame Defarge is a ventriloquist’s dummy that Rosemary and Harlow find inside the suitcase Rosemary is mistakenly given after the airline loses her own. At first, Rosemary is reluctant about taking out Madame Defarge, both because she feels guilty about touching someone else’s property and because she finds the dummy off-putting and eerie. However, Harlow insists on taking Madame Defarge out to a bar with them, and toward the end of the novel Rosemary discovers that Harlow has stolen Madame Defarge when she runs away to join the Animal Liberation Front with Lowell. This turn of events is a hint toward the fictional character after whom the dummy is named. In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Madame Defarge is a participant in the French Revolution, and one who symbolizes the violent, ruthless nature of the movement. It is thus significant that Harlow brings Madame Defarge to accompany her on her new life of ideologically-motivated “domestic terrorism.”

Rosemary’s feelings about Madame Defarge also help illustrate the boundary between humans and nonhumans and the idea of anthropomorphism (ascribing human attributes to something non-human). Rosemary is at first disturbed by the dummy because she finds it uncanny; it looks like a human (and is made to talk like one) but is in fact an inanimate object. Elsewhere in the novel, Rosemary points out that people can find apes uncanny for similar reasons. As our closest animal relative, apes (and chimpanzees in particular) bear a strong resemblance to humans and yet are, of course, not actually human. It is perhaps thus unsurprising that Rosemary eventually comes to feel fond of Madame Defarge, even falling asleep cuddling her at one point. Just as Rosemary anthropomorphizes Fern by treating her like a human sister, so too does she feel affinity with Madame Defarge and a sense of loss when Harlow takes her away.

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