We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves


Karen Joy Fowler

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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Themes

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Humans vs. Animals

The novel is narrated from the perspective of Rosemary, a young woman who was raised alongside a chimpanzee as part of a psychological experiment conducted by her scientist father. Rosemary’s perspective is thus fundamentally defined by her unusual attachment to—and identification with—not just her chimpanzee sister Fern but animals in general. She claims: “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact, that I was raised with a…

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Family, Tradition, and the Past

The often troubling dynamics of family life haunt Rosemary throughout the narrative. Although Rosemary has moved across the country to free herself from her family at the time the novel is set, she cannot ever truly escape them. This shows that even if one’s interactions with family remain permanently in the past, they fundamentally shape who we are in the present. Just as the absence of her siblings Lowell and Fern continues to haunt Rosemary…

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Absence, Silence, and Denial

Throughout the book, Rosemary returns to the theme of what is missing—what is left unsaid, what is repressed, and who is gone. She opens the book by admitting that it will surprise people who know her now to learn that she was a very talkative child, thereby conveying that she is now unusually silent. Another of the first things we learn about Rosemary is that her brother and sister are both gone (though at first…

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Science, Knowledge, and Experiments

Rosemary is raised alongside Fern as part of an elaborate scientific experiment conducted by her father (alongside a team of graduate students from the university). As a result, scientific inquiry and authority casts a shadow over Rosemary’s life. Rosemary’s parents—who are both scientists—view ordinary social and intimate life through a scientific lens, as evidenced when Rosemary’s father tries to persuade her mother to donate her personal journals to a library, or when Rosemary writes that…

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Normalcy vs. Deviance

The novel contains an ambiguous and at times comic exploration of the tension between normalcy and deviance, encouraging the reader to question what counts as “normal” and whether normalcy is actually desirable. As a psychologist, Rosemary’s father is invested in ideas about “normal” human (and animal) behavior and the question of why some people deviate from this behavior. Of course, the great irony of this investment is that in order to study these questions, Rosemary’s…

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