We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves


Karen Joy Fowler

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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.
Normalcy vs. Deviance Theme Icon

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 father sacrifices any normalcy his family might claim to possess by introducing Fern into their lives. While Rosemary’s parents at times seem to want to pretend that they are a “normal” and happy family, the existence of Fern makes this a comically doomed project.

Rosemary herself harbors a decidedly ambivalent relationship to normalcy (and to deviance). The weirdness of her family means that she attracts unwanted attention as a child and isn’t able to make friends. As a result, Rosemary initially chooses to refashion herself in college and present a false image of herself and her family s normal. During her freshman year, Rosemary’s roommate Scully invites friends over to their room and begins a conversation about families, saying: “You know how everything seems so normal when you're growing up… and then comes this moment when you realize your whole family is nuts?” The girls begin to bond over the common “weirdness” of their families, yet Rosemary either misunderstands this bonding ritual or (perhaps correctly) anticipates that her family is in fact too weird for her to bond successfully with the other girls over this matter. As a result, she lies and pretends that her family is normal, only to immediately regret this falsehood. Although she successfully convinces the others that her family truly are normal, she reflects: “Now I’d achieved it, normal suddenly didn’t sound so desirable. Weird was the new normal and, of course, I hadn’t gotten the memo. I still wasn’t fitting in.” Even in a social situation in which people are literally bonding over weirdness, Rosemary remains “weird” by failing to reject normalcy.

In reality, Rosemary is in fact deeply drawn to deviance, a way of being that she associates with Fern. Rosemary bonds with Harlow after they both exhibit “monkey girl” behavior, acting in a reckless, destructive, and attention-seeking manner in the college cafeteria. Where other people would likely find this kind of behavior patently unappealing, Rosemary finds it comfortingly familiar. Rosemary admits that in the past, she tried to stamp out her own inclination toward deviance: “In the comments section of my kindergarten report card I’d been described as impulsive, possessive, and demanding. These are classic chimp traits and I’ve worked hard over the years to eradicate them.” However, after her attempts to erase these traits and assimilate into “normal” human behavior fail to win Rosemary friends, happiness, or self-acceptance, she decides to instead embrace her deviant chimp qualities through her friendship with Harlow. She becomes increasingly suspicious of the concept of normalcy, at one point reflecting: “What is a normal sex life? What is normal sex? What if asking the question already means you aren’t normal?” Ultimately, the concept of normalcy is shown to be a mode of discipline that encourages people to conform to human behaviors and reject animalistic ones, again emphasizing society’s dualistic concept of humanity vs. animality (see the first Theme). Furthermore, the novel emphasizes the extent to which everyone—no matter how hard they might try—is weird or deviant in their own way, leaving the concept of normalcy effectively meaningless.

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Normalcy vs. Deviance Quotes in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Below you will find the important quotes in We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves related to the theme of Normalcy vs. Deviance.
Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

Bed-hopping was an established custom in the house—Fern and I had rarely ended the night in the bed where we'd started. Our parents felt that it was natural and mammalian not to want to sleep alone, and though they would have preferred we stay in our own beds, because we kicked and thrashed, they'd never insisted on it.

Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

I would say that, like Lowell, I loved her as a sister, but she was the only sister I ever had, so I can't be sure; it's an experiment with no control.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Lowell Cooke (aka “Travers”), Fern
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

I told him that his mother was cutting up a pumpkin. Only I used the word dissecting.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Russell Tupman
Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 2 Quotes

For a brief period in the third grade, I pretended that Dae-jung and I were friends. He didn't talk, but I was well able to supply both sides of a conversation. I returned a mitten he'd dropped. We ate lunch together, or at least we ate at the same table, and in the classroom he'd been given the desk next to mine on the theory that when I talked out of turn, it might help his language acquisition. The irony was that his English improved due in no small part to my constant yakking at him, but as soon as he could speak, he made other friends.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker), Dae-jung
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 5 Quotes

Except that now I'd achieved it, normal suddenly didn't sound so desirable. Weird was the new normal and, of course, I hadn't gotten the memo. I still wasn't fitting in. I still had no friends. Maybe I just didn't know how. Certainly I'd had no practice.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker)
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3, Chapter 7 Quotes

What is a normal sex life? What is normal sex? What if asking the question already means you aren't normal? It seemed as if I couldn't get even the instinctual, mammalian parts of my life right.

Related Characters: Rosemary Cooke (speaker)
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis: