We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
A Study of the Connection between Humans and Animals as Described In the Book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
The relationship between humans and non-humans changed dramatically throughout recent history. Theorists Kathryn Shanley and Matthew Calarco argue that human and non-human beings, specifically regarding animal studies and ecocriticism, are more egalitarian than has been accepted in the past. When dealing with intersubectivity, a difficult idea for the human standpoint to adopt discloses that human superiority is non-existent; in its place is a sort of give-and-take relationship between human and non-human subjects.
Both Shanley and Calarco address the need for humankind to recognize that non-human beings may possess qualities that humankind does not and yet can benefit from being in relation with. In We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, the researchers in conducting a linguistic experiment using human and non-human subjects show “no interest in scientifically tracking the capacities that Fern holds that Rosemary may lack” (Calarco 619). Fern being the non-human subject, the social experiment between the two subjects is strictly limited to the capability of humankind, while Rosemary admits that the only advantage she has over Fern is speech (as cited in Calarco 620). There exists a clear disconnect between beings; however we see in the novel that Rosemary conceptualizes intersubjectivity on a deeper level of understanding than the researchers. She is able to identify with Fern as her equal, exemplifying the ability for egalitarianism between humans and animals. Similarly, humans possess the ability to connect relationally and learn from the environment. Indigenous culture consists of many stories relating to the environment such as one presented in Shanley’s article about Bull Lodge, a young boy who aspires to gain prestige in his tribe. Having “faith and affection for the Chief Medicine Pipe,” Bull Lodge embraces the pipe as his “guide and teacher. So he entrusted his life to it” (as cited in Shanley 185). Bull Lodge parallel’s Rosemary in that he relates to and respects the non-human being; he recognizes that the environment represented in the pipe offers wisdom and direction while in pursuit of prestige just as Rosemary recognizes that Fern has capability beyond conforming to the human communication. In both stories, humankind benefits from partnership with the non-human beings, either through mentorship or broadened perspective of communication.
Humankind limits their capability in the instance when they view themselves as superior to the natural world. Shanley and Calarco both hold the viewpoint that humankind is equal to non-human beings of nature, bringing the environment and animals working together with humans full circle. Egalitarianism between humans and non-humans allows for each being’s capabilities to be surpassed and superseded by intersubjectivity. While this will “require humility from humans, who must negotiate for power rather than dominate” (Shanley 179), the collaboration between beings can serve both to provide apprehension of the benefit non-humans have on the advancement of humankind and respect for animals and the environment.
Karen Joy Fowler’s Use of Diverse Narrative Elements as Depicted in Her Book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
The best works of realistic fiction create believable characters and illustrate real-life situations. This is certainly true in Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Karen Joy Fowler is able to use unique narrative techniques to allow the reader to fully understand the narrator’s feelings.
We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves begins in medias res and the structure of the timeline allows the author to simulate the recollection of memory. The story jumps around through different significant parts of her life. The choppy structure of the plot could also be representative of trauma as she struggles with reciting her memories. The way Rosemary remembers her life provides an insight on her feelings. One’s most vivid memories often say a lot about his or her character. Rosemary’s life story greatly involves Fern. This means Fern is a significant part of her sense of self. With the reader being exposed to Rosemary’s memories, the reader can be able to understand her identity and how she defines herself.
Karen Joy Fowler uses anthropomorphism to help the reader recognize how Rosemary feels about Fern. For example, It is only on page seventy-seven when we learn that Fern is a chimpanzee. Up to that point, Fern is just Rosemary and Lowell’s sister as well as the daughter of two loving parents. This style allows the reader to see Fern through the eyes of Rosemary before revealing Fern’s true nature. Fern isn’t a pet to Rosemary. Fern was her “twin,” her “fun-house mirror,” her “whirlwind other half.” Not her chimp. Karen Joy a Fowler wanted to make Rosemary’s feelings for Fern clear and she did.
The diary-style format of the story constantly has the reader wondering how the the protagonist gets from one place to another due to the need of filling plot holes. Immediately on the first page, the author has the reader asking questions. “So the middle of my story comes in the winter of 1996…ten years had passed since I’d seen my brother, seventeen since my sister disappeared.” What happened between her and her siblings? Naturally, the narrator in this case would be biased because she knows the end before she tells the beginning. This makes the narrator somewhat unreliable as she can leave out details either by choice or by a lack of memory. For example, she herself refrains from revealing Fern’s true nature. Not only that she was a chimp but a violent one at that. That violence is what eventually leads to Fern’s exile which is something we only learn at the end of the story from her parents. Regardless of this unreliability, readers are compelled to read on to answer questions they have.
By keying in on one character, the reader is given extensive information to be able to gauge the protagonist’s emotions. If this story were to be written in third person, the story would have not as been as powerful because it would be difficult to go into detail on the emotions of multiple characters. The author wanted the reader to sympathize with the protagonist by going into depth on her feelings. Seeing that we live in an “I” world, the first person adds an extra sense of comfort in the reader.
Karen Joy Fowler’s writing style in We are all Completely Beside Ourselves successfully compels the reader to form a connection with Rosemary by using an unconventional style of narrative structure as well as an intimate first person point of view. Rosemary’s thoughts and feelings are fully fleshed out as a result and anyone reading We are all Completely Beside Ourselves is sure to feel the effect of Fowler’s writing and be able to receive the message the author is trying to send with this story through the account of Rosemary, that message being that animal experiments of this nature can be detrimental to a family.
Karen Joy Fowler’s Interpretation of What Describes a Human Being as Illustrated in Her Book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
In the novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, the subject of what it means to be human is explored throughout the entire text. The interesting thing about Fowler’s text doesn’t demonize neither human or non-human animals for making mistakes. She shows the rawness of reality when it comes to family struggles and forgiveness.
Something that separates humans from nonhuman animals is our ability to expand our horizons and adapt. The human race has evolved beyond animals with technological advances, discoveries, and new knowledge. We are the most advanced species on Earth, but not the only inhabitants of this natural world. We have to learn to share and adapt to new research. Using gentle wit at times, other times writing with searing intensity, Fowler’s message throughout this novel is that animal rights are on the same continuum as human rights.
Communication is a big part of any species, but humans have developed a more complex version. The concept of languages comes into play when asking the question, “What makes us human?”. Non-human animals do have verbal and nonverbal communication, but not to the same level of complexity that humans interact with one another. The difference is that communication can happen in all levels of intelligence, while language is much more complex. Language is a subcategory of communication, one that is elaborate and requires higher brain capacity. Before the human invention of writing, language was just an auditory channel. Communication can happen in any of the five senses and more, for example, smell, visual, sound, vibrations, body language, or echolocation. With over 6,500 languages in the world, all with their separate grammar, conjugations, and dialects, accents, it is self evident that humans have a more advanced type of communication than other animals.
Looking closer at the human race, we are controlled by currency. Money is one thing we have that non-human animals do not. Non-human animals do trade and barter, but they don’t have the type of advanced brains that humans do, and have no need for highly refined exchanges. Connecting this idea to the book, Fowler (2013) writes, “Money is the language humans speak, Lowell told me once upon a time, long, long ago. If you want to communicate with humans, then you have to learn how to speak it.” (pg. 305). Our socioeconomic system is centered around money. Humans work to make more money to buy food and clothing; it’s a desire and now a part of our human nature.
An interesting point about human behavior is the fact that we don’t recognize animal intelligence being on the same spectrum as our own. We view nonhuman animals as lower than us, and degrade their intelligence just because they aren’t as advanced as the human race. While contemplating the manner in which humans interact with each other, I realized the concept of being a human being is confusing. In history and even in current events, some races, genders, sexualities, etc., have been lowered to the status of an animal, mistreated, discriminated, even killed. Fowler (2013) expresses her thoughts on this subject through a college professor’s lecture; “‘Do unto others’ is an unnatural, inhuman behavior. You can understand why so many…say it and few achieve it. It goes against something fundamental in our natures. And this, then, is the human tragedy – that the common humanity we share is fundamentally based on the denial of a common shared humanity.” (521). Being apart of human race, we’re supposed to be the most advanced species; so why do we have no empathy for some groups of people and completely wipe away their human status?
Karen Fowler’s View of Individuality, as Described in Her Book, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
To Be Human
In her novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Fowler compares and contrasts humans and chimpanzees to suggests that being human is more importantly about an internal state of being and less about being a homo sapien. Fowler depicts the life of Rosemary Cooke, a girl who was raised along-side a Chimpanzee named Fern as part of an experiment testing the ability of Chimpanzees to communicate with Humans. However, Rosemary suspects that the experiment did not only test, “how well Fern could communicate” (Fowler, 99), but rather, “can Rosemary learn to speak to chimpanzees” (Fowler, 99). By comparing and contrasting humans and chimpanzees Fowler suggests that being human is not simply a matter of species, but rather a state of mental consciousness.
Fowler advocates that the mental aspect of being human is more important than the physical aspect through Fern’s belief that she is human. Having been raised alongside humans her entire life, “Fern believed she was human” (Fowler, 101). Rosemary states, “that the neural system of a young brain develops partly by mirroring the brain around it” (Fowler, 101). This mimicry drives Rosemary to feel that the Fern’s most important traits are not her appearance, but rather her personality. Rosemary comments that, “much, much important, [she] wanted [the reader] to see how it really was” (Fowler, 75). Fern’s mental similarities to Rosemary resulted in Rosemary believing that she was more human than chimpanzee.
Though Fowler suggests that Fern is more human than chimpanzee, she does not ignore that common human behaviors differentiated from Fern’s behavioral patterns. While chimps were capable of understanding deceit, they “don’t seem capable of understanding the state of false belief” (Fowler, 188). This knowledge was one of many that reminded the Cooke family that Fern was not entirely human from a mental perspective. Regardless of the similarities observed between Fern and Rosemary, there were still quirks that acted as a constant reminder of Fern’s species.
As a result of Rosemary and Fern’s relationship, Rosemary comes to believe that being human is much more than being of the same species. “In the phrase human being, the word being is much more important than the word human” (Fowler, 158). Rosemary developed a relationship with Fern that was so strong that Rosemary no longer viewed Fern as a chimpanzee, but rather purely as her sister. Though Fern could not carry out all human behaviors, she was able to communicate with Rosemary on a level that Rosemary failed to achieve with other humans. This is evident when Rosemary is in university and comments, “I still wasn’t fitting in. I still had no friends. Maybe I just didn’t know how” (Fowler, 132).
Through comparing and contrasting humans and chimpanzees, Fowler acknowledges the difference between the two species, but suggests that the most important thing that makes a person human is internal. Rosemary built a relationship with Fern that was closer than any relationship she had formed with human. The connection she felt to Fern was stronger than any other and it is through this the Fowler suggests that, “the word being is much more important than the word human” (Fowler, 158).