Well, more fool me!
This book was inspired in part by a real-life experiment in the s, in which two scientists, a husband-and-wife team, tried to raise a baby chimpanzee in their home as if she were human, along with their own child.
Your own father, like the psychologist father in your novel, was an Indiana University professor who studied animal behavior. But it was your daughter who raised the question that became the seed for this novel. How did all these pieces come together for you? I began arguing with my father about animal intelligence when I was about six years old.
His conclusions were based on a career of cautious, scientifically collected data; mine were based on my personal observations of the family dogs and cats, birds and rats. You might have thought that I would have developed some humility at some point, bowed to his greater expertise.
But that just shows how little you know me. In many ways, this book represents my latest salvo in that long-running argument. I deeply regret that my father is no longer here to answer back.
The family is rich in animal behaviorists. Also in teachers, arguably much the same thing. How many accounts are there of chimps being raised like human babies?
How closely did you base your story on these accounts? When I began thinking about the book, I was intimidated by how little I knew about chimps; I consoled myself that I did know quite a lot about psychologists. So I read all the accounts of cross-fostered chimps that I could find and, yes, there are several of these.
Many of them are referenced in my novel: The Ape and the Child is about the Kelloggs.
Next of Kin is about Washoe. There is a very disturbing book by Maurice Temerlin called Lucy: I read a ton of other stuff as well, about chimps and bonobos in labs, in the wild, on preserves. Why do you begin this story in the middle? The short answer is that there was no other way Rosemary, my narrator, could have told it.
This put the onus on Fern to prove herself at every point. It would have been more Darwinian, he says, to start with an assumption of kinship. I wanted the book to start with the assumption of kinship in that same way.
I wanted the reader to assume the similarities, before looking for the differences. In order to accomplish that, I felt I had to talk about Fern first as a sister and only later as a chimpanzee. Ostensibly it was an experiment in nature vs nurture — what would Fern be capable of if she were raised as human, especially in the area of language?
But as the daughter of a psychologist, I can tell you that the thing ostensibly being studied is never the thing being studied.
Rosemary suspects that she and not Fern was the real subject of the experiment — that her father was not trying to raise a chimp who could talk to humans, but rather a human who could talk to chimps.
But Rosemary is very angry at her father when she thinks this and she is probably being unfair. As Rosemary ponders her relationship with Fern, she wonders whether the experiment of raising them together reveals more about the nature of humans than the nature of chimps.
In what ways is Fern more advanced than Rosemary in their earliest years? As I researched these experiments, I was struck by how long it took for someone to note that, if we were interested in chimps and communication, it was more relevant to ask how they communicated with each other than how well they could learn to communicate with us.
In all that time there was little to suggest that the fault might be ours for not understanding rather than theirs for not making us understand.
The primacy of the human and the priority given to human forms of intelligence and communication was largely unquestioned. Chimps develop much more quickly than humans and, until around the age of two, are more advanced in every conceivable way.
What are some of these? The classic chimp traits she attributes to herself are outlined on her kindergarten report card where she is described as impulsive, possessive, and demanding.
She has a hard time keeping her hands to herself and she tends to see the space around her vertically as well as horizontally.
Although she cannot climb the way her sister Fern does, she sees the world as climbable. He takes part in several illegal actions to liberate animals and is hunted by the police.We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Karen Joy Fowler, Penguin Group USA pp. ISBN Summary From the author of The Jane Austen Book Club, the story of an American family, middle class in middle America, ordinary in every way but one.
But that exception is the beating heart of this extraordinary novel. Let me tell you, that was a problem! As it happens Rosie, who is in her early twenties when we first meet her, is definitely human but has been brought up until the age of five with Fern, who is a chimpanzee and who lives with the family as if the two girls are sisters.
But at the point, after an event that Rosie has wiped from her memory, Fern vanishes and the whole structure of the family crumbles. 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.
Seresin, Indiana. "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Part 5, Chapter 1." LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 21 Sep Web.
16 Sep Seresin. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (Published by Marian Wood) Nominated for Best Novel in The New York Times bestselling author of The Jane Austen Book Club introduces a middle-class American family, ordinary in every way but one.
Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and . “I tell you Fern is a chimp and, already, you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. You’re thinking instead that we loved her as if she were some kind of pet.” She’s right, of course.
Jun 24, · We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves ~ Karen Joy Fowler Published on June 24, June 23, by Alex For a number of reasons I resisted reading Karen Joy Fowler’s Booker short listed novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves when it was first published in