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Date of Award


Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Nathan Snaza


Scientific research involving animals as research subjects necessarily reinforces the notions of a human/nonhuman animal boundary and a species hierarchy. A human/nonhuman boundary is the concept of a rigid distinction between human and nonhuman animals, while the species hierarchy values human animals over nonhuman animals. These concepts result in fundamentally paradoxical values in scientific research involving nonhuman animals. Nonhuman animal research must, on one level, recognize that nonhuman animals are similar to human animals because the research is valuable for humans. However, on another level, the research denies nonhuman animals “inclusion within the sphere of moral equality” which would question the ethics of most nonhuman animal research. Therefore, scientific research on nonhuman animals relies on resemblance between human and nonhuman animals while rejecting a moral equality implicated by that resemblance.

Karen Joy Fowler’s novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves examines the paradoxical values of scientific experimentation on animals through an experiment involving the Cooke family and the subsequent ramifications after its end. Dr. Cooke, both father and head researcher, undertakes a psychological experiment in which he attempts to discover whether a chimpanzee can truly learn human language, rather than just imitating humans to communicate. To perform this research, the family itself becomes the experiment as it cross fosters a human daughter, Rosemary, with a chimpanzee daughter, Fern. Each daughter’s linguistic progress is recorded using tests and games, such as the Same/NotSame game in which Rosemary and Fern are shown two images and present a red poker chip if the images are Same or a blue poker chip if the images are NotSame. Dr. Cooke, Mrs. Cooke, and older brother Lowell must treat Rosemary and Fern as similarly as possible throughout the experiment to create controlled conditions under which their language acquisition can be monitored. The experiment ends when both daughters are five years old, and Fern is sold because she has grown too large.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves examines the stakes of personhood by investigating the permeability of the human/nonhuman animal boundary and therefore the validity of the species hierarchy. The novel scrutinizes scientific experimentation on animals, a context in which the species hierarchy is strictly enforced, even as the experimentation itself undermines that hierarchy. In rejecting humanity’s privileged claim to personhood, the novel then explores the ways in which adherence to the species hierarchy is both learned and enforced socially and politically. Furthermore, through the family’s emotional investment in Fern’s personhood, the novel examines the detrimental effects of the species hierarchy on both nonhuman and human animals.