In My Good Books: ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover

Whilst Educated depicts the protagonist’s liberation through education, fittingly this novel leaves the reader educated themselves. Based on a true story, Educated follows the story of Tara Westover who was born into a strict and alienating Mormon family. Set in rural Idaho, as a child Tara has no concept of the oddity of her brutal family life as she must navigate her abusive older brother and the stringent gender roles. Educated tells the tale of extreme devoutness, familial guilt and eventually self-liberation. This page-turner fundamentally preaches the necessity of independent thought and, most importantly, education.

The novel begins by following the childhood of Tara, in which without the ‘hindrance’ of public education, Tara and her numerous siblings undertake intense manual labour. The family operates under the strict patriarchy of Tara’s father, who seeks to indoctrinate his children in regard to the impending “Days of Abomination” and the evils of the US government. Tara’s mother performs herbal medicinal practices on the family and other members of the community due to their distrust of the medical profession. The manual work that the children perform is gruelling, and the novel recounts many harrowing accidents and near-death experiences due to Tara’s father’s nonchalance and mantra that “the Lord will provide”. The novel follows the verbal and physical abuse that Tara endures, resulting in permanent mental and emotional damage. As Tara matures, she slowly begins to doubt the regime she was born into and gradually accomplishes self-liberation.

In her childhood, Tara lives in a state of ignorance due to her lack of exposure to the “real” world as well as her deprivation of a sufficient education. As Tara gradually begins to self-educate, she appreciates the importance of both looking back to history and discovering things about her current world to which she was oblivious. Her education permits her to undermine the rigid patriarchy of her family as she slowly begins to question that which was previously normalised.

Educated is certainly an eye-opening novel as it depicts the intricacies and tragedies of the strict regime in which Tara was trapped. It also portrays the difficulty of family loyalty. Despite her abuse, Tara struggles to become entirely independent from her family as both her religion and familial bonds cause her innumerable distress and guilt. Hence the novel depicts the indescribable difficulty of breaking free from a group, or regime, and becoming self-reliant, offering an insight into both the cultivation and maintenance of extreme religious groups.

Tara tells the story of the danger of indoctrination. Her upbringing instilled the belief that women are inferior, that medicine is bad, and that state education is an evil, government run practice. Educated portrays an infrequently heard story, making it a profound, educational read, illustrating both the struggle of the individual in the face of extreme group pressure and the undeniable power of knowledge.

Hattie Hansford


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