Author: Tara Westover
Publisher: Random House
Date of Publication: 20 February 2018
Belonging to a conservative Mormon family of several brothers and sisters, Educated is a coming of age story of a young girl’s struggle to want to attain education in the face of several odds. Tara is a young girl who is a part of a family whose father is a devout Mormon and strictly adheres to the scriptures. They know that they’re to prepare for Y2K and other apocalyptic End of the World happenings. Her mother has to work as a midwife not just for the practical reasons of making ends meet for the family but also as her father believes that midwifery is a way to serve God and is a duty that is to be fulfilled by every woman. Tara is one of several siblings stuck in this enclosed set up. Tara knows from a very young age that what sets her and her siblings apart from other kids their age is that they do not go to school. It is her father’s innate belief that home schooling is the only way to learn, as public school and other government systems or constructs are all channels of the Devil and serve satanic means.
Amidst this cocooned life is a young girl wanting to be set free. But freedom comes at an expense. Sometimes at several unaffordable expenses. Following suit of her elder brother Tyler, she dreams of going to school. Working as an assistant to her mother, she helps in delivering children by the day and the income allows her to buy books by the night. She has rebelled on the outside but sustaining the same conviction on the inside is not an easy task. Her acceptance into a university of her choice floods her with emotions of guilt and fear. She immediately regrets her disobedience to her family which in turn is a disobedience to God. She feels sinful and worthy of punishment.
Though the book is largely about human reasoning and how far it can take a person to seek understanding of themselves, their society and the world on the whole, it doesn’t miss out on the ill effects of over conservatism or extreme critical mindedness that hampers affective logic and thinking. However, it is not a book about patriarchy working under the garb of religious conservatism. Tara’s father is a person who merely keeps reiterating the things he’s known to be right. For him things are either true or false. There is only truth and lies and nothing in between or otherwise. Yet it is his misunderstood idea that what he’s wishing and commanding them to do is a mere reminder of the path that should be followed for the great things that it has in store. He only wants the best for the family no matter how oppressive or narrow minded that may seem. Yet, it is only much later when Tara attends a class of psychology in University does she realise that her father suffers from bipolar disorder which her mother is well aware of but has hidden from an already muddled up family all along.
University not only challenges Tara’s academic abilities but also her understanding of the world and the people in it. Her mind that receives first impressions about the world wherein people can live other realities very different from her own. It doesn’t seem normal to her. It is quite unimaginable to the reader as well, that individuals like Tara and her family can be living such a detached and isolated life in such a fast tracked world. But what seems strange is that despite landing scholarship after scholarship and getting into top notch schools she is unable to overcome the sense of guilt that she feels in terms of having betrayed her family and God. She all along remains a victim of family feuds that rattle her emotionally. Despite becoming well educated by sheer means of her own merit, the story is inspiring but not awe inspiring. She gets her degrees, gets herself educated and builds a position for herself in the society but she feels the need to reconstruct and hide her past and family backgrounds which shows that she hasn’t recovered at all. Educated is the story of every emotionally deprived child wanting to belong and feel loved. Westover uses simple language and the book is fairly easy to read though largely episodic and repetitive. The repetition is mainly due to the similarity of occurrences with the same kinds of things happening between her and her mother, schizophrenic father and abusive brother. It is also an eye opener about the importance of family as a moral support and backbone to any person’s growth. It is about the hollowness one feels upon the loss of familial affection which has also never been experienced in the first place. It is also a commentary on the notion that when a man rebels from his family (as is the case of Tyler) and attains any form of worldly success then he is beheld as an achiever whereas in the case of a woman she is merely a rebel who has gone way too far and needs to return. From a feminist perspective, the novel only depresses with a sorrowful inconclusive ending but does not empower.