Tara Westover’s memoir Educated reveals that self discovery comes at a price of unearthing what we’ve buried, what we’ve tried to hide, from both society and ourselves.
In her New York Times Bestseller, Westover candidly open up about her Mormon survivalist upbringing in rural Idaho. Her mother, a midwife and herbalist, and bipolar father, who owned a scrap yard, held anti-establishment, extremist views of society. These drastic perspectives isolated Westover and her six older siblings, physically and psychologically. From her lack of a birth certificate to spending days hauling scrap metal in replacement of going to school, Educated reveals one unimaginable anecdote after the other as Westover masterfully weaves in a balance of suspense and directness.
Westover’s doomsday world is so unfamiliar that is sounds like fiction; and if “memoir” wasn’t plainly depicted on the cover it could almost be confused for one. Yet, by the time she finally transitions into school, at the mature age of 17, her previous narrative of the Idaho mountains and Mormonism seems distantly familiar. As a direct result of her ability to engage the reader, Westover’s shift into mainstream society becomes a shared, palpable experience. We can feel her reclusive tendencies, because we’ve been the new kid, and all the confusion that comes when we enter a new phase in life. It’s Westover’s transition that transforms Educated into a relatable read.
“The skill I learned was a crucial one, the patience to read things I could not yet understand.”– Tara Westover
Through a formal education Westover sees the world for the first time. She discovers the Holocaust, slavery, Martin Luther King Jr, a robust history, as though it unfolds right in front of her eyes. The raw transparency of her ignorance, her extremist upbringing, is unearthed. Part shame part resentment, she sets out to become a historian where she can be the one to write history— if nothing more than out of an inability to rewrite her own. Westover eventually wins the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship.
“I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self create”– Tara Westover
Despite her ability to overcome the unthinkable, going to college after never setting foot in a classroom, Westover never truly fits in. Caught between two worlds, in Cambridge, as a result of her past, she feels like an outsider. In Idaho, as a result of her present, she doesn’t belong. The consequence of being educated causes her to spiral into a depression. She is unable to cope with the numerous realities revealed to her over time. That moment of clarity is one many of us can relate to—when we must separate ourselves from our upbringing, from our own family, to break the chain and become the person we’re meant to be. Westover writes in defiance of who she was, not who her family is, at the cost of leaving her old self behind.
It’s easy to dismiss the upbringing of a scrapyard kid, who learned rigs instead of trig, and judge how such parents could dismiss education and society. But in a leap of anti-faith, Westover and two of her brothers attained a Ph.D.. Which begs further speculation as to what such anti-establishment, extremist views can teach even those of us who received a conventional education. In the broader scope of it all, Educated reminds us that all of life is a classroom. And our minds have an infinite ability to achieve.