There are several instances throughout the memoir where we see Tara’s internal struggle between her devotion to her family and wanting to discover who she is. When Shawn initially returns to the family home and Tara embarks on the trucking routes with him, the relationship is one of camaraderie and familial affection. As Tara becomes bolder and starts going through puberty, however, Shawn’s violence and abuse take the forefront. The family’s complacency and silence enables his behavior. Though the women in Shawn’s life fear him, the family is bound to a religious philosophy that subordinates women, and so their voices are muffled by the weight of male dominance in the house.
When Charles is over for dinner and Shawn breaks Tara’s toe while wrestling her over the toilet seat, she begins laughing in an attempt to make the situation seem fun and normal. She is ashamed that this abuse has been woven into the fabric of her upbringing but doesn’t want Charles to think there is anything abnormal about the violent exchange. She also doesn’t want to believe that her parents would knowingly do anything to put her in harm’s way. However, Gen and Faye sit idly by, allowing Shawn to abuse Tara, and their inaction is a tacit endorsement of his methods to control her. As far as the family is concerned, Shawn is a righteous man, Tara is swayed by the devil, and his abuse is, in effect, the will of God to try and tame her into the narrow path the family desperately wants her to follow.
This comes to a fever pitch when Tara visits her sister Audrey and says to Audrey’s oldest daughter, “If you act like a child, I’ll treat you like one.” Stunned, Audrey recalls that Shawn used to say that, and Tara realizes for the first time she wasn’t the only recipient of abuse. When Shawn threatens to kill Audrey and Tara tells her parents her concern, their dismissal of her claims due to her lack of “proof” puts the reality of their protection of Shawn into clear focus.
When Audrey reaches out to Tara, derides her for provoking her anger at Shawn, and cuts Tara out of her life, Tara realizes she has lost her family. The Westover family believes it is God’s will that Shawn be forgiven, and any rebellion against God’s will is an act of Lucifer. Tara knows she can no longer lie by omission, and she refuses to remain complicit in Shawn’s abuse. She knows she cannot break the cycle and reason with people who put God’s will above reason, but she refuses to contribute to it. She has a choice to lose her family or lose herself, and she chooses to stay true to herself and not revert into the terrified child she used to be.
Everything in the Westover household defers to God’s will. It is the reason they believe they have made their fortune and also the reason they believe Shawn shouldn’t be demonized. They believe it is God’s will that he be forgiven, and Tara refusing to forgive him allows them to take the blame off of Shawn and place it squarely on Tara. She is being led by the devil and is an untrustworthy witness in their eyes, and they believe that Shawn only has the best interests of the family at heart.
Though we as readers know this is not the case, Gen and Faye are so enraptured by their myopic and uninformed view of the world that they cleave to the child who holds their worldview (Shawn) as a means of self-preservation. Tara has chosen to abandon the family, and every criticism or concern she vocalizes is considered an attack. Shawn thinks he is using his violence to maintain God’s order; this creates a schism between the family who left and the family who stayed. Tara left and is also a woman, so her reputation isn’t worth protecting in her family’s eyes. Shawn stayed; in addition, as a man in a patriarchal household, his reputation is an extension of the family’s—and they will go to any length to protect it.