One could read Educated as a classic “coming-to-be” story of a young girl who emancipates herself from the stifling traditions and parochialism of her home town by pursuing higher education, but such a characterization risks placing too much emphasis on a unidirectional process of generating truth and individual meaning. To be sure, Tara does come fully into her own and finally recognizes her own intellectual potential after completing her courses as BYU and entering a PhD track at Cambridge University. Her identity, however, and the experiences that fundamentally contributed to her worldview and outlook are tied to Buck’s Peak, her family, and the small-town realities that provide her with a sense of self.
In short, Tara continues to return to Buck’s Peak because her experiences there, especially the abusive relationship she shares with her brother Shawn, are inextricably tied to her developing sense of an independent identity. The violence Shawn displays toward his younger sister, which often left her with broken bones and bruises, had been such a normalized part of Tara's early childhood that she could not have imagined any other possibility for herself. After enrolling at Cambridge, Tara learns the value of words and how writing is a social act because language itself only acquires its meaning in a community. By recording her brother’s violence against her in her journal, Tara finally manages to express the truth of her situation.
Her parents and most of her siblings refuse to acknowledge Shawn’s abusive tendencies towards her, to the point where Tara even begins herself to believe that she may have been making it all up. However, by utilizing the intellectual skills imparted to her through her education at Cambridge, Tara is finally able to separate the truth from the reality that her family’s conservative mentality manufactures. In order for her to accomplish this, she must return to Buck’s Peak to experience this mentality—and this abuse—as a new person. Although Tara initially ventured out of her small world to discover the truth (by becoming a university student), it was only when she returned to the place of her origins and made herself vulnerable that she was able to discover her true identity. This identity was of a free individual, no longer constrained by the boundaries her family imposed on her.