The main characters in Educated are Tara Westover, Gene Westover, Faye Westover, Shawn Westover, and Tyler Westover.
- Tara Westover is the author and protagonist of the memoir. Her determination and curiosity lead her to leave the family compound and get an education.
- Gene Westover is Tara's controlling and paranoid father, whose idiosyncratic and orthodox beliefs rule the family's way of life.
- Faye Westover is Tara's mother, who wavers between complacency and personal agency.
- Shawn Westover is Tara's caring but often abusive and manipulative older brother.
- Tyler Westover is Tara's intelligent and aloof older brother who advises Tara to leave home for the wider world.
Tara Westover is the narrator and author of Educated. The memoir covers her journey from her childhood on a fundamentalist Mormon homestead to her career in academia. Despite the great changes she undergoes over the course of her narrative, she consistently emerges on the page as an intelligent, resilient, and determined person. Her curiosity leads her to gain an ever broader perspective on her life.
When the book begins, Tara is seven years old and living with her family in Buck's Peak, Idaho. She is scrappy, bright, and inquisitive but also very shy and self-conscious. As she grows, her awareness of the sharp divide between her family and the others in the area grows as well. The differences are numerous: she doesn't go to school or have many friends, her family doesn't believe in western medicine, she performs dangerous labor in her family's scrapyard, and her father is constantly preparing for an apocalyptic eventuality.
When Tara's brother Tyler introduces her to music for the first time, Tara's world begins to grow. She starts singing, eventually earning roles in a nearby theater's musical productions. As she engages with the community on her own terms, she also begins to open up socially for the first time.
By her late teens, Tara feels confident enough to follow Tyler's lead yet again by enrolling in college. When she gets there, it becomes apparent just how different she is from the other students on campus. There are huge gaps in her background knowledge, but there are also noticeable gaps in her socialization. She struggles to adjust, and her anxiety over her failing grades and social alienation is only amplified by increasing tensions with her family back in Buck's Peak. In her father’s eyes, enrolling in formal school is a deliberate rejection of his teachings, and Tara has now officially chosen to ally herself with the other side.
Over time, and through much trial and error, Tara begins to build herself a new life in academia. As she begins to feel more rooted in her surroundings, the distance gives her a clearer view of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her brother Shawn. Despite her earnest attempts, Tara is unable to convince her mother Faye to take her accusations seriously.
Tara manages to find some peace with the uncertainty, and ultimately overcomes the obstacles of her past to earn a doctorate from Trinity College, Cambridge.
Gene Westover, referred to as "Father" throughout most of the memoir, is Tara's father. He is hardworking, commanding, and stubborn, and his relationship with Tara is extremely volatile. Much of his behavior follows from his devout adherence to religious doctrine as he interprets it. He raises his children in an insular Mormon survivalist compound, restricting their access to education and exposing them to dangerous scrapping and construction work. To him, education starts and ends with the Bible, medicine starts and ends with his wife's holistic remedies, and all other energy should be spent singularly focused on preparing for a societal collapse. Throughout the memoir, the Westovers can their own food, hoard weapons and precious metals, and even buy a bullet-making machine to prepare for this anticipated collapse.
For Gene, who believes himself to be a prophet, these actions and goals are directly prescribed by God. When his children suffer significant injuries in the course of their work—which occurs often—Gene seems to consider the injuries collateral damage in his service to a higher power. Even when he himself is permanently disfigured by an accident, he interprets his recovery as evidence of the power of his...
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As Tara grows older and begins accepting information from the world outside Buck's Peak, she comes to understand Gene's erratic, paranoid, deeply authoritarian behavior through the lens of mental illness. Specifically, she sees in his behavior symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Faye, Tara's mother, is referred to simply as "Mother" through most of the text. She's an herbalist and begins training to become a midwife shortly after the narrative begins. Tara watches as Faye, initially very passive, becomes more confident, developing her abilities to inhabit her new role. By the end of the book, Faye is running a very successful and lucrative essential oil business out of the Buck's Peak compound.
There are times when it is clear that Faye has a broader and more insightful perspective on her family's dynamic than she outwardly acknowledges. In one instance, she secretly files for birth certificates for the Westover children without telling her husband. At another point, she even privately acknowledges the abuse Tara and her sister, Audrey, have suffered at the hands of their brother Shawn. When Tara attempts to follow up, however, it becomes clear that Faye’s intention is to stick by her husband and son.
Along with Gene, Tara's older brother Shawn is one of her primary antagonists. His relationship with Tara is one of the book's most complex: At times, they are very close, and he appears to feel fond and protective towards her. He helps her tame her horse, teaches her self-defense, takes her along with him on his long-haul trucking trips, and pushes back against Gene when Gene puts Tara in dangerous work situations.
As the story progresses, however, his treatment of her becomes increasingly physically and psychologically abusive. Shawn seems particularly affronted by Tara’s passage into adolescence, and he treats her especially terribly any time he sees hints of her potential interest in men or her awareness of her appearance. Ultimately, Shawn's ongoing abuse of Tara catalyzes her estrangement from her family.
Tyler Westover is another of Tara's older brothers and serves as her closest familial ally during the course of the narrative. Unlike the rest of her rowdy family, he is quiet, bookish, thoughtful, and level-headed. He serves as a very important model for Tara by leaving Buck's Peak to attend college, and he later encourages her to do the same. When Tara decides to confront her family about Shawn's abuse, Tyler is openly supportive and advocates on her behalf.