“Educated” Summary,Themes,Characters & Synopsis [Tara Westover]

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AuthorTara Westover
Publication DateFebruary 20, 2018
SettingPrimarily set in rural Idaho, United States
Main ThemeThe transformative power of education and self-discovery


The main characters of book “Educated” by Tara Westover are:

  1. Tara Westover – The author and protagonist of the story. Tara grows up in a strict and isolated household in rural Idaho. Despite her lack of formal education, she seeks knowledge and eventually escapes her upbringing to pursue higher education.
  2. Gene – Tara’s abusive older brother. He often inflicts physical harm on Tara and other family members.
  3. Shawn – Another of Tara’s older brothers. He is also abusive, both physically and emotionally, and has a volatile personality.
  4. Dad – Tara’s father, who is extremely distrustful of government and formal education. He runs a junkyard and enforces his own survivalist beliefs on the family.
  5. Mom – Tara’s mother, who is an herbalist and midwife. She supports Tara’s aspirations, but often struggles to protect her from the abuse in the family.
  6. Tyler – Tara’s older brother who is initially kind to her but becomes distant as he aligns himself with their abusive family members.
  7. Charles – Tara’s older brother who leaves the family to attend college, setting an example for Tara’s own journey.
  8. Dr. Kerry – A professor who recognizes Tara’s potential and encourages her to pursue education. He becomes a mentor figure in her life.
  9. Ms. Downey – A teacher who helps Tara prepare for the ACT, a standardized test for college admissions.
  10. Ms. Giles – Another teacher who supports Tara’s education and encourages her to apply to college.
  11. Richard – Tara’s boyfriend in college who introduces her to new ideas and perspectives.
  12. Val – Tara’s college roommate and close friend, who supports and encourages her in her academic pursuits.


The themes of book “Educated” by Tara Westover are:

  1. Self-Discovery – Tara’s journey from an isolated upbringing to higher education showcases her exploration of identity, beliefs, and values.
  2. Education’s Power – The book highlights the transformative impact of education, empowering Tara to break free from her limited upbringing and pursue her dreams.
  3. Family Dynamics – The complex relationships within Tara’s family underscore the influence of upbringing on individual choices and the challenges of reconciling differing beliefs.
  4. Resilience and Determination – Tara’s perseverance in the face of adversity emphasizes the strength of the human spirit to overcome obstacles and create a better future.
  5. Cultural Divide – The clash between traditional and modern beliefs, especially in rural settings, is a central theme, illustrating the struggle between personal growth and adherence to tradition.
  6. Mental Liberation – Tara’s education liberates her from the mental constraints of her upbringing, allowing her to question assumptions and develop critical thinking skills.
  7. Healing and Forgiveness – The book portrays the difficult process of healing from past trauma and finding forgiveness, both for oneself and for family members.
  8. Social Mobility – Tara’s journey from a remote and uneducated background to academic achievement sheds light on the potential for upward social mobility through education.
  9. Identity and Belonging – As Tara gains education, she navigates the challenges of reconciling her new knowledge with her roots, exploring where she fits in the world.
  10. Narrative Truth – The book explores the subjectivity of memory and truth, emphasizing the ways in which personal narratives shape individual experiences and understanding.


“Educated” is a memoir by Tara Westover that tells the story of her journey from a rural and isolated upbringing in a strict Idaho family to her pursuit of education and self-discovery.

Despite lacking formal schooling and facing challenging circumstances, Tara’s determination leads her to teach herself and eventually gain admission to college.

The book highlights the transformative power of education, as Tara grapples with her family’s beliefs and navigates a path to empowerment and independence.

Through struggle and growth, she emerges as an example of how education can open doors and reshape one’s life.


Educated is retrospective primarily, depicting Tara Westover’s memories of her past. She relates the account of her life from a late-twenties perspective, sometimes interjecting to comment on the process of attempting to arrive at an accurate portrayal of the past. Tara was born as the seventh child to parents she calls Faye & Gene (pseudonyms). 

The Westovers resided on a farm in rural Idaho, where Gene salvaged scrap metal, and Faye practiced as an unregistered midwife & herbal healer. Gene suffered from irrational worries about federal government intrusion, so he refused to let his children attend school, acquire birth certificates, or receive medical care. Gene was also a devoted Mormon who believed in radical self-sufficiency & an imminent Day of Judgement.

When Tara was approximately nine, she noticed changes in the Westover family dynamic. She felt independent because of her mother’s work as a midwife. Still, after sustaining severe brain injuries in an untreated car accident, Faye started questioning her skills and turned to herbal remedies and intuitive healing. 

Tyler (the third son) revealed his intention to attend college around this time, which separated him from his family. Tyler’s absence compelled Tara to assist her father with his scrapping business, exposing her to the continual risk of hazardous injury. It also piqued her interest in getting an education herself. Tara informed her disapproving father when she was ten that she wanted to start attending school, but nothing came of it.

Tara gained independence from her family as she grew older by working various jobs and participating in local community singing and musical theater. Tara’s life, however, was dominated by the rigid restrictions and religious teaching enforced by her father, and she frequently worried about becoming sinful. Shawn, Tara’s elder brother, returned home when she was thirteen. 

Tara and Shawn were close at first & spent a lot of their time together. On the other hand, Shawn began physically abusing Tara when she was approximately fifteen years old. His conduct worsened when Shawn had a brain injury. Tyler ultimately saw that Shawn was hurting Tara and encouraged her to apply to college and escape the family. Despite her reservations, Tara proceeded to study and was finally enrolled at Brigham Young University after passing herself off as homeschooled.

Tara traveled to Utah to begin her college degree in January 2004, when she was seventeen. She struggled with the transition initially but gradually began to thrive in academics. Tara’s finances could have been better, and she needed to work many jobs while maintaining excellent marks to keep her scholarship. Her growing independence created a dangerous relationship between her, Gene, and Shawn. 

Tara’s father tricked her into working for him whenever she returned to Buck’s Peak, while Shawn went on to physically and mentally abuse her. Tara ultimately confided in a bishop about her situation, and he assisted her in obtaining funds for her schooling. Tara’s studies and the individuals she encountered gradually opened her eyes to new realities, forcing her to recognize how harmful and lonely her childhood had been. Tara eventually switched her major to history and was urged to apply to Cambridge University in England for a study abroad program.

Tara’s time at Cambridge has expanded her eyes, motivating her to pursue graduate studies. Tara was still secluded from her peers and ashamed of her background. She kept much of her history from her friends and the guys she occasionally dated. Tara finally received the renowned Cambridge Gates Fellowship and relocated to England for a Master’s degree. She kept in touch with her family and visited them frequently, but her connection with them worsened. 

Shawn was becoming more unpredictable and aggressive, and Tara was concerned for the safety of his wife & little kid. She accidentally divulged to her sister Audrey that Shawn had been terrible to her, and Audrey subsequently confessed that Shawn had also mistreated her. Audrey hated herself for not protecting her younger sister and advised her and Tara to face their parents and Shawn about what had happened to them.

Tara had made an excellent life for herself in England by that point and was pursuing a Ph.D. in history at Cambridge. However, the endeavor to express the truth swiftly became a subject of contention in the family. Tara grew increasingly isolated within her family, culminating in Shawn discovering that she had been informing her parents regarding the abuse she had undergone. 

Tara grew distant from most of her family, except Tyler, after realizing they would never believe her accusations. Tara’s alienation from her family caused her pain and depression, but she was eventually able to rehabilitate and earn her Ph.D. Tara realizes that she may never have a connection with her family again at the end of her memoir, but she is proud of her independence and the life she has created for herself.


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