I have only one other sibling, and those who know us pick up pretty quickly on the fact that we’re as different as night and day. As I used to affectionately sum it up for my Marist peers: He was a student athlete, I was student government; he went to a school run by nuns and we had the Marist Brothers; their colors were blue & gold and ours were red and white. When it comes to personal interests, goals, and ambitions, the differences continue to tally.
This divide can probably be traced back to the very first distinction others drew between us: my brother has always been noted to take after our father while I tend to take after our mother. Dad’s direct, decisive (bordering on impatient), and a carpe-diem sort of guy. Mom, on the other hand, is diplomatic, strategic, and the one in our family to keep an eye on the bigger picture/long-term. Rather than clash, however, these competing viewpoints played into a deeper synergy between my parents–they knew when to trade off responsibilities and yield to judgment of the other. Based on her accounting, this balance is sorely lacking in Westover’s family structure.
Her mother, though remembered as a strong and intuitive soul when it came to her professional endeavors, lost this same resolve when it came to tempering the humors of her husband. “Gene” went unchecked, highhandedly established the norms and guidelines by which their family lived, laying the foundation for the outlooks and beliefs that would shape his children’s behaviors (to a tragic extent, in Shawn’s case).
A family is a social unit. Like any other community, it’s members live according to a social contract. While norms are collectively established (either democratically agreed upon or complied with under an autocratic regime in return for safety) individuals independently assess and prioritize their actions and responses to the actions of others according to these principles. This is where deviations occur.
In criminal justice, it is understood that delinquency arises when a social contract no longer benefits certain members of the society. Individuals who feel oppressed or cheated by the system in place feel more compelled to seek out an alternative. One could argue what Tara shares in common with her more academically inclined siblings, Tyler and Richard, is a mild “outsider” status in their household. Tyler and Richard are quieter and milder personalities compared to the other Westover men–they exhibit a passion for academic pursuits decried by their father as corrosive and elitist early on. Tara’s “otherness” arises from her own inquisitive nature–more commonly directed toward spiritual matters than academia–and the abuse she suffered at the hands of her old brother. These factors compounded to strengthen her bond with Tyler while weakening her attachments to her Father, mother, and other siblings.
In the argument of “Nature v. Nurture”, there is no decisive answer. Identity is an outcome resulting from myriad factors. Westover could have easily pinned her family’s woes on their religious background. Instead, a part of her journey toward self-discovery included an understanding that mental illness played a part in her father’s unwavering devotion. Biological nature influences nurturing conditions in a cycle that plays out over generations, branching and adapting as new units are added to the chain.
Tyler and Tara will undoubtedly organize their families differently than their siblings who stayed back in Idaho, but the lessons they pass down will share a common root. A message altered over time, a never-ending story.