Core Question 4: A Sense of Home through Tara’s Eyes

Much of Part One takes place in rural Idaho among the Indian Princess mountain, wheat fields, and an insular home. Part Two details Westover’s new life at the historical educational institutions of Brigham Young University and King’s College. Part Three emphasizes the contrast between her travels abroad and visits to Idaho.

How did Westover’s feelings about “home” — as a concept — change over time, and how has it changed for you personally? Can you recall when an experience in a new place changed your worldview? Can you recall when an experience in a new place shifted the course of your life?

As a child, Tara viewed her household as a stronghold–the culmination of her father’s efforts to safeguard their family from the oppressive Feds. As she began to test the boundaries of the outer world, however, her perspective understandably shifted, realizing that the monsters she was led to believe existed on the outside weren’t there at all.

Instead, Tara comes to realize that greater threats dwell within the walls of the place she once called home–a culture of complacency, devotion to a misogynistic and stifling ideology, and the physical and emotional abuses inflicted by her brother and father.

Perspective is a catalyst for change. When the world changes around us, we necessarily need to look back at our selves to understand our place in it–how do we fit in, where do we belong? For victims of abuse, perspective is often dictated or diminished, restrained by their abuser’s attempts to define the world around them and limit the scope of their purview. This is apparent in the case of Tara’s sister, Aubrey, who lacked a means of establishing a life on her own. Her dependency upon her parents for spiritual and financial support made her beholden to their rules and, in the end, their interpretation of reality.

Though it pales in comparison to Tara’s experiences, the best recollection of a time I felt a similar call to question my perceptions and open myself to a broader world came during my transition to freshman year at Marist. I was paired with a roommate of a political ideology that differed from the one I was raised under (coming from a small town community where everyone tended to think the same way).

My roommate was very engaged in political matters and peppered me with questions from Day 1 (in the introductory email he sent to me, he noted that I had expressed a liking for Wal-Mart stores on my Facebook profile and sparked a debate on their business practices and treatment of their employees). He kept me on my toes. And as I got used to our daily debates–urged by my own stubborn competitiveness–I started to dig deeper into my own understanding of the ideologies I had been raised to revere as gospel. Needless to say, changes were made. Faced with a competing (and tenacious) point of view, I was forced to reassess my own standing and beliefs in a way that might not have happened if I was in an environment that let me carry on complacently under the illusions I’d harbored from my youth.

These life-altering moments can come to us in the form of tragedy or adversity (such as Tara faced) or the opportunity to step back and examine our position from another’s eyes. Harrowing ultimatums that force us to choose between who we are and who we can be are destabilizing, invoking change through our instincts for survival by challenging our very concept of self. Instances of the latter sort are far less daunting and present themselves more commonly, but are woefully underutilized.