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.

Just finishing part 1 and getting through the next and you can tell she is learning what she knows is being tested. I look forward to the future chapters

It was very interesting for me to read about Tara’s transformation as she moves away from Idaho and starts living abroad. Although she explores the idea that “home” is not necessarily the place where you are born, she also feels perpetually drawn back to her family, to the Indian Princess mountain, which is a memory she continues to carry even after moving and receiving a chance to leave the past behind. This struggle is one of the central motives in the book, and it’s one that many readers can relate to.

The first time Tara goes to England, she feels completely out of place. Even her professor remarks on this - although he views it as an advantage. He recognises the value of her alternative perspective. She has had life experiences that none of the other students have had, such as repairing roofs, which makes her feel comfortable climbing on a steep tower while everyone else is overly cautious. But Tara is eager to fit in, and the negative experiences in her family home have made it difficult to see any advantages to her upbringing.

The process of how Tara was able to find her new home is not fully elaborated on, but I suppose the focus on the book was her family, not “Life in England”. Still, I was left wishing for a more detailed explanation of this transformation. Part of the reason for this is that I’ve personally struggled a lot with the same issues. I was born in Bulgaria, moved to the Middle East when I was 14, then moved to the USA when I was 19, and moved once again two years ago to Germany. My family never owned a house, so I’ve moved to a lot of different towns within Bulgaria as well. My concept of “home” is some kind of mix of all the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met along the way. I wondered whether it was the same for Tara, and how she found a new home in England, which has a very different culture than America.

Home is where the heart is - or so it’s been said. To Tara however, it appears as though home is where her head is/was.
After reading her memoir I get the feeling that Tara experienced a sense of home in many different educational settings, particularly where she experienced growth and acceptance. She nervously attended BYU and Kings’s College but greatly changed when she opened her eyes to the places she was experiencing. At first it was strange - she didn’t belong - but later (as her mind and thoughts were opened to different points of view) she achieved acceptance and a feeling of security that she had felt was missing. Still, at these times in her life, she often reflected on her wish to return to her original home. A place of some turmoil and limited mind expansion - but a place of acceptance (on the terms of others) none the less.
I’ve always believed that a home is not a house, a farm, or an apartment. Instead, a home is a place where we can be ourselves - comfortable enough to expose our growing and changing self to our siblings, extended family, and friends. With full knowledge that we will be accepted and protected from harm and negative influences (whether we are right or wrong).
In Tara’s case, I am not sure she ever fully appreciated the “protection” side of her home in Idaho. Her dad would never cause her physical harm but he was too careless. Her mom would never undermine her growth but too often accepted life’s ups-and-downs without challenge. Her siblings sometimes shared the protective roles (she being the youngest) but too often left her to “figure it out” on her own.
Those that were still around as she grew through her early teenage years failed to comfort and console her changing life but instead exposed their “other” side to her when one-on-one situations existed (see Tyler’s music and Shawn’s dominance as examples).

Westover’s feelings about “home” as a concept changed over time, I could relate to her self-awareness with frustrations of reverting back to childhood. But yet she was tormented by pulling up the loving and great memories while suppressing the bad experiences. They say, home is where the heart is. That is not necessarily a building, a house, it is more so where you feel comfort and allowed to be who you are with no judgement. A place you want to be. Tara speaks of her soul in a few of her interviews that brings us back to the theory of home is where the heart is.

When I went to Marist, part of that was I did not want to leave home and live on campus. Then I loved the educational opportunities in college that changed my view of the world. Ten months after graduation I embarked on a cross country journey that ultimately lasted about 18 months with a portion of that time being a research associate in San Diego. I was again so caught up in the education I received travelling around the country, hiking in our national parks, interacting with all sorts of people, going to the beach one day and having a research job pretty much handed to me. I felt like I received another college education! After this home became a place in my heart, and concept of myself, over a physical place.

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