Who is Tyler Westover? What is Tyler’s relationship with his sister Tara like? How did he inspire her to become educated? And why does Tara Westover choose to use his real name in her book?
Tyler Westover is one of the five brothers of Tara Westover, author of the memoir Educated. He inspired Tara to attend college, the pivotal break from her abusive home life.
We’ll look at Tyler Westover’s relationship with the author and cover parts of Educated that might indicate why Tara chooses to write about him using his real name (she gives her parents, brother “Shawn,” and sister “Audrey” pseudonyms). We’ll also look at how he inspired her academic trajectory.
Tyler at Home
Tyler Westover goes to college relatively soon after he’s introduced in the narrative, but one major event happens while he’s still living at home.
During a trip to visit grandparents, Tyler and Tara’s father, Gene, abruptly declared that the family would have to hit the road back to Idaho, immediately. The family began their journey home in the early evening, meaning that they would be doing most of the 12-hour drive in the middle of the night. No one on board was wearing a seatbelt. Gene made Tara’s 17-year-old brother Tyler do the entire drive in their uninsured vehicle.
Around 6 am, Tyler fell asleep at the wheel, having driven nonstop all night through Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. The resulting crash was horrific. In addition to the family’s new collection of broken bones, missing teeth, severe bruises, and emotional trauma, the car was surrounded by downed power lines. A farmer who witnessed the crash called the utility company to deactivate the lines. Only then could the family emerge from the car in relative safety. Miraculously, everyone survived and managed to make it back to Buck’s Peak, but it was a defining moment for young Tara.
Tyler Westover: Tara’s Inspiration
The accident (and his guilt at having fallen asleep behind the wheel) may have been the final push that Tara’s older brother Tyler Westover needed to leave home. One month after the accident, in the summer before Tara turned ten, he declared that he would be leaving home to attend college. His determination to learn was truly remarkable. He had a lifelong love of learning and was a true autodidact, having taught himself algebra and calculus.
Unsurprisingly, Gene was displeased with his son’s decision. For Gene, college was the epicenter of secular, godless sin and government indoctrination. He had told Tara that college was “extra school for people too dumb to learn the first time around.” He believed that liberal or “socialist” college professors (a favorite epithet of his and a frequent target of his denunciations) set themselves above God, believing their wisdom to be greater than His. That Tyler intended to study at Brigham Young University, an institution run by the Church of Latter-Day Saints, made no difference to Gene.
Tyler Westover had always been different. He was intellectually curious, studious, and enjoyed reading books. His demeanor and interests set him apart from his more rough-and-tumble brothers, whom Tara would later liken to a pack of wolves—always testing one another, always looking for weakness. This formed the basis of a special bond between Tara and Tyler. It was Tyler who introduced her to classical music, and helped ignite her first sparks of interest in the world outside Buck’s Peak.
Once he left for college, he rarely returned home. Years later, Tara, looking back through the lens of her own liberation from the family, would observe that he was “building a new life for himself across enemy lines.”
His decision to go to college and openly defy Gene’s propaganda planted a seed in Tara. It would serve as a powerful example of a life that could be achieved outside the confines of her isolated world. Tara would later walk the path that had been paved by Tyler.
Given her own meager crumbs of an education, Tara saw Tyler’s pursuit of college as revolutionary.
Tara Follows in Tyler’s Footsteps
After a series of assaults and injuries, Tara knew she also had to leave the instability and volatility of the Westover home. In this, she received encouragement from Tyler Westover. He told her that she was reaching a point where if she did not get out soon, she would never get out.
He suggested to her that she try to enroll at Brigham Young University in Utah. He pointed out that the school had a history of accepting homeschooled students and that all she would need to do was pass the ACT, a standardized test for college admissions in the United States.
Tara was now determined to get out, to seek a different life off of Buck’s Peak, just as Tyler had done. She drove 40 miles to the nearest bookstore and purchased an ACT study guide. But after being confounded by the algebraic notations in the math section, she realized just how deep her ignorance ran. It wasn’t simply that she didn’t know how to solve the problems—she didn’t even recognize the symbols. She was mathematically illiterate.
The next day, she drove the same distance to purchase an algebra textbook: she now knew that she would need to cram years worth of learning into a few short months. Tara set to work teaching herself the most basic mathematical operations like multiplying fractions and decimals—things she would have mastered years before, had she had the benefit of a proper education.
But slowly, painstakingly, she made progress. She even began to understand the abstraction of trigonometry, thanks to some key help from Tyler in deciphering what had once been an unintelligible mathematical language. She ended up scoring well on the ACT.
Elated by this achievement, Tara applied to BYU the following week and told her father that she would no longer work for him in the junkyard. Tyler Westover helped her write her application, telling the admissions board that she’d been educated according to a strict curriculum designed by her mother (though this was an obvious falsehood).
Tyler Motivates Tara to Get Her Degree
In graduate school, Tara sank into a prolonged state of deep depression and lethargy, due to being isolated by her family. She neglected her studies and took to binge-watching hours, days, weeks, and months worth of television shows. She had stopped writing her dissertation and was in genuine danger of failing out of her PhD program. The irony of sacrificing her family for her education only to lose both was not lost on Tara, but she was too mentally broken to continue on.
She was in the depths of true despair. But she was pulled out from it by the person who had been her original inspiration, her first guide into the world of intellectual exploration: her older brother Tyler.
Tyler Westover had come under pressure from Gene, mother Faye, and brother Shawn to denounce and excommunicate Tara. He was threatened with ostracism himself if he didn’t fall in line. But, to Tara’s gratitude, Tyler refused. He confronted his father with the litany of Shawn’s abuse and demanded that Gene take action. When Gene did nothing and continued to defend Shawn, Tyler took Tara’s side.
He sent Tara a letter saying that their parents were caught in an endless cycle of abuse, manipulation, and control from which they would never escape. He told Tara that he loved her and that she must remain true to herself. Tyler Westover had refused to forsake his sister.
This was the boost she needed to resume her studies and fulfill her potential. She reinvigorated her PhD research, exploring four intellectual movements from the nineteenth century and how they tackled the problem of family obligation. One of those four intellectual movements was Mormonism.
Tyler Westover’s continued support of Tara might be the reason she chooses to use his real name in her memoir.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Educated summary:
- How Tara Westover was abused by her brother as a child
- Why Tara's parents set up the children for failure
- How Tara ultimately broke out of her parents' grasp and succeeded for herself