huckelberry wrote: ↑
Tue Apr 28, 2020 11:10 am
I was uncertain what to say about the book. It is quite interesting and well written. It presents a chance to listen to a clear sharp mind.
The book was lent to me by a friend who is exmormon who thought it an excellent book. Though he and I have found many things to discuss in general we did not find a whole lot to discuss with the book. Yes it presents a picture of growing out of a specific cultural bind. It presents dealing with serious interpersonal problems and the difficulties a person has understanding what is happening in those situations. The book does not focus on struggles that a person might have with the Mormon church but there are parallels.
I guess I was left wondering about a few questions.
Just how backwoods is that southeast corner of Idaho?
I have wondered sometimes if keeping children in school all the time limits their learning experiences to their detriment. Perhaps a dangerous junkyard with a fanatic father is not the best alternative experience however.
It was clear I think that the extreme views of the family were not particularly Mormon but used a whole collection of attitudes shared from other sources as well. I have heard that the church as more of these types than might be expected of a middle class or business class organization focused upon normality. I have had no personal contact with Mormons with beliefs like this family held and lived out. I might have some curiosity about the working of such people or groups of people. This book is not so much concerned with these social questions . Instead it presents a vivid personal experience.
Yes, and the personal experience includes key milestones. Here's my general take on it:
is a memoire of a woman who grew up in Idaho, raised by a survivalist family. Her father became increasingly distrustful of government, first taking his older children out of public schools, not getting birth certificates for the younger ones who did not get any public education as children, also refusing to vaccinate his children or take them to the doctor. Tara Westover spent her childhood working with her family in the metal scrapyard, which was full of dangers especially made worse by her father's cavalier attitudes on safety.
She was taught a very strict version of Mormon modesty, being constantly on guard for appearing whorish for revealing her shoulders on a hot day or wearing lipstrick. Her father referred to their fellow ward members as "gentiles" because they did not conform to his idea of proper Mormon devotion. Westover was also subjected to cruel treatment and physical abuse from an older and stronger brother.
Despite this highly indoctrinated environment where her path in life was prepared for her, she started generating an individual identity, gaining attention with her talent of singing, which garnered praise from church members and flattered her father. Finding something of her own that her father also supported, she branched out beyond her family's mountain, performing as Annie in the local theatre production. Eventually, and with the encouragement of another older brother, she dreamed of developing her musical talents at BYU. With only passive education at home, she crammed to take the ACT, and was able to secure a high-enough score on her second attempt at the test.
At BYU, Westover was overwhelmed by both the more permissive culture and also her own profound ignorance of history. It was in a class her first semester that she was deeply shamed for not knowing the meaning of the "Holocaust." Experiences like this drove her to learn and then pursue a degree in history instead of music.
While at BYU, Tara Westover encountered many obstacles but was also met by support at crucial times. She had a roommate who insisted she find a doctor. Her bishop listened to her process the abuse of her childhood without judgment, and encouraged her to apply for much needed financial support when she needed it. When she refused to seek a pell grant, being convinced by her upringing that it would indebt her indefinitely to the government, he offered help from the church, then help from his own pocket. Eventually, the bishop and her roommate were able to convince her to secure the Pell Grant, which freed Westover to concentrate on her studies.
Eventually her work and determination caught the attention of others, and Westover was encourage to pursue study abroad at Cambridge. To sum up, she ended up getting a Ph.D. there, and she wrote a dissertation that included the Mormon movement in her historical examination of American history.
In the book, Westover's writing is effective at securing the reader in the natural environment of mountain life, but also in her mind as it develops and struggles to come to its own. I see the story as ultimately a heartbreaking one of familial rejection. Yet, Tara Westover gives a gift to others who have climbed out of indoctrination to freedom. She insightfully describes crucial steps of her own mental liberation. And amid those steps are kindnesses that help pull her up, sometimes at crucial times when she herself was on the brink of danger and decay.
Also, as someone who experienced the trauma of threats of violence and assault on members of my own family, I see her memoire as something more, too. Since her brother had threatened to kill her and according to her book was unremorseful at the time of publication, it is a shield of protection she has welded into existence for herself: when you publish that someone threatened to kill you, and they are stable enough to not want jail, you're also ensuring that they'll be a suspect if something suspicious happens to you. So she's protecting herself by this publication. Yet, as someone who was not allowed the respect for her independent thoughts, she is also legitimising her own mind to the world, and most importantly to herself.
In reading the memoire, I can feel her profound desire to return to her family, her parents and siblings, while being prevented by their requirement that she abandons her own mind. And it is this that resonates with me so deeply as an exmormon and my relationship with the church. It is very gratifying to see Tara Westover lay out her mental journey to the reader. Here's a very important moment of epiphany for her, when speaking of a journal entry:
The words of the second entry would not obscure the words of the first. Both memories would remain, my memories set down alongside his. There was a boldness in not editing for consistency. To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It it a frailty, but in this frailty there is strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else's. I have often wondered if the most powerful words I wrote that night came not from anger nor rage, but from doubt: I don't know. I just don't know.
Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege I had never allowed myself. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, empathetic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.
I have tried to describe this independence before in my own way, but I don't think I have found words as accurate and as effective as her description here. To live in one own's mind, to have a right to one's own mind! Yes! To me, this describes the joy and enormous relief that characterizes the chief benefit of leaving an indoctrinated state of being.