Tara is the protagonist and narrator of Educated. She changes dramatically over the course of the story, as she grows from a child into a woman, and becomes someone who can understand the world around her and think critically about it. At first, Tara is completely trusting of what her father tells her, and plans to live a life similar to the one she sees her parents and siblings leading. However, two main things push Tara to begin to think for herself: the harm she sees herself and her family suffering, and the education she receives as she reads, thinks, and studies. Over time, Tara sees that her family's lifestyle exposes them to physical danger and unnecessary pain. She cannot reconcile the injuries and abuse she suffers with the idea of being obedient and submissive. Her education pushes her to reflect, question, and not just follow beliefs on blind faith. Ultimately, these two experiences make it impossible for Tara to remain part of her family.

Tara's actions and choices are often conflicted because she is torn between competing motivations. On one hand, she is curious and eager to learn. She is also compassionate, so when she learns about events like the Holocaust, she realizes the harm her family's ignorance is causing. These motivations drive her toward getting educated, becoming a scholar, and expanding her view of the world. On the other hand, Tara has been socialized to please her family and obey them. She gets a sense of peace from knowing her place in the world, and following the expectations of her religion. These motivations drive her toward being unwilling to totally sever ties with her family. Tara's competing motivations show why much of her character development involves a struggle to become her own person. She is eventually forced to accept that she cannot reconcile these motivations, and chooses to be someone who engages with the world and stands up for herself.