The bishop is the first person whom Tara truly trusts and opens herself up to. Because he is an authority figure, Tara is obedient enough to keep meeting with him even though she initially has no desire to tell him anything. Tara does not include many details about the bishop's reaction to her stories, but it is clear that he is a non-judgmental presence. Rather than blaming Tara, he does everything he can to help her. Even more than the practical support he offers, his reaction is vital to allowing Tara to trust others and build relationships for herself. She has always feared that if she tells anyone the truth about her past and her family, they will turn against her. Instead, the bishop's reaction shows Tara that people can show her compassion and offer help.
Financial support becomes increasingly crucial to Tara's education; hard work and determination alone are not enough to ensure success. Tara is very intellectually gifted, and she does everything in her power to afford her education. Nonetheless, she comes close to hitting rock bottom several times. Shawn and the bishop help her secure the money she needs to continue her education. The money from Shawn, even though it is a small amount, is emotionally complex in the context of their abusive relationship. The money from the grant should feel more straightforward, but Tara actually feels more shame about applying for a government grant. Nonetheless, the money Tara receives liberates her, allowing her to fully devote her attention to her studies. This change is reflected in Tara's interest and academic performance, which shows how adequate finances are crucial to academic success for any student.
The knowledge Tara gains makes her increasingly skeptical and angry about the way she has been forced to live her life. Tara realizes that she has been denied accurate information about how the world works, especially after discovering mental illness, the true nature of what happened at the Weaver shoot-out, and the effectiveness of painkillers. Her ideas and beliefs have all been formed through a distorted lens, and now she needs to reconsider them. Tara is finally independent enough to look at the way her family raised her, and see that she has been mistreated and denied opportunities which most other children had. This anger fuels her to push away from her family.
Gene's terrible burns reflect the tragic nature of his life. Faye is sufficiently terrified by her husband's injury that she is willing to seek medical aid, but Gene's beliefs are so ingrained that he refuses. The fact that he hangs on to his beliefs even amidst agonizing physical pain—and the very real possibility that he might die—shows just how warped his worldview is. Gene's pain is important because it creates pity for him on both Tara's behalf, and the behalf of the reader. At this point, he seems more and more like a villain because of the childhood he has imposed on Tara and his other children. The way he suffers due to his mental illness and paranoia shows that he is also a victim of his own fate.