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Analysis: Chapters 26-29

Emily embodies how other young women also suffer abuse and oppression within the world of Tara's family. Tara has watched Shawn abuse every woman he has ever dated, so she has no doubt that he will abuse his wife as well. Tara's determination to save Emily from a lifetime of suffering shows that she has seen enough of the world to know that what happens on Buck's Peak is wrong. Even though Tara has found it impossible to stand up for herself, she finds the strength to intervene for Emily by warning her. Emily, however, has not developed the critical thinking and strength that Tara has. Emily would rather submit to Shawn's beatings than challenge his claims of holiness. The true damage that has been inflicted on Emily is not just the physical abuse she receives, but the way she has accepted it. Emily represents what might have happened to Tara if she had not found a life outside of the family home. When Faye delivers Emily's baby under dangerous conditions, it also becomes clear that the entire system of tradition and expectation is going to render Emily powerless to change her life.

Tara's experience on the study abroad program at Cambridge pushes her intellectual growth and self-understanding further than she ever could have imagined. College itself was a huge departure, but Cambridge shows her a whole new world where people's entire lives revolve around intellectual pursuits. Despite her desire to drink in as much as she can, Tara also feels totally lost and alienated. Even to herself, she can't fully understand why she always feels like such an outcast. While Tara may struggle with feeling like she doesn't belong, her academic performance indicates otherwise. Tara never explores whether there is any connection between her unconventional upbringing and the quality of the academic work she achieves, but all of the professors she encounters are struck by her.

Tara's decision to attend graduate school tests the limits of how far she can go without breaking from her family completely. Even changing her major from music to history was a big decision because it signaled she was becoming more engaged in intellectual work that might lead her to question and challenge the doctrines she has grown up with. Tara's decision to go to graduate school is even more radical because it means she will be geographically far away from her family, and building networks of relationships totally separate from them. Gene fears that he will not be able to get to Tara if an apocalyptic event takes place. By this point, it is becoming more and more clear that Tara is building a life that will be dramatically different from the one her parents once expected her to lead.