Then one day (it happened to be the Fourth of July), a most uncommon-looking delivery boy rode around town slipping letters under the doors of the chosen tenants-to-be. The delivery boy was sixty-two years old, and there was no such person as Barney Northup.
At the beginning of The Westing Game, the reader is immediately introduced to one of the main themes of The Westing Game: lies and deception. Barney Northup, the aforementioned delivery boy, is the first character that the reader meets in the novel, and he formally shows apartments within Sunset Towers to the 16 chosen tenants, who are also known as the Westing heirs. However, Barney's presence within the opening scenes of the novel is complicated by the fact that he is not exactly forthcoming about his true identity; he convinces the 16 Westing heirs that they should rent an apartment as it will fit each of their needs, but he is actually acting as a pawn within the much larger confines of the novel. Although Barney does not make many more appearances throughout the novel other than the first chapter, his character acts as a catalyst for the mystery and deception that Ellen Raskin utilizes in the novel. Barney's character forces the reader to question the real motives of each individual character in the novel, and he even creates an aura of unease in the heart of the reader that travels throughout the entire novel.
A dressmaker, a secretary, an inventor, a doctor, a judge. And, oh yes, one was a bookie, one was a burglar, one was a bomber, and one was a mistake. Barney Northup had rented one of the apartments to the wrong person.
At the end of chapter one, Ellen Raskin provides the reader with various characteristics and professions of some of the Westing Hheirs, who are the 16 tenants living in Sunset Towers. Initially, the job titles/characteristics seem normal and reasonable, as Raskin creates the illusion that regular, ordinary people live in Sunset Towers. Conversely, the mood changes drastically when Raskin notes that a few of the tenants living in Sunset Towers are characters with rather questionable backgrounds such as the burglar and the bomber. By stating the hidden characteristics of some of the tenants, Raskin immediately creates various red herrings that the reader will feel obligated to discover and eliminate as the novel progresses. Also, Raskin crafts a sense of intrigue by making the reader evaluate the backgrounds of the Westing heirs in order to discover their true identities.
“Oh, it’s you." Mrs. Wexler always seemed surprised to see her other daughter, so unlike golden-haired, angel-faced Angela.
From the beginning of The Westing Game, it is made clear that even though there are 16 distinct characters within the novel, Turtle Wexler, a sassy but intelligent 13-year-old girl, is the main character of the book. Due to her distinction as the main character, Ellen Raskin focuses heavily on the interactions between Turtle and her family members--especially the relationship between Turtle and her mother, Grace Wexler. Throughout the novel, it is apparent that Grace Wexler favors her older, more attractive daughter, Angela, compared to Turtle. This causes Grace to view Turtle's rebellious antics with disdain and hatred. Grace's quote in chapter three showcases how she views Turtle with contempt even when Turtle is simply entering the room. Grace's constant comparisons often make Turtle feel unwanted and undesired, which have a much larger impact over the course of the novel.
A great patriot, Samuel Westing was famous for his fun-filled Fourth of July celebrations. Whether disguised as Ben Franklin or a lowly drummer boy, he always acted a role in the elaborately staged pageants which he wrote and directed. Perhaps best remembered was his surprise portrayal of Betsy Ross.
After the Westing heirs discover that Samuel Westing has died in chapter four, an obituary for the rich businessman appears in the local newspaper. The newspaper says that Samuel Westing not only loved celebrating Fourth of July, but he also enjoyed disguising himself in complex manners for his various celebrations. Although this line seems like a throwaway line at the beginning of the novel, it has greater importance as the reader progresses through The Westing Game. With Westing's death, Raskin creates a diversion that causes the reader to believe that Westing has actually died. However, after the middle of the novel, it becomes clear that Samuel Westing is not dead; in fact, it becomes apparent that Samuel Westing has disguised himself once again, and he has been participating in the Westing Game throughout the entire novel.
Some are not who they say they are, and some are not who they seem to be.
In chapter seven, the Westing heirs are placed into teams of two, and then they are presented clues from a presumably dead Samuel Westing. As Westing's lawyer, Edgar Plum, is reading the clues, he notes that "Some are not who they say they are, and some are not who they seem to be." The quote works within the theme of lies and deception within the novel, but it also forces the reader to question the true identities of the characters in The Westing Game. Even in the novel, each character begins to wonder about the true identity of his or her counterpart. For instance, many of the characters accuse each other of being Samuel Westing's murderer throughout the novel, thus creating multiple red herrings over the course of the novel.
Why bother with driving lessons, her mother said, anyone as pretty as you can always find a handsome young man to chauffeur you. She should have insisted. She should have said no just one to her mother, just once. It was too late now.
Throughout The Westing Game, it is evident that Angela Wexler is submissive to her mother, Grace Wexler, and her wishes. Even though Angela is 20 years old and a fully functioning adult, she barely thinks for herself for most of the novel. Angela allows Grace to make many of her choices for her, which include encouraging Angela to marry Denton Deere, a young intern, despite her obvious dislike for Deere, as well as not allowing Angela to learn how to drive because of her beauty. Grace's treatment of Angela unfortunately forces her to become dependent on the people around her to survive; Angela cannot complete everyday tasks because she has been pampered and treated as if she is a helpless princess. Angela's reluctance to speak up for herself has placed her into social situations where she cannot survive or prosper--even as an adult.
It can have no bearing on the matter before us. Sam Westing manipulated people, cheated workers, bribed officials, stole ideas, but Sam Westing never smoked or drank or placed a bet. Give me a bookie any day over such a fine, upstanding, clean-living man.
In a conversation with Sandy McSouthers, later revealed to be Samuel Westing in disguise, J.J. Ford learns that Jake Wexler, the father of Angela and Turtle Wexler, is a bookie. While Sandy seems to argue that Jake has questionable morals because of his status as a bookie, J.J. Ford quickly rebukes Sandy by noting that even though Sam did not give into vices such as gambling or drinking, he still swindled those around him in order to succeed in the world. Ford's statement showcases that while Sam Westing perceived himself to be a pillar of morality, he was still a liar and a manipulator, which puts him in the same category as those who have immoral job titles.
Angela could not be the bomber, not that sweet, pretty thing. Thing? Is that how she regarded that young woman, as a thing? And what had she ever said to her except "I hear you're getting married, Angela" or "How pretty you look, Angela." Had anyone asked about her ideas, her hopes, her plans? If I had been treated like that I'd have used dynamite, not fireworks; no, I would have just walked out and kept right on going. But Angela was different.
In chapter twenty-one, Turtle Wexler reveals that Angela Wexler, her sister, has been responsible for the bombings that have occurred in Sunset Towers. Initially, J.J. Ford cannot believe that someone as sweet and perfect as Angela could have completed the bombings. However, J.J. Ford realizes that Angela has not truly been treated as if she is an actual human being during the Westing Game. When people talk to Angela in the novel, they only focus on her beauty or her wedding to Denton Deere--no one takes the time to understand the complexities of Angela as a human being, who has real dreams and goals like everyone else. J.J. Ford's realization of Angela's complexities signal the beginning of a shift in the novel where people start to treat Angela like a real person as opposed to a "thing" with no emotions, motivations, etc.
“Hi there, Alice,” T. R. Wexler said. “Ready for a game of chess?”
The final lines of the novel convey that the adult Turtle Wexler is passing on the skills taught to her by chess master Sam Westing down through her family. The things Sam Westing taught her (from the stock market to chess) will likely live on through the Wexler family.
America! America! God shed His grace on thee And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!
Why does Sam Westing choose this song as the vessel for his clues? Ultimately this story celebrates what makes America great. This novel touches on the diversity of the country, as demonstrated by the cast of characters in Sunset Tower, and shows how even a poor man like Sam Westing can become a millionaire. The point of the Westing Game was to bond together the group of people whose lives Sam Westing had touched, and the clue was in the song to shed grace and spread brotherhood.
The Westing Game Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Westing Game is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.