The Westing Game
by Ellen Raskin
Analysis: Writing Style
Complicated but Clear
The text can get a bit complicated, on a grammatical/word choice level, when the narrator switches rapidly back and forth between telling the story from several points of view, all the while keeping track of which characters know what, who's got a secret, and when the big reveal will be revealed. One great example of this comes in Chapter16, "The Third Bomb." After the bomb goes off during the bridal shower, many of the tenants gather in the lobby of Sunset Towers to meet with a police captain. Let's look at the dialogue that follows:
"Some game," Mr. Hoo grumbled, unwrapping a chocolate bar. One ulcer wasn't enough, Sam Westing had to give him three more. "Some game. The last one alive wins."
(Now, there's a likely suspect, Otis Amber thought. Hoo, the inventor; Hoo, the angry man, the madman.)
"The last one alive wins," Flora Baumbach repeated. "Oh my, what a terrible thing to say."
(Can't trust that dressmaker, Mr. Hoo thought. How come she's grinning at a time like this?) (16.21-24)
OK, so this scene is complicated, because Raskin rapidly cycles through several different characters' viewpoints. It's almost like editorial cuts between scenes in an action movie, where you can barely keep up with the shifting visuals placed in front of you. Even as one heir suspects one individual, that individual's suspecting another. We, and the heirs, don't know whom to trust. So we've got cool narrative structure, rapid character development, and plot untangling, all in one.
What this scene also reveals, if you're paying close attention, is who the murderer isn't. Unless Mr. Hoo and Otis are lying to themselves about any potential murdering they might have done, the fact that both of them are worried that the murder is one of the other tenants is a pretty good sign that neither of them is the killer.
Yet the scene's also perfectly clear. We know who thinks what, in what order, and we can keep up with the narrator in moving from one character's consciousness to another. It's almost polite. Raskin keeps throwing out clues and making even the most complicated moments, plot-wise, seem relatively straightforward. (By the way, for more on how some of lines in this chapter reveal ideas about lying and trickery in the text, check out our section on Quotes: "Lies and Deceit.")