Study Guide

Judge Ford in The Westing Game

By Ellen Raskin

Judge Ford

Judgement Day

We think that maybe, just maybe, the best possible motivational poster would look like this: a big white rectangle with a picture of Judge Ford's face on it.

Too bad she's a fictional character and we don't know what she looks like.

But let's just count the ways in which Judge Ford (we don't blame her for disliking the name Josie-Jo either—it's a little too cute for this dynamo powerhouse) is crazy-awesome:

Judge Of Character

One of the first things you'll notice about J.F. is that she's always noticing. In fact, apart from Chris, she's the watchiest watcher around. Unlike Chris, however, her observant nature doesn't have much to do with her profession: they don't teach Checking Everything Out 101 in law school.

In fact, if we take a closer look (Judge Ford would be proud) at the ways in which ol' Josie-Jo is observant, we'll see that she often misses the proverbial forest for the trees. The most glaring example of her weirdly abbreviated powers of perception is when she somehow fails to investigate her partner, Sandy McSouthers, even though she's checked out the background info of every other player in the game. But we also see other ways in which Judge Ford's judgement is a little less that precise.

Check it out:

The judge left the prattling pretender. Father's brother or father's father's brother, if the relationship was on the paternal side her maiden name would be Westing. (10.7)

Judge Ford totally dismisses Grace Wexler because she doesn't share the same last name as Sam Westing. But it doesn't occur to her that both of them might have changed their name from the decidedly foreign-sounding Windkloppel to the more Ellis Island-friendly Wexler and Westing. Here, Judge Ford is doing a good job checking out the surface-level info, but she's not digging deep.

Here's another example:

The doorman described Mrs. Westing as blonde, full-lipped, a good figure though on the skinny side […]

Judge Ford did not remember a mole; she remembered copper-colored hair and thin lips, but it was so long ago, and well--Mrs. Westing was white. Very white.
(15.66-67)

Memory's always a bit unreliable, but Judge Ford's memory is filtered through the subject of race. This isn't surprising—Judge Ford has had to work insanely hard to become a 1) female and 2) black judge in America in the 1970's. She's had to deal with racism her entire life. Perhaps that's why she remembers Mrs. Westing primarily as "very white" and didn't train her eagle eye on other identifying characteristics?

But overall, Judge Ford's an ace when it comes to being a quick, accurate judge of character:

"Hello, Jake," Judge Ford said. A firm handshake, laugh lines around his eyes. He needed a sense of humor with that social-climbing wife. (10.3)

Yup. Pegged it.

The Benefactor Factor

Judge Ford learned from the best benefactor of them all: Sam Westing. He bankrolled her education and helped make her into the kick-butt judge we meet at the beginning of The Westing Game. And Josie-Jo, being an all around awesome lady, pays it forward.

Exhibit A: she give her half of her $10,000 to Sandy (who actually doesn't need a cent because he's *drumroll please* Sam Westing himself):

His face reddened around old scars as he rejected a folded five dollar bill. "No tips, judge, please, not after all you've done for the wife and me." The judge had given him the entire ten thousand dollars. (14.10)

Exhibit B: She sends Chris to college... both because she thinks he'll make an awesome ornithologist, but because she knows the importance of investing in the future. After all, her future was invested in when she was just an aspiring legal eagle:

Her debt would finally be repaid--with interest; the money she received from the sale of her share of Sunset Towers would pay for the education of another youngster, just as Sam Westing had paid for hers. (28.8)

But in case you think that Judge Ford in just interested in helping out as a way to clear herself of "debt," remember that she also spends time counseling Turtle and giving chess tips to Theo. She's all about paving the way for the younger generation.

Success Story

We've said it before, but we're going to say it again for good measure: Judge Ford is a force of nature. The Westing Game came out in 1978, and we meet Judge Ford when she's in her early forties. This means that Josie-Jo was going to law school in the late 1950's, a time before the Civil Rights Act (outlawing discrimination based on race, sex, religion, etc.) and the Feminist Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, which helped negate the idea that women's place was in the home.

Yup: Judge Ford is a trailblazer. As a black female judge she's breaking crazy barriers.

But that doesn't mean she's immune from self-doubt. Sometimes she needs to reassert her claims on her achievements, like when she's worried about whether writing her full job title will sound pretentious:

She must seem as pompous as that intern, putting on airs with that title. Well, she had worked hard to get where she was, why shouldn't she be proud of it? She was no token; her record was faultless. (7.15)

Truth.

But even though she knows that she's amazing, sometimes even Judge Ford needs the odd pick-me-up:

"You're awfully hard on yourself, judge. And on him. Maybe Westing paid for your education 'cause you were smart and needy, and you did all the rest by yourself." (21.41)

This line comes straight from the lips of Sandy, which means it's actually being spoken by Sam Westing himself. Aww, shucks. Those affirming words of mentorship make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.