Study Guide

The Westing Game Quotes

  • Identity

    Chapter 1

    Who were these people, these specially selected tenants? They were mothers and fathers and children. 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. (1.32)

    It's neat to think about how we can have more than one identity at a time. You can be a father, a bookie, and a doctor, for example, but while you may flaunt some aspects, you might wish to keep others secret. That's part of what makes this mystery so interesting, and complicates the usual mystery's idea of the whodunit. In this case, we don't know who any of these people are.

    The delivery boy was sixty-two years old, and there was no such person as Barney Northrup. (1.4)

    It's pretty unusual to find out that a character doesn't really exist, right after we've met him or her. The fact that Raskin gives this idea up so early in the text suggests that there are far greater mysteries at work. While usually the fact that someone's totally constructed an imaginary identity could be a huge reveal at the end of a text, here it merely sets the tone for the many identity-related surprises to come.

    Chapter 4

    Grace Windsor Wexler wrote housewife, crossed it out, wrote decorator, crossed it out, and wrote heiress. (4.38)

    While some of the other heirs agonize over what to write, and some don't even hesitate, Grace is the only one to re-write it on the form. As Grace fluctuates between these three positions, we see her go from what she actually is (a "housewife") to what she's currently pretending to be (a "decorator") to what she thinks she deserves to be (an "heiress").

    Chapter 7

    Your name and position will be read as signed on the receipt.

    It will be up to the other players to discover who you really are. (7.8-9)

    Right away, the will splits up the concepts of names and defined positions from the identities people "really are" deep inside. In a way, figuring out who everybody else is becomes almost as much of a mystery as figuring out who the murderer is/winning the game. As we know from Sam Westing's experiences, names have very little to do with a person's real identity.

    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)

    Judge Ford defines herself here both by what she is and what she doesn't want to be. She's worried about being a "token" – being evaluated based only on her looks/race – so she thinks about what she has done, defining herself by hard work and a clean record. She's conflicted between sounding arrogant about her achievements and trying to justify her understandable pride in them to herself.

    Some are not who they say they are, and some are not who they seem to be. (7.67)

    Well, that's a mouthful. Can't those things – seeming and saying – overlap, too? In fact, if it comes to identifying someone, it can be pretty tricky to figure out the difference between "who they say they are" and "who they seem to be." We'd like to add that some characters are pretending so hard to be other people that they don't even notice the difference.

    Maybe he should not have written brother, but like it or not, that was his position in life. Chris was smiling at him in pure sweetness, which made Theo feel even guiltier about his resentment. (7.19)

    We see Theo as one of the more conscientious, thoughtful characters throughout the book. Here, even though he's defined himself as a "brother," he finds himself resenting it, not without reason. No one else puts down a familial relationship as a position during this defining-identity process. Yet he then feels even worse for thinking this way, when he compares himself to his brother, and reminds himself that's the way things are. Chris, in contrast, with all his struggles and challenges, works extremely hard to define himself outside of his body or his relationships.

    Chapter 12
    Turtle Wexler

    "I am what I am. I don't need a crutch to get attention." (12.35)

    When Turtle says this to Sydelle, she means it literally – Sydelle relies on literal crutches and the assumption of a limp to get people to feel sorry for her and pay attention to her. Turtle has a bad attitude about it because she thinks it's like cheating about your identity; as Turtle says, she is what she is. But as Angela will note, the idea of the crutch can also stand as a metaphor, and in that case, Turtle does rely on one. For more on this, see our section on "Symbols, Images, Allegory."

    Chapter 18
    Chris Theodorakis

    What would I have been if things had turned out differently? (18.71)

    This is a question any of the characters could ask – really, it's a question any of us readers could ask too – but it's especially poignant coming from Chris, who will always be in a wheelchair. At this point in the novel, he's still imprisoned by his body, to the point where he can't always control his speech or his movements, and he worries that his medical condition has deprived him of the chance to create an identity that wouldn't suffer from these medical, physical, and financial burdens.

    Chapter 22

    Facial injuries! It was the face that had disappeared fifteen years ago, not the man. Westing had a different face, a face remodeled by plastic surgery. A different face and a different name. (22.44)

    How do you define yourself – by how you look, or what your name is? And how do you define other people? It's fairly common to identify people by their faces. Westing's turned all that upside down, though, by remodeling his face and name and, in doing so, creating a new identity. As the judge observes here, "the man" isn't who "disappeared" – only his face vanished. She thinks "the man" is still the same.

  • Society and Class

    Chapter 1
    Barney Northrup

    "The front apartments are taken," Barney Northrup said. "Besides, the rent's too steep for a secretary's salary. Believe me, you get the same luxuries here at a third of the price." (1.16)

    Barney's sales pitch preys on ideas many of us share—get the expensive benefits the wealthy enjoy without having to pay as much for them. This combination of apparent high class and bargain pricing works extremely well, and it doesn't hurt that Barney seems to have an uncanny understanding of each potential tenant's financial status.

    A lake view! Just wait until those so-called friends of hers with their classy houses see this place. (1.22)

    Well, from this we learn that a nice house is good, but a lake view's better. Someone like Grace is constantly measuring herself against her friends and making choices based not just on what she wants, but what she thinks will most impress other people. What's troubling, too, is that even Grace admits her friends aren't really even good friends. It makes us wonder why she's going to all this trouble to impress them.

    Chapter 3
    Judge Ford

    "Otis Amber is a stupid man, if not downright mad." J. J. Ford hurried into the elevator. She should not have said that, not her, not the first black, the first woman, to have been elected to a judgeship in the state. (3.40)

    The judge has broken through several glass ceilings, which can be a hefty burden to bear. As a person of color and a woman, she has had to endure being the "first" to accomplish many milestones. This could be a really positive thing, but the judge doesn't always treat it as such. These achievements seem to weigh her down with ideas about how she should behave and responsibilities she holds as a kind of role model.

    Chapter 5

    Grace Windsor Wexler was no longer surprised at the odd assortment of heirs. Household workers, all, or former employees, she decided. The rich always reward servants in their wills, and her Uncle Sam was a generous man. (5.22)

    Even though Grace doesn't come from money or the upper class, she's already starting to act like it. She barely remembers family discussions about a rich uncle, and now she's acting like she knows him. It's pretty ironic in the context of who else is attending the will reading, and what the backgrounds of those people are.

    Chapter 10
    Judge Ford

    "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)

    While this is supposed to be telling us about Jake, it also says a lot about Grace. The fact that someone with "a sense of humor" married her means she can't be all bad. If we, like the judge, consider Jake to be something of a stand-up guy, that fact should make us pause and reconsider the things we don't know about Grace, and what Jake sees in her.

    Chapter 15

    But Flora Baumbach was right about the resemblance. Violet Westing did look like Angela Wexler. And that was George Theodorakis, all right, dancing with her in the society page clippings. (15.70)

    Who would've thought that society gossip records, filed away in a newspaper, would end up serving as evidence in what basically amounts to a murder investigation? It's like an obscure mention on Perezhilton.com showing up to bite someone in the butt in twenty years. In other words, we're always fascinated by gossip – who's going to what parties, which rich people are going out with others – but it's usually only valuable when it's current.

    Chapter 16

    "I sure hope Doctor Deere likes asparagus," someone remarked. The giver said she could return it for something else, although two might come in handy. "A doctor's wife has so much entertaining to do." (16.10)

    Uh-oh. Here's where part of the book's late 1970's mindset shows through. This moment isn't very feminist. That may not be the book's fault – it's probably a pretty realistic depiction of a 1970's bridal shower. But it also reinforces Angela's worries that she isn't defined as anything apart from Dr. Deere's partner. The other people at the bridal shower worry about whether Dr. Deere enjoys asparagus, not whether Angela does, and they act like Angela's individuality will be obscured by the larger role of "doctor's wife."

    Madame Hoo

    Madame Hoo served in a tight-fitting silk gown slit high up her thigh, a costume as old-fashioned and impractical as bound feet. Women in China wore blouses and pants and jackets. That's what she would wear when she got home. (16.2)

    While Madame Hoo is wearing Grace's idea of what Chinese society is like, she's really thinking about how stupid that assumption is. Grace thinks having Madame Hoo at her party dressed up like this makes her look classier, but what it really does is emphasize her prejudice against and ignorance about Chinese culture.

    Chapter 18
    Theo Theodorakis

    How come he didn't know that? Because no one ever wonders where a cleaning woman lives, that's why. But he wasn't like that, was he? (18.23)

    Theo's conscience strikes again. In questioning the assumption that people don't think about where cleaning staff live, he implicates himself as one of those people. Even though he's become more and more conscientious about stuff like this, Theo still has to work through his preconceived notions and ideas about people, which are often based on their appearances. Here, he realizes he'd been judging Crow based on her class standing. Let's get uncomfortable for a second – before this moment in the text, did you ever stop to think about where Crow was living?

    Chapter 21
    Judge Ford

    "I barely saw Mrs. Westing. Violet was a few years younger than I, doll-like and delicate. She was not allowed to play with other children. Especially the skinny, long-legged, black daughter of the servants." (21.33)

    In a way, society restricts people in each of its class settings. It's easy to sympathize with the judge, who had to fight against prejudice as a servants' daughter, and has worked very hard to become upwardly mobile. But in a way, can't we also sympathize with Violet, who doesn't get to play? It seems particularly unfair that the daughter of a chess master doesn't get to play games with other people; what's more, it's even odder when we think about how Westing played chess with the judge when she was a young girl.

  • Lies and Deceit

    Chapter 1
    Barney Northrup

    "I have twenty people begging for this apartment," Barney Northrup said, lying through his buckteeth. "Take it or leave it." (1.30)

    Well, Barney is actually lying on several levels. He tells each tenant that twenty other folks are "begging" for whatever apartment he's showing, but we know that's impossible – only six letters were sent out advertising the place. He has the same spiel for each tenant and must be doing something right, because by the time his work is done, he's rented the building exactly as he wanted to. As we also know at this point, though, Barney's lying by just virtue of pretending to be someone named Barney.

    Chapter 16
    Otis Amber

    (Now, there's a likely suspect, Otis Amber thought. Hoo, the inventor; Hoo, the angry man, the madman.) […]

    (Can't trust that dressmaker, Mr. Hoo thought. How come she's grinning at a time like this?) (16.24, 16.22)

    While these lines do a great job of showing off the book's narrative structure (head over to our section "Narrator Point of View" to find out more about that, and then come back here), they also show how little each of the characters know each other. Everyone looks down on Otis as the kind of slow, elderly delivery boy, but of course he's in disguise. Isn't everyone? In the few asides we get from him we see glimpses of a much smarter person who here is coming up with a pretty good idea of a suspect with a strong motive. Then, the narrator undercuts that by telling us who that suspect suspects. Of course, Mr. Hoo is basing his assumption of Flora's possible guilt based on her inappropriate (smiling) behavior. Of the two, Otis probably has a stronger case. (Even though they're both wrong.)

    Chapter 21

    He hated himself for spying. He hated Sam Westing and his dirty money and his dirty game. Theo felt as dirty as the derelicts he spied on. Dirtier. (21.19)

    Poor Theo – here, he's learning the hard way that spying on people doesn't pay. He's mad at Westing, and the guy's game and money, for putting him in a position where he feels like spying was necessary. After getting himself together to follow the suspicious Otis about town, Theo ends up observing him feeding soup to the homeless, which is about as far from the stereotype of a murderer as you can get.

    Chapter 23
    Chris Theodorakis

    "I think Mr. Westing is a g-good man," Chris said aloud. "I think his last wish was to do g-good deeds. He g-gave me a p-partner who helped me. He g-gave everybody the p-perfect p-partner to m-make friends." (23.44)

    Well, it's hardly the moral parents or responsible adults probably want us to be pulling from this text, but it seems to us that on very rare occasions, lying and deceit can lead to positive outcomes.

    Through the entire charade that is the Westing game, full of lies, tricks, and suspicion, Westing has the opportunity to make good things happen for each of the sixteen heirs he selects. (If Sandy had been a real person with a real family, playing the game would've helped him too.) Chris is one of the few people astute enough to see how Westing's idea to pair people off has helped them get a real, true prize: making friends.

    Chapter 24

    Madame Hoo knew from the shifting eyes that a bad person was in the room. She was the bad person. They would find out soon. The crutch lady had her writing-book back, but all those pretty things she was going to sell, they wanted them back, too. She would be punished. Soon. (24.9)

    In the context of impersonation, death-faking, major lying, and murder, petty theft doesn't seem as bad. Look, obviously, stealing is wrong. But we can sympathize with Madame Hoo pretty easily. It doesn't seem like she has such a great relationship with her husband, she can't communicate with any of the people around her, and she clearly misses her family and her home country. In her isolation, she thinks that the only way to get back to China is by stealing "pretty things" and selling the proceeds. By the way, do you think it's a coincidence that she calls the nice things that she steals "pretty things," which is a term that several other characters call Angela?

    She was paired with the one person who could confound her plans, manipulate her moves, keep her from the truth. Her partner, Sandy McSouthers, was the only heir she had not investigated. Her partner, Sandy McSouthers, was Sam Westing. (24.32)

    The judge has been outfoxed, and she knows it! We can feel a little sorry for her at this point – she's practically saying that Westing played her like a violin. Of all the heirs besides Turtle, the judge is the one that comes closest to figuring out the truth. But perhaps because of her history of practicing strategy with Westing, he handicaps her in this game in a few ways, while pretty much leaving Turtle alone. It makes you wonder, too: why didn't the judge investigate her own partner? How could she let that slip her mind and, more importantly, how did Westing know she would make that significant mistake?

    The sheriff checked his watch. What kind of a madhouse is this? And there's something mighty fishy about this cocky kid-lawyer calling in the middle of dinner, insisting that I hurry right over. That was half an hour before anybody died. (24.51)

    If we're paying close attention, we realize that this is an important reveal about how staged the entire second will reading was – that this emergency situation was carefully planned, and that someone orchestrated it very deliberately. It also shows that the heirs may have gotten so caught up in the game that they're letting their excitement about playing cloud their judgment. An outsider like the sheriff sees that things are "fishy" almost immediately, but the heirs have suspended some of their logic in order to concentrate on obtaining the prize.

    Chapter 25
    Judge Ford

    The queen's sacrifice! The famous Westing trap. Judge Ford was certain now, but there were still too many unanswered questions. "I'm afraid greed got the best of you, Theo. By taking white's queen you were tricked into opening your defense. I know, I've lost a few games that way myself." (25.27)

    Theo's loss in the actual chess game, which he played against an anonymous opponent, mirrors the heirs' loss in the game for Westing's fortune. He loses this game just as Judge Ford lost her games so many years ago, and just as the heirs have all lost the game set forth in the will. There's something about thinking a win's coming that makes players (in chess or in this game) overconfident. The players, and Theo, sacrificed their queens (Crow) just as Westing knew they would.

    Turtle Wexler

    "That's a lie, that's a disgusting lie," Turtle shouted. "The only person I kicked today was Barney Northrup and he deserved it. I didn't even see Sandy until tonight at the Westing house. Right, Baba?" (25.14)

    Turtle's right – Dr. Deere's accusation is a lie. She didn't kick Sandy. But Dr. Deere is also right – Sandy's body had the scar of one of Turtle's infamous kicks. If Sandy hadn't been silly enough to show up as Barney, he wouldn't have gotten kicked. Turtle's realization that they can't both be lying helps motivate her to figure out what else was going on in the will, and put the process, as well as Sandy's character, on trial.

    Chapter 28

    Turtle never told. She went to the library every Saturday afternoon, she explained (which was partly true). (28.1)

    Ultimately, Turtle's the book's best secret-keeper. We defy you to find anyone who could keep a $200 million secret. Forget anyone – can you name any thirteen-year-olds with that kind of ability? Even Westing ends up sharing his most closely guarded secret – his identity – with Turtle, but only when she has successfully figured out the elaborate game of strategy he set in place to protect it. Instead, Turtle masks her lifelong lie of omission with small partial truths: she is going to a library, but it's a private one in the home of a multimillionaire, not a public building. And no one ever questions her.

  • Language and Communication

    Chapter 2
    Otis Amber

    "They say his corpse is still up there in that big old house. They say his body is sprawled out on a fancy Oriental rug, and his flesh is rotting off those mean bones, and maggots are creeping in his eye sockets and crawling out his nose holes." (2.10)

    As stories within stories go, this one's pretty gnarly – and effective. Before long, just about every character is retelling a garbled version of it, perpetuating the myth that Westing is long dead, or that his death is believable, and also pushing Turtle into going into what seems like a haunted house. The story gets even creepier when we find out Sandy made it up and encouraged Otis to start telling it—it's an urban myth in action.

    Chapter 3
    Chris Theodorakis

    Gloomy tomb of a room--Theo will make a good writer someday, Chris thought. He wouldn't spoil this wonderful, spooky Halloween story by telling him about the real person up there, the one with the limp. (3.48)

    Here we have competing stories. Theo shares his with Chris using elaborate combinations of words, and Chris recognizes this as proof of Theo's future career. He hesitates to "spoil" Theo's ideas by relating what he knows really happened. In a way, though, the story Chris doesn't tell is just as out there and spooky. As the silent watcher, Chris knows more about what the real story of what's happening over in the Westing house than aspiring writer Theo does. He may be shy, too, about the fact that (at this point) he can't communicate his version of the story with the ease and ability that Theo can.

    Chapter 5
    Chris Theodorakis

    "Itsss-oo-nn," Chris announced.

    "What did he say?"

    "He said it's snowing," Theo and Flora Baumbach explained at the same time. (5.24-26)

    This moment shows us the separations there can be between language in thoughts and language in speech, as well as in understanding different kinds of speech. Chris's medical condition keeps him from articulating ideas in ways some people can understand, but we know from the text's POV/narrative voice that he has very articulate inner thoughts. While we know the reason Theo's able to interpret Chris's speech – he's had plenty of practice as a caregiver – we don't know Flora's. We'll find out later that she had a disabled daughter, but for now this just creates a sense of mystery around her character.

    Chapter 6

    Sit down, your honor, and read the letter this brilliant young attorney will now hand over to you. (6.36)

    Creepily, this moment is like the will is actually talking to the judge. It seems almost impossible that a written document – which is created before it's read, of course – could anticipate the events that would happen while it was being read down to the precise moment that they take place. And yet, that's what happens here. The will's author knows that a particular line will make Judge Ford stand up indignantly, and so the author also includes this statement to try and calm her down. It seems like the will's author has a better idea of the other characters' behavioral patterns (if not their actual identities) than they do of his.

    Chapter 7

    It is not what you have, it's what you don't have that counts. (7.31) (8.90) (8.100) (24.8) (24.21) (25.62) (26.61)

    This might as well be the theme for the whole book – it's an idea that's true in the will, in the language the characters use, and in some aspects of life. Filling in the gaps between the material that's already there is what matters, and it's how you solve mysteries, particularly this one. It's both the answer to the clues given in the will and a clue that points Turtle towards figuring out the answer to the real question the game poses. What's the missing piece? How can you use the pieces that you have to figure out what's not there? Because that's what you really are going to need.

    Chapter 8
    Judge Ford

    In his will Sam Westing implied (he did not state, he implied) that (1) he was murdered, (2) the murderer was one of the heirs, (3) he alone knew the name of the murderer, and (4) the name of the murderer was the answer to the game. (8.74-75)

    Here Judge Ford does a great job of close reading the will, reminding herself (and by extension, the readers) exactly what Westing does and doesn't say in the will, versus what the will seems to be conveying to the other players/readers. The key here is in her repeated use of the word "implied," which puts her on a path towards thinking what else the will might be saying – someone else could be in danger.

    Chapter 14
    Chris Theodorakis

    "F-for p-plain g-g-grain shed." Chris spoke slowly. He had practiced his recitation over and over, hour after lonely hour. "G-grain--oats--Otis Amber. F-for, shed--she, F-Ford. F-Ford lives in f-four D." (14.43)

    When you consider how many other wrong answers are spouted off by other characters and quickly forgotten or tossed aside, it's tempting to pay more attention to Chris's "recitation" because he's worked so hard on it. More than any other description, this passage really points out the cruelty of his condition and the courage of his spirit. Can you imagine working for hours just to articulate one sentence? How much do we admire Chris for that?

    Chapter 23

    What a spectacle she made, her wide rear end sticking out, singing in that tuneless, nasal voice. The derisive smiles soon faded as, pair by pair, the heirs heard their code words sung. (23.70)

    When we're reading literature, we sometimes forget that singing can be a powerful communication tool too, because we get so focused on written text. Here, though, because everyone's been working so hard to figure out tiny elements of a larger idea, they're doubly stunned – first, by the song, and second, by the realization that they've been working with the wrong medium. It also makes sense that Sydelle would choose to reveal that she and Angela know everybody else's clues in the most dramatic way possible; she loves attention, even though she doesn't always realize when it's unflattering.

    Chapter 24
    Sandy McSouthers

    "Cheer up, my friend, the game's not over yet," Sandy whispered. "You still can win. I hope you do." (24.15)

    This speech Sandy makes to Turtle is important both when he says it, right after the heirs have found out their answers are wrong, and when she remembers it before the trial scene. Her memory of his encouragement, combined with that last wink he gave her, makes Turtle think that something's up, and the game's still afoot. No one else realizes the inheritance is still up for grabs; with this reminder, Sandy points Turtle in the right direction to figure out the puzzle's solution.

    Chapter 26
    Turtle Wexler

    "The estate is at the crossroads. The heir who wins the windfall will be the one who finds the
    FOURTH."

    That's it, that has to be it: The heir who wins the windfall will be the one who finds the fourth! (26.93-95)

    While we read this text along with the heirs when Ed Plum discusses the terms of the will in Chapter Six, it's not until we reread them along with Turtle in Chapter Twenty-Six that we all realize what's been missing all along. There never was any word at the end of the sentence; it's a trick hiding the real question that the heirs have to solve in order to win. And it's Turtle who figures it out.

  • Appearances

    Chapter 3
    Grace Windsor Wexler

    "Can't you see she's busy with Angela's wedding dress? And why must you wear a silly costume like that? Really, Turtle, I don't know why you insist on making yourself ugly." (3.15)

    These lines both compare/contrast Turtle and Angela, and swiftly highlight their mother's relationship with each of them. Notice how Grace privileges Angela over Turtle – her needs are always going to be more important. Even though the sisters are kind of doing the same thing – they're each dressing up as something they're not, or at least not ready to be – Grace hobbles Turtle and pushes Angela. Grace also makes it sound like the fact that Turtle's not as pretty as her sister is her fault, and under her control.

    Chapter 7

    What good luck, the hobbling Sydelle Pulaski thought. Now she would really be noticed with such a pretty young thing for a partner. They might even invite her to the wedding. She'd paint a crutch white with little pink nosegays. (7.23)

    Sydelle places a value judgment on Angela based entirely on her looks; what she's really interested in is what Angela's looks can do for her, Sydelle. But while it might seem like Sydelle's praising Angela's beauty, she's still not thinking of her as a person, calling her a "thing"; in a way, Sydelle is dismissing Angela for her beauty in much the same way as other people dismiss Sydelle for not having that kind of beauty.

    Chapter 9
    Grace Windsor Wexler

    Her mother twisted the three strands into a braid. "I think you should wear your party dress tonight; you look so pretty in pink."

    Pretty? She had never used that word before, not about her. What's going on? (9.21-22)

    It's sad that when Grace finally calls Turtle pretty, Turtle automatically suspects that her mother has an ulterior motive. Grace hardly ever gives Turtle positive reinforcement, and Turtle simply doesn't trust her mother. This sadness is deepened by the fact that Turtle's right – Grace doesn't think Turtle looks pretty so much as she hopes to flatter her into giving up clues. There are two words for this: bad parenting.

    Chapter 11
    Flora Baumbach

    "All mothers think their children are beautiful. Rosalie was an exceptional child, they said, but she was the lovingest person that ever was."

    "My mother doesn't think I'm beautiful."

    "Of course she does." (11.6-8)

    This is the contrast between what a mother should be and what a mother is; it's also a profound question about the nature of beauty, and what that can really be. Flora thinks it's a requirement of motherhood to believe that your child is beautiful, and she sees beauty through the lens of parental love. When Turtle says that her mother doesn't think she's beautiful, the reader knows from other moments in the text that her statement is, sadly, all too true.

    Chapter 13

    Theo nodded, awed by the beautiful Angela, three years older than he, so fair-skinned and blonde, so unattainable. Here he was sitting at the very same table with her, just the two of them, and he couldn't think of a single thing to say that wasn't stupid or childish or childishly stupid. (13.19)

    Like some of the other male characters, Theo has a big crush on Angela, but it never comes to anything. But whereas some of the others focus exclusively on her beauty, Theo worries about appearing intelligent and adult in front of her. That means he thinks of her as both grown-up and smart, which is so different from how she sees herself. While he's still judging her based on appearances, at least he's including positive qualities in his analysis.

    Chapter 14
    Grace Windsor Wexler

    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 once to her mother, just once. It was too late now. (14.48)

    Poor Angela. Between her beauty and her mother, she can't win. Here, we see how deeply both those things have damaged her. Her mother's used Angela's beauty as an excuse to keep her completely innocent, to the point of helplessness. She's tried to teach Angela to depend on her appearance, to the point where Angela can't even drive a car. Because of her beauty, she's actually become trapped and dependent.

    Chapter 15

    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)

    Here, identity is based on appearance. The judge and Sandy remember two very different looking women when they think of Mrs. Westing. Of course, they're both biased—Sandy's deliberately lying to keep the judge guessing in the game, while the judge uses racial difference as a reason to explain why her memory may be foggy.

    Sandy McSouthers

    "What does it all mean, judge?" Sandy asked, squinting at the pictures through his smeared glasses. "Angela looks like Westing's daughter, and Theo looks like his father, the man Violet Westing really wanted to marry." (15.69-70)

    While we're probably supposed to think these resemblances mean something, the truth is, they don't. In another melodramatic mystery, Angela and Theo could be in danger based on this resemblance, or they could be fated to fall in love. But they aren't, and they don't.

    History is kind of amended in that a Theodorakis descendant marries a Westing descendant, fulfilling Violet and George's doomed relationship, but that marriage isn't based on look-alikes—it's Turtle, not Angela, whom Theo marries. It's almost as though these familial resemblances are nothing more than coincidences—helpful coincidences that keep some of the heirs from figuring out the truth.

    Chapter 16
    Turtle Wexler

    "Some scarring, not bad really, Angela. Besides, you always said being pretty wasn't important, it's who you really are that counts." (16.61)

    When Turtle's trying to console Angela about how she'll be a little disfigured from the bombing, which Angela herself caused, she quotes her own words back to her. But it's one thing to say being pretty isn't significant when you are pretty. It's another thing to keep believing it when you can't rely on your traditional prettiness anymore.

    Notice, too, another important quote's echo here: "it's what you don't have that counts." Who you are is what matters, not what box your appearance fits into.

    Chapter 21

    Angela could not be the bomber, not that sweet, pretty thing. Thing? Is that how she regarded that young woman, as a thing? […] 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. (21.63)

    We think this is one of the most interesting passages in the whole book. Here, the judge is talking about how she's misjudged Angela. And for the judge, who prides herself on her fairness, to admit this is a pretty big deal. The judge catches herself thinking of Angela the same way Sydelle does, and the same way other characters do: "as a thing." In doing so, the judge realizes that Angela's been utterly limited by what's on her outside, and no one's looked past it to see what kind of person she is on the inside.

  • Family

    Chapter 3

    Mrs. Wexler always seemed surprised to see her other daughter, so unlike golden-haired, angel-faced Angela. (3.10)

    Here Grace thinks of Turtle in terms of what she lacks when compared to Angela. It's really unfair to compare one of your children to an angel and the other to an animal; what's more, if the one person who might be expected to love both of those individuals equally (a mother) is making that kind of cruel comparison, what chance do they have of escaping it in the outside world? The word choice of "surprised" says volumes about how Grace treats Turtle, too – imagine if every time you saw your mother she seemed shocked to find out that you were part of the family. It's brutal.

    Chapter 4

    Theo wanted to sign the receipt for his brother, but Chris insisted on doing it himself. Slowly, taking great pains, he wrote Christos Theodorakis, birdwatcher. (4.38)

    It seems significant that Chris wants to articulate his name and position for himself, and not rely on his brother to do it for him. Although it's very difficult for him to do, in writing out his name and position for himself he's able to claim who he is and the kind of person he wants to be – and we're left wondering what position Theo might have filled in for him, if he'd been left to do the form instead. Remember, Theo fills out his form as a "brother."

    Chapter 6

    Today I have gathered together my nearest and dearest, my sixteen nieces and nephews.

    "What!"

    (Sit down, Grace Windsor Wexler!) (6.6)

    Here, Westing is clearly making fun of the assembled heirs. He doesn't really mean that they're all related to him; in fact, only a few of them really are. He knew part of his audience well enough, at least some of them, to include information in the will that directly responds to how they will act when it is read. (It's almost like magic.) More importantly, what he's doing here is showing everyone his chosen family, to the despair of people like Grace, who rely on literal family bonds, especially in inheritance-type scenarios.

    Chapter 7

    Theo protested: He and his brother should be paired together; Chris was his responsibility. Mrs. Wexler protested: Doctor D. should be paired with his bride-to-be. (7.12)

    Theo and Grace may both be "protest[ing]" about how their family members are being treated, but there's at least one key difference between them. Theo wants to take care of Chris himself, while Grace thinks Angela's fiancé should take care of her. While in their desire to protect their relatives they're both verging on a kind of smothering, or keeping them from growing, they're also limiting themselves, and others, as proposed caretakers.

    Chapter 9
    Flora Baumbach

    On reading Mrs. Wexler's note in the elevator, Flora Baumbach had insisted, "You must do what your mother says." When Turtle replied, "Like showing her our clues?" Flora Baumbach's answer was "Perhaps so. After all, she is your mother." (9.13)

    Is Flora right to say that we should all do what our mothers say? She seems to mean that we should obey first, consider later. But should a child obey a parent when the parent's asking them to do something that's unfair or wrong? Turtle shouldn't have to share her clues; that's not on the same level as brushing your teeth twice a day or not getting into strangers' cars. Where are we supposed to draw the line?

    Chapter 10

    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)

    In a little thing we like to call dramatic irony, the judge thinks she's right, but she's actually wrong. She's absolutely correct that if Grace is related to Westing on her father's side, they should share the same last name. What she doesn't know is that Grace and Sam are related – they both used to have the same last name, and they just each changed it to something different. Based on where this information hits us in the mystery, though, we side with the judge and think Grace is probably lying.

    Chapter 13

    It's not easy being a parent. (13.10)

    If you had to guess who says this, who would it be? It could be Grace, the troubled mother; Jake, the absent father; Flora or Crow, the grieving mothers; Sandy, the seemingly overextended father. And so forth. Weirdly, it's actually Mr. Hoo. Mr. Hoo is such an uninvolved parent that sometimes we forget about his relationship to Doug. It seems like the only things he ever tells his son are to study more or get back to work. He's right that being a parent is pretty hard, but we think he has a funny way of showing it.

    Chapter 16

    These were her mother's friends and the newly married daughters of her mother's friends--and Turtle, who was leaning against the wall, arms folded, smirking. Lucky Turtle, the neglected child. (16.4)

    While Turtle would certainly say her sister's lucky to get such consistent praise and attention from their mother, Angela thinks Turtle's "lucky" to be left alone. There can be an equally damaging harm in the kind of attention Angela receives and, in some respects, Turtle's fortunate that she's been forced to become self-sufficient and savvy without this kind of parental (over)protection.

    Chapter 21
    Turtle Wexler

    "Yes ma'am." Turtle stared down at the carpet, wondering if she had given Angela away.

    Judge Ford rose and placed an arm around Turtle's bony shoulders. She had never wished for a sister until this moment. "Turtle, will you give me your word that you will never play with fireworks again?" (21.64-65)

    In some ways, sibling relationships are the strongest familial bonds in this book. Theo watches for Chris and Turtle cares for Angela. Turtle's willing to jeopardize her future, to burn off her hair, and to take the fall, all to protect her beautiful big sister. The judge recognizes this bond between them and it makes her long for a family of her own – the one time in the text we see her be sentimental about having a family or regret the lack of one.

    Chapter 30
    Turtle Wexler

    "Some day." Turtle and Theo had decided against having children because of the possibility of inheriting Chris's disease. "If it's a boy we'll name him Sandy, and if it's a girl, well, I guess we can name her Sandy, too." (30.27)

    This is a moving description of what love is and what family can mean. Even though Turtle and Theo would like to have kids, they've decided not to just in case their kid gets the same disease Chris has. That's just a "possibility," not a guarantee, but for Turtle and Theo it's enough. They'll make a family without children in it. (On a side note, their decision raises interesting questions about whether Turtle might be relieved to not have to be a mother, considering the role model she had to work with.)

    Even though they've decided this, though, Turtle lies about it to give Sandy comfort when he's actually dying. Sometimes lying can be love, too.

  • Wealth

    Chapter 4

    "His estate is estimated to be worth over two hundred million dollars."

    Turtle read that again: two hundred million dollars. Wow! (4.18-19)

    Just in case we readers weren't impressed enough with that figure, Raskin has Turtle repeat it to us, and add the emphasis of "Wow!" Two hundred million dollars is still a ton of money in the twenty-first century; can you imagine how much it would have been worth in 1978?

    When you consider how much money that is, the idea of having a will that's based on a game with all these moving parts, rather than an airtight legal document that clearly states who gets what is almost foolish. It's too much money for fooling around with.

    Chapter 5

    Recalling family gossip about a rich uncle (maybe it was a great-uncle, anyway, his name was Sam) Grace had convinced herself that she was the rightful heir. (5.1)

    Knowing Grace, she'd probably figure out a way to convince herself of this without remembering family gossip. As we find out later, though, Grace isn't wrong – she really is related to Sam Westing. Technically, perhaps, she should end up as the correct heir, since she's the closest living blood relative (that we know of). Her idea here is a funny mixture of conceit and secret righteousness.

    Chapter 7

    Money! Each pair in attendance will now receive a check for the sum of $10,000. The check cannot be cashed without the signatures of both partners. Spend it wisely or go for broke. May God thy gold refine. (7.34)

    This is a key part of the will, and also a weird one. What does $10,000 have to do with becoming the winner of the game? It's kind of like getting all the accessories for Monopoly and then switching to Clue. With the exception of Turtle and Flora, none of the teams use their money to help themselves within the game – all that money goes to other life stuff. You know what's kind of weird, too? We never really hear about what Angela and Sydelle do with their money. What do you think it could be?

    Chapter 8

    Only one of the players thought the clues told how the ten-thousand-dollar check was to be spent. Take stock in America, the will said. Go for broke, the will said. (8.27)

    In a way, Turtle's decision that the winning player will be the one who wins the most money in the stock market is no more of a misreading than the other players' idea that whoever finds the murderer will be the winner. They're all based on ideas from the will, and they're all wrong. At least Turtle comes out of it with an extra thousand bucks.

    He sure could have used half of that ten thousand dollars, but he wouldn't admit it, not to her. The forfeited money upset her more than the murder of her uncle, if he was her uncle. (8.10)

    This tells us a lot about Jake and Grace's relationship with each other, as well as their individual relationships with money. Jake's a gambler, so $5,000 would come in super-handy when he gets into tight spots. But as much as he feels upset about losing the money, he's not willing to tell Grace about it. He's disturbed by how Grace seems more upset by him not getting that $5,000 than she is about Westing dying (which also tells us about how Grace feels about money).

    Chapter 14
    Sandy McSouthers

    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)

    The judge (like Theo) is almost too good to be true. She's the best tipper. Technically, this phrasing also makes her sound even more generous than she is. Each pair gets ten thousand to divide between themselves, and most of the other teams split it fifty/fifty. So the judge really only had $5,000 to give Sandy. It's still really generous, but it's actually about equal to Theo giving his share to his parents.

    Chapter 15

    Friday was back to normal, if the actions of suspicious would-be heirs competing for a two-hundred-million-dollar prize could be considered normal. (15.1)

    We think this calls for an LOL. It's also a great example of irony. Participating in a contest to win hundreds of millions of dollars is not, and will never be, normal. So "normal" in this context doesn't mean what we consider "normal"; instead, it means that backbiting, spying, and generally acting suspicious has come to stand for typical, expected behavior. And that's all because of the money.

    Chapter 18

    Only one thing mattered: Saturday's big track meet. If he won or came in a fast second he'd have his pick of athletic scholarships. He didn't need the inheritance. (18.24)

    Doug is one of the few players who are not interested in playing the game. We can applaud his determination to make something of himself on his own terms, working with his innate abilities to create a profitable career – instead of relying on other people's money, he's working on paying his own way. Snarkily speaking, though, Doug's just not that good at or interested in strategy.

    Chapter 21
    Sandy McSouthers

    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)

    Once we find out that Sandy's really Sam Westing, this line takes on a much deeper meaning. Judge Ford's upset that she owes Westing a debt for her education, and she's never going to pay it back. She worries that Westing helped her out so he'd have a judge on his payroll. It seems here like Sandy is just trying to calm her down. But as Westing, this could be the full and only reason why he helped the judge in the first place – because she was "smart and needy," and he had the means to help her. He gave her the opportunity, but she's giving him too much credit.

    Chapter 28

    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)

    Judge Ford didn't become a legal arbitrator for no reason – she really is a good candidate for being a judge. Here, we see her moral code of being fair and equitable applied to her real life situations, just as she probably applies it in the courtroom. Her sense of fairness and justice, of what's right, makes her uneasy about accepting an education and not giving back anything in return. When she becomes Chris's benefactor, she's paying Westing back in the best possible way, carrying on his tradition of mentoring young people, and turning the bitterness she feels at having this unpaid debt into the good deed of enabling education.

  • Patriotism

    Chapter 4

    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. (4.22)

    This portion of text comes from the obituary printed about Westing in the paper, and for almost everyone – except a very select few – it stands as his permanent obituary. It reveals that patriotism was a huge part of Westing's character; it was important to him on both serious and fun levels. However, in retrospect this is also a huge clue about Westing and solving the mystery. See, the game itself is an "elaborately staged pageant" that "he wr[ites] and direct[s]," and the disguise he concocts is his best one yet.

    Chapter 6

    Hail to thee, O land of opportunity! You have made me, the son of poor immigrants, rich, powerful, and respected.

    So take stock in America, my heirs, and sing in praise of this generous land. (6.32)

    While this almost seems like hyperbolic language – it's so excited and so full of praise – Westing's being serious. He loves America and is a true patriot. Plus, he's totally ready to give the country props for all the opportunities it bestowed on him. See, Westing had the ideal immigrant experience, the one the American dream is supposed to be like, but doesn't always turn out to be. Since the country's system worked for him, he sees the country as "generous" and bountiful.

    Chapter 14
    Theo Theodorakis

    Theo had begun reading the refrain and ended up singing. He shyly laughed off his foolishness.

    "I guess it doesn't have anything to do with money or the will, just Uncle Sam's patriotism coming up again." (14.53)

    Theo's both right and wrong here. The quotation from "America the Beautiful" is an important part of solving the clues that the will offers, but solving those clues isn't what leads to the answer, or the inheritance.

    America! America!
    May God thy gold refine
    Till all success be nobleness
    And every gain divine. (14.52)

    It's interesting that Theo picks this part of the song to sing to Angela – more accurately, it's interesting that the quote from the will leads to this part of the song – because if it had been from the first verse of "America the Beautiful" instead of the third, the solution to the clues would have been found that much more quickly. This verse is less well known today than the first, which is usually all people can recite off the top of their heads.

    Chapter 17

    Sandy was proud of the notebook he bought, with its glossy cover photograph of a bald eagle in flight (sort of appropriate, he explained to the judge; fits in with Uncle Sam and all that). (17.17)

    At first it seems like Sandy's misguidedly trying to honor Westing, although that doesn't really fit with the history we've heard they have together. But really, Sandy's hiding in plain sight, getting to put patriotic emblems on things – just as he would have done as Sam Westing – and then telling the judge it's just a tribute, when really this patriotic connection between them should've been a dead giveaway.

    Chapter 21
    Sydelle Pulaski

    Sydelle could barely control her excitement. "The will said, Sing in praise of this generous land. The will said, May God thy gold refine. America, Angela, America! Purple mountain majesties, Angela. Whoopee!" (21.105)

    It's kind of unfair that Sydelle solves this part of the mystery and doesn't get any rewards from it. She's actually doing a great job of close reading the will, connecting the idea of singing to the other clues they already have. At first, it might seem as though she thinks "America" could be the answer, however. Unless you remember that "purple mountain majesties" is a phrase from "America the Beautiful," you might not realize that's the reference she's making here.

    Chapter 24

    So hurry, hurry, hurry, step right up and collect your prize. The lawyer will count off five minutes. Good luck and a happy Fourth of July. (24.54)

    At first, it doesn't make a lot of sense that the will would tell everyone to have a "happy Fourth," when we know that all this action is taking place in November. But if you think about how Westing always had a big Independence Day disguise-fest, it starts to make a lot of sense. In hindsight, this is another clue that the game was full of disguises and tricks all along. The emphasis on the "Fourth" also reminds us of a very important clue, that doesn't get picked up on till the very end: "find the fourth."

    Chapter 30

    Turtle turned to the window. The sun was rising out of Lake Michigan. It was tomorrow. It was the Fourth of July. (30.38)

    Weirdly, the day the guy who was Sam Westing actually dies is the day referenced in his will. In his fourth identity, he stops living on the Fourth of July, which was always his favorite holiday. It seems fitting that the gamester and trickster would finally stop deceiving people and pretending to take on alternate identities on the day where, historically, he'd been known to play many parts as different people.