"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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"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.
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.