Study Guide

The Westing Game Identity

By Ellen Raskin


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.