Study Guide

The Westing Game Society and Class

By Ellen Raskin

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 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.