Ellen Raskin’s 1978 novel The Westing Game remains quite popular with today’s students. As the book’s characters race to inherit Westing’s estate by figuring out his murderer, students are swept up by the engaging mystery. Readers discover the clues along with the novel’s quirky characters, and are thus given an equal opportunity to solve the mystery themselves. This Newbery winner is a great way to introduce young readers to the mystery genre with plot structure, point of view, and the elements of mystery.
Sam Westing feels great patriotism for America. He wears the clothes of Uncle Sam in his coffin, uses clues from “America the Beautiful”, and sets off fireworks on the Fourth of July. The residents of Sunset Towers come from many different financial and ethnic backgrounds. Their friendship represents the melting pot of America’s immigrant nation.
The real purpose of the Westing game is not the inheritance, but the relationships that the game creates and strengthens. Westing seemed to match up the pairs that would bring out the best in each other. In the end, most of the heirs do not receive millions from Westing, but they do build life-long friendships.
In his younger days, Sam Westing made a lot of mistakes: he spoke unkindly to his servants, stole James Hoo’s invention, and drove his daughter to suicide. Through his will, he tries to fix these mistakes and return happiness to the people he hurt. He gives them each hope, friendship, and a bright future, in addition to $5,000 and a share in Sunset Towers.
THE WESTING GAME THEMES, SYMBOLS, AND MOTIFS
Sam Westing loved chess. He used to play with Judge Ford years ago and would beat her by sacrificing his queen. In a way, the “Westing game” is like a giant game of chess. At the end, Crow (Westing’s queen) is sacrificed to distract from the main point of the game. The chess connection is passed on when Westing teaches it Turtle, who later teaches Alice.
At the beginning of the story, Sydelle Pulaski has no need of crutches. She uses brightly decorated crutches to draw attention to herself and win sympathy. The crutches are a symbol of her insecurity and weakness. Many other characters have their own crutch that they hide behind: Turtle’s is her braid, Angela’s is her pretty face, etc.