The Westing Game Summary

Ellen Raskin

The Westing Game

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The Westing Game Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Westing Game by Ellen Gaskin.

The Westing Game is a children’s mystery novel written by Ellen Gaskin and first published in 1978. It tells the story of secretive businessman Sam Westing and his sixteen unrelated heirs who must come together to solve the challenge of his death.

As the story begins, Barney Northrup is selling apartments in a new building on Lake Milwaukee just down the shore from the mansion of the reclusive Samuel Westing. Each tenant has been carefully selected. As they move in, they find out that all sixteen of them have been named as Westing’s potential heir. They are not family and do not seem related in any way.

Westing has left a strange will; it is built as a puzzle. The sixteen heirs are paired up, given $10,000 each, and are told that the pair that solves the puzzle will inherit Westing’s company and $200 million fortune. The characters are Grace, Jake, Angela, and Turtle Wexler; George, Catherine, Chris, and Theo Theodorakis; Mr., Madame, and Doug Hoo; Judge Ford, Crow, Sydelle Pulaski, and Flora Baumbach.

After reading the will, they are told that Westing was murdered, and more importantly, one of them did it. They are given a few clues and reminded that the clues they don’t have are the most telling.

The tenants move in during September, and later that winter as they are snowed in, they work on the clues. They are becoming suspicious of each other and of this game. Sydelle loses her copy of the will, and the judge throws a party. After that, they continue to work.

The morning after the party, as they are meeting in a coffee shop to share their progress, a bomb goes off in the towers. No one is hurt, but it shakes them. The judge hires a private investigator, who sounds very familiar over the phone, but everyone continues their work.

When a second bomb goes off while they’re eating in the Chinese restaurant on the fifth floor, they are not so lucky. Sydelle is hurt and taken to the hospital. When Angela visits her, she begins to question what she’s doing with her life, but then discovers that someone has anonymously given her two new clues.

While Flora and Turtle remain convinced that the clues have something to do with the stock market, the judge realizes that they have not considered investigating Mrs. Westing. Later at Angela’s wedding shower, Angela pushes Turtle aside as a third bomb goes off injuring Angela. She is rushed to the hospital with injuries that will leave permanent scarring, and Sydelle figures out that she’s the bomber.

They are instructed to meet for a second reading of the will after a fourth bomb goes off and burns Turtle’s braid. When she confesses, it is to cover up that her sister Angela is the real bomber. At the will reading, none of their answers are correct, and they are told they should solve the clues before someone dies.

When the teams put their clues together at Sandy’s suggestion, the clues spell out Crow’s full name; Sandy dies unexpectedly. Things are starting to get weird. Crow gives herself up to the police, but Turtle decides that something is not right and she organizes a trial. In it, they find out that Otis is a private investigator and that there is a word missing from the will.

They must discover the fourth identity of Westing. Turtle realizes that he is Barney Northrup, Sandy, and then Westing himself. The winner will be the one to find out his fourth identity. But Crow returns, innocent, and when they read the last parts of the will, they are given only shares in Sunset Towers, the apartment building where they are currently living. There is no mention of Westing’s company or his vast fortune.

Later that night, Turtle goes to Julian Eastman, the chairman of Westing’s vast company, and addresses him as Sandy. From there, everyone goes on to live normal lives changed by the events during the game. They are successful and live out a few of their dreams. When Eastman dies, Turtle inherits the company and dedicates herself to running it.

A major theme of the book is that appearances are deceiving. Many of the characters are judged based on appearances and throughout the book prove that these judgments are not accurate. The overall game is based on the idea that Westing can transform himself into a host of different characters to execute the game. The limitations we put on others and ourselves based on outward judgments can lead us astray.

This concept also addresses another important theme of the book, identity. As the characters play the game, they are shown portions of themselves hidden to others, and as it progresses, they take on aspects of their own identities they should have displayed all along. They are redefining themselves, just as Westing did, and through this process come to realize that it is better to be authentic than to worry about appearances and superficial characteristics.

Ultimately, Westing does not care if family inherits his fortune or not. What he wants is the best heir. The game and the fake murders don’t matter as much as revealing who people truly are, and giving everyone a chance to redefine themselves in a way that reveals their best selves. Turtle triumphs in the end due to her creative thinking, and her ability to form important bonds with everyone in the game.