Sunday, March 29, 2020

Aesthetics of "The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin

After hearing Dr. Chris McGee’s talk, I was immediately compelled to dive into the genre of mystery to see for myself what makes it aesthetically pleasing. The most distinct characteristic of the detective novel is its integration of clues that lead to a final conclusion – a solution to the mystery that the character(s) want to solve. But when the answer is already known, is there any pleasure to be had on a second read? To see if I could find an answer to this question, I read The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. 

 The Westing Game describes sixteen chosen heirs of the recently deceased Samuel Westing. The person to solve the mystery of who murdered the millionaire will inherit his two-hundred-million-dollar fortune. The chosen heirs are divided into eight pairs and given clues: slips of paper with a single word or letter written on themBut these clues are deceptive. During his presentation Dr. McGee informed us that – spoiler – the only relevant clue is the four cardinal directions: north, south, east, and west. I kept an eye out for those directions but pieced them together only just before Turtle, the sole child detective, did.  
One of the text’s distinguishing features is its heteroglossia: the array of voices that are present in the novel aside from that of the narrator. Raskin cleverly designates not just one or a small group of detectives, but sixteen, ranging in age, gender, race, and physical ability. What is fascinating about this diversity is that each heir utilizes his or her own personality and outlook as tools to solve the mystery. To examine how this occurs, we will borrow the names and positions that each character provided for his or herself at the beginning of the game (45-6).  

Madame Hoo is the young wife of Mr. Hoo, who was brought from China for this marriage and does not speak English. She is not informed of the game and does not participate in riddle-solving. Her husband decided her title for her. However, in a surprising act of admission, Madame Hoo reveals herself as the thief of various missing items stolen “‘for to go to China [sic]’” (165). Her timid disposition attests to the condition of silence imposed by linguistic disadvantage: although she is a rightful heir, Madame Hoo is excluded from entry into the game by anyone who could translate for her and must resort to underhanded methods to make her desires known. 
2. JAKE WEXLERstanding or sitting when not lying down 
Jake is a Jewish podiatrist whose work meant he was not present to receive the clues and join in the game. His laidback demeanor conceals a gambling secret and largely serves to offset his stubborn wife and youngest daughter.  
3. TURTLE WEXLER, witch 
Turtle is a daring young girl who kicks first and asks later. This risky attitude makes her take the most adultlike direction with the $10,000 each pair is given – she invests it into the stock market using letters from her clues as a guide. This approach totally fails, however, because she tried to think as any adult would have, and not how a man with a childish sense of play did. 
4. FLORA BAUMBACH, dressmaker 
Flora is a grandmotherly figure who allows the Turtle to do as she pleases. Without exercising the control that any other heir would have over the willful child, her respect for the child’s imagination allowed Turtle to fail and supported her from then on. 

Chris is intelligent and observant, yet he cannot speak nor use his legs, which makes him overly reliant on his eyesightThus, he is absolutely convinced that the person he saw limping the night the murder occurred is the culprit. He is cunning and does not reveal his information right away. Chris’s inability to communicate normally means aside from his brother, no one, not even his assigned partner Dr. Deere, takes him seriously. Only Sam Westing sees his potential. 
6. D. DENTON DEERE, intern, St. Joseph’s Hospital, Department of Plastic Surgery 
Dr. Deere is a pompous surgeon whose concern for himself and his fiancée, Angela, exclude everyone else. This attitude makes it difficult for him to even conceive of his partner Chris’s abilities, and Deere stifles his own voice as a result. 
Sandy is a cheerful doorman whose job allows him to converse with all of the heirs frequently. His dimwitted yet friendly demeanor allows him to befriend Turtle and flatter his partner, Judge Ford. He sees and involves himself in more than the reader is let on to believe. 
8. J. J. FORD, judge 
Judge Ford is an African American judge, whose subjectivity as a woman of minority race leads her to be ambitious and confident to the point of being aloof. She knows Sam Westing personally because he funded her education and participates in the game out of a vengeful sense of obligation to his memory. Her sharp observation skills and ability to withhold information make her a leader among the heirs. 
Grace is a housewife with little sense of purpose except to smother her eldest daughter Angela and scold her younger daughter Turtle. She is bossy and manipulative, which puts her at odds with her partner and makes them largely unproductive. 
10. JAMES SHIN HOO, restauranteur  
Mr. Hoo is a man dissatisfied with his position in life, struggling to keep a restaurant afloat and quick to form negative opinions. He is just as stubborn as his partner, which prevents him from reaching any good conclusions either. 
11. BERTHE ERICA CROW, Good Salvation Soup Kitchen 
Crow is the Sunset Towers cleaning maid, and although she hardly speaks, she loves Angela very much. She cares nothing for solving the riddle and gives her clues to Angela. Crow is somehow religious without invoking God, and her main priority is her work at the soup kitchen.  
12. OTIS AMBER, deliverer 
Otis is a man fond of jokes. He is well travelled because of his job and does not live in Sunset Towers like the other heirs do. He does not seem to take the mystery-solving very seriously. 
13. THEO THEODORAKIS, brother 
Theo is an aspiring writer who also does not have much of a sense of purpose. He cares deeply for his brother and is the only one who understands Chris. In the Westing House, he plays chess with one of the heirs, whom he doesn’t see but believes is the culprit. Therefore, his constant requests to play chess are mischaracterized as loneliness. 
14. DOUG HOO, first in all-state high-school mile run 
Doug’s major concern is running track, so he leaves all of the mystery-solving to Theo. His track abilities come in use when he is sent to observe Otis Amber, whom Theo later suspects 
15. SYDELLE PULASKI, secretary to the president 
Sydelle clearly lacks attention and seeks it through false means such as a faked injury. Her quick thinking in taking notes of the will makes her a valuable asset to the heirs, and despite her shallow disposition, she is the first to piece together the clues that she has into the song “America the Beautiful.” 
16. ANGELA WEXLER, none 
 Angela has the compassion that her mother and sister lack, but she is stifled by their headstrong personalities. Although she as viewed as innocent immediately, her decision to take back her agency leads to her creation of bombs, the last of which detonates in her face. She allows Sydelle to take over the clue-hunting and people-pleasing while she figures herself out.  

Each heir has his or her own theories about who murdered Samuel Westing, creating a maze of crisscrossing and false trails that the reader is trapped into following. Everyone discovers more information along the way and creates judgements of others that fool the reader into laying blame on the wrong suspectYet none of this is necessary information to reach the intended conclusion, which is that Sam Westing is actually not dead but is alive and disguised as Barney Northrup the real estate agent, Sandy McSouthers the doorman, and Julian R. Eastman, the new chairman of Westing Paper Products Corporation.  
Another of this novel’s riveting attributes is that smaller mysteries are scattered throughout the narrative’s development – missing valuables and an unidentified bomber. These mysteries distract from the main one but reveal information about characters through the thoughts of other people towards them. Therefore, the reader is led to the riddle’s answer by deductions from Judge Ford and Sydelle Pulaski, but the only one who solves it completely is Turtle.  

Raskin weaves a complex tale full of intriguing characters. In their midst, the child who takes the most adultlike stance towards the mystery by investing the money into the stock market is the one to figure out the simple wordplay. While the reader receives even more information than the heirs doit takes a child’s sense of determination and craftiness – as well as a personal investment – to unravel the intentions of the eccentric Samuel Westing 
The Westing Game is, as Dr. Chris McGee put it, “infinitely rereadable.” While it certainly is complex, it remains approachable because of its simple solution. Readers are tempted to read again from each character’s point of view, keeping in mind what that heir knows as the reader is given more information through other perspectives. Although there are many voices to keep track of, they are all unique enough to not get muddled. Each personality is distinct and each person’s aspirations are clear or made clear in a way that just makes sense once the reader has gotten to know the charactersRaskin provides supremely satisfying conclusions to each of the heirs’ stories as told by Turtle to a dying Julian R. Eastman, keeping each voice true to its younger self. This also prompts readers to go back and read the younger characters in light of what they will accomplish in the future.  
As my list of aesthetic qualities in literature lengthens, I will tack on heteroglossia and “delight in suspense” as a result of analyzing The Westing Game 
- (AN) 
Works Cited 
Raskin, Ellen. The Westing GameEbookSpeak2008