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Free Study Guide for The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

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CHAPTER 1: Sunset Towers


The sun sets in the west but the newly-built Sunset Towers faces east. On the Fourth of July, delivery boy Barney Northrup delivers letters to the chosen tenants-to-be of Sunset Towers: the six letter extol the virtues of the building's apartments and mentions the availability of spaces for a doctor's office, coffee shop, and restaurant on the premises. The first appointment is with Jake and Grace Wexler, as Barney dazzles Grace with the apartment specially selected for their family. Barney points out the rent is even cheaper than the cost of the house where they currently live; Jake wonders how he would know that. Grace is impressed by the view of Lake Michigan, imagining the envy of her friends. Later that afternoon, Sydelle Pulaski is less thrilled by the smaller apartment she's shown: it doesn't have a view of Lake Michigan but Barney points out that this apartment better fits her secretary's salary with all the same luxuries. Sydelle notices a mansion on the north cliff, which Barney says is the old Westing house. She says she'll think about it but Barney lies and says twenty other people want the apartment, prompting her to accept. In one day Barney rents out all the apartments and other premises, the names already printed on the mailboxes. However, Barney had rented one apartment to the wrong person.


From the beginning, the themes of the novel are set into motion: we get a sense of something not being right with Sunset Towers, the significant date of the delivery of the letters to the building's future tenants, a sense of familial dysfunction with Grace Wexler's social climbing anxieties, the sense of control and gamesmanship in convincing these predetermined tenants to accept, and finally the unexpected directions life can take when it's revealed Barney Northrup made a huge mistake.

CHAPTER 2: Ghosts or Worse


On September 1, the new tenants move in. The next day, Shin Hoo's Restaurant opens on the fifth floor, but the exclusive neighborhood means only three people come. In contrast, the Theodorakis Coffee Shop in the lobby enjoys brisk business from tenants and workers from nearby Westingtown.

The afternoon of Halloween, four people are standing outside the Sunset Towers driveway: the doorman Sandy McSouthers, high school seniors Theo Theodorakis and Doug Hoo, and delivery boy Otis Amber. Junior high student Turtle Wexler bicycles up to them with news of smoke coming out of the chimney of the Westing house. Otis assures everyone that old man Westing is most likely dead, that rumor has it his corpse is on a fancy Oriental rug being eaten by maggots. Sandy thinks this is just, as the cheerful doorman is still bitter about losing his job at the Westing paper mill twenty years earlier.

As for the smoke, it may be kids again, Sandy opines, like the two from Westingtown who visited the house exactly a year ago. Otis tells the story of a one dollar bet that the two couldn't stay in the house for five minutes. They barely got inside when they were chased out by a ghost - or worse. One fell over the cliff, the other emerged with bloody hands and has only repeated two words since then: "Purple waves." Sandy laments such suffering over one dollar; Turtle responds that for two dollars per minute, she'll also go to that house. From the front window of 2D, Chris Theodorakis watches his brother and the others accept Turtle's bet; in two hours he will tell Theo about the person with a limp that he saw enter the Westing house. Chris is confined to a wheelchair and prone to violent spasms, but likes to watch birds.


The story of Sam Westing dead on an Oriental rug is an image that repeats itself significantly at the climax of the novel, precisely as Westing planned. Readers immediately get a sense of how unusual Turtle Wexler is with her desire to earn enough money for a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, a foreshadowing of her future greatness as a businesswoman. The story used to dare Turtle into visiting the Westing house that night is of course part of the plan that Westing - present as Sandy McSouthers - has set into motion. We later learn that the person Chris sees entering the Westing house is Doctor Sikes, a friend of Sam Westing's who was injured in the same car accident that disfigured Westing's face. It should also be noted that "Westing house" may be a reference to the company Westinghouse Electric, once known for its lights and light bulbs. Light bulbs are often used as symbols for inspiration or insight, just as inspiration and insight is required to win this game.


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