Ralph Ellison’s “King of the Bingo Game” is the story about an unnamed black man, in the 1930’s, who is hoping to win the bingo game that is being held at the local cinema, in order win enough money to pay for his gravely ill wife to see a doctor. The central idea of this story is about race, and the inability for a person to be the master of his or her own destiny, when they live in an unfair and prejudicial system.
The main character is completely alienated from the world around him. He is a black man living in a white world, a man who was born in the South but is now living in the North, and his only form of companionship is his dying wife, Laura, whom he is desperate to save. He is unable to work since he has no birth certificate—no official identity. Without a job he is unable to make his mark in the world, and if his wife dies, not only would he lose his lover but also any evidence that he ever existed. As the story progresses he loses his own awareness of his identity—“somehow he had forgotten his own name.” The author emphasizes the main character’s mistreatment in life by white society during a vivid recollection of an event in his childhood when he was chased by a train filled with “white people laughing as he ran screaming,” a hallucination which was triggered by his exploration of the “old scars” on his body. This connection between alienation and oppression highlight Ellison’s central idea.
The conflict in this story can be seen when the main character fights with the two men who have come onto the stage to get the bingo wheel controller away from him. This conflict is not only symbolic of his life, but also the struggle of African Americans, during the 1930’s and 1940’s, to gain control of their lives when they live in a biased society. He is one black man against two white men, tethered to fate with the odds stacked against him.
Since the main character is unable to articulate his situation clearly, the use of limited-omniscient point of view allows the reader to better understand and identify with the protagonist. The main characters limited vocabulary also reinforces the central idea by suggesting that he did not have access to a decent education. Had a first person point of view been utilized, the reader would not have been able to fully appreciate the main character’s reality or appreciate why he was so willing to embarrass himself on stage.
The story mentions a group of girls the protagonist suspects to be “lindy hoppers.” The Lindy-hop movement became part of the mainstream American music scene, suggesting that despite the story having been written in 1944, it is more likely to be set in the 1930’s. By setting the story in a cinema, the author creates an aura of fantasy, since the cinema is a place in which reality is suspended. At the beginning of the story the main character is aware of his reality as a black man in white America, affirming his belief that “everything was fixed” against him. However, once on stage,...