“The King of Bingo Game:” Symbolism and Racism, Fate, and Identity

“The King of Bingo Game:” Symbolism and Racism, Fate, and Identity

In “The King of the Bingo Game,” Ralph Ellison presents an unnamed protagonist, an African American man, whose life is characterized by economic and social struggles. In particular, the black man makes tireless efforts to survive, while at the same time, seeking recognition in an environment that is hostile to him. Besides hostility directed at people of his kind, the main character in question is faced with the challenge of working towards raising money for Laura’s, his dying wife’s medical care (Ellison 371). These struggles have compelled the unnamed black man to participate in a win-lose bingo game at one of the local movie houses. Although the nameless protagonist in “The King of Bingo Game” is fighting against victimization of his blackness, the society has insisted on ensuring he remains invisible.

Ellison has used the short story to depict the themes of racism, fate, and identity. The author has a created a black character as his protagonist to demonstrate how racial discrimination and associated stereotypes and prejudices commingle to define and shape the fate and identities of individuals. In this case, the racial background or skin color of the unnamed African American is being used by other characters and society as a whole to decide his fate and social position. Specifically, author illustrates this when the protagonist makes endless efforts to be recognized, but he suffers disappointment when the same society that promotes hard work ridicules him by catering to his oppression and invisibility (Ellison 373). For instance, in his attempt to win the game and defray the pending medical bills, the black man learns that winning the jackpot involves the bingo wheel stopping or settling between the double zero (Saunders 36). In this context, “double zero” is symbolic in the sense that it represents the black man’s invisibility and fruitless fate.

The interesting aspect of the race-identity-fate nexus is that Ellison’s protagonist understands that his life is meaningless because of race-based restrictive stereotypes and systems in his environment. As a result, his decision to engage in the game makes the bingo wheel the ultimate interpreter of what would become of his identity and destiny. He achieves this by proclaiming himself the King, deliriously revolting against the societal version of his fate (Ellison 377). By rejecting the society’s definition of himself, the black man has, for the first time, taken control over his own life. While fear has set in by making indecisive, the protagonist is now convinced that pressing the button would go a long way in ensuring he controls where the wheel should stop. Concisely, though the society in which Ellison’s main character lives in systematically limits opportunities for him due to his skin color, he is defiant and remains committed to changing his fate.

Works Cited

Ellison, Ralph “The King of the Bingo Game,” The Impact of Fiction: An Anthology of Short Stories, Edited by Herbert and Ada Lou Carson. Menlo Park: California: Cummings Publishing Company, 1970, pp. 371-378.

Saunders, Pearl. Symbolism in Ralph Ellison’s “King of the Bing Game,” CLA Journal, vol. 20, no. 1, 1976, pp. 35-39.

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