King of the Bingo Game
by Ralph Ellison
King of the Bingo Game Introduction
In A Nutshell
Ralph Ellison is one of the best-known African-American writers, famous for his apolitical approach to the black experience in America. Although he was originally a music major in college, he received widespread critical acclaim later on in life for his novel Invisible Man, published in its entirety in 1952.
"King of the Bingo Game" was published in 1944, and it was the last piece Ellison published before releasing Invisible Man. The story focuses on a southern black man attempting to win a bingo game in order to save the woman he loves. Scholars have said that "King of the Bingo Game" marks Ellison's artistic maturity, and typically view the story as a study for Invisible Man. "King of the Bingo Game" bears many of the same hallmarks as Ellison's later novel: a nameless, southern black protagonist, surrealist touches, and similar character arcs. You should Shmoop Invisible Man if you want to learn more about Ellison's novel.
Why Should I Care?
Have you ever jumped over a crack in the sidewalk—you know, to avoid breaking your poor ol' mama's back? Have you ever walked around a ladder, rather than under it? Have you ever gone looking for a four-leaf clover or not washed your game socks to keep a winning streak alive?
Us, too. We just hate bad luck.
But what is luck? How do you get the good stuff and steer clear of the bad stuff?
Feeling lucky or unlucky is a kind of belief in some weirdo force beyond us that mysteriously intervenes—hopefully on our behalf. And that's the motivation for our protagonist in "King of the Bingo Game." He doesn't play bingo to get a discount on the early-bird buffet. Nope, he's got bigger fish to fry. He's playing in the hopes that good luck will reward him with a jackpot.
This particular guy is hoping to pay off some medical bills, but all of us, at some point, have wished for a bit of good luck to come our way and change things for the better. You might find Ellison's portrayal so spot-on, in fact, that you're liable to yell out Bing—oh, never mind.