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King of the Bingo Game

King of the Bingo Game


by Ralph Ellison

Analysis: Plot Analysis

Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.

Initial Situation

The protagonist waits for the bingo game to begin.

The first few pages of the story serve as a prelude to the real action, namely, the bingo game. During this time, we learn the protagonist's situation, which is the "initial situation" that the story will attempt to resolve.


The protagonist is playing bingo, and being a bit sneaky by using five bingo cards.

In the initial situation, we learn that the protagonist is a man who has been beaten down by the system. He can't get a job because he doesn't have a birth certificate, and without a job his only means of making money is the bingo game. When the game begins and we learn the protagonist is using five cards, it's the first point of real conflict in the story. The protagonist is fighting back – albeit it in a small way – against an unfair system.


BINGO! (Also known as the protagonist winning.)

The protagonist's tactic of using five cards works, and he is called up on stage. This complicates matters as it extends the story and brings us closer to the climax.


The King of the Bingo refuses to let go of the button.

This part of the story is climactic for its elements of rebirth and self-actualization. The protagonist is empowered as he holds the button controlling the spinning wheel and believes he can now control his own destiny. At about the same time, he also renounces his past by forgetting his name, the name that "had been given him by the white man who had owned this grandfather a long lost time ago down South" (66). He becomes King of the Bingo instead, simultaneously in control of the spinning wheel and beholden to it.


Yes, he's still pressing the button.

Pressure continues to mount as the protagonist refuses to allow the wheel to stop spinning. The bingo caller and the audience become increasingly angry, and we are unclear as to how the situation will be resolved.


Police officers arrive.

When the police show up, you know the story is coming to an end soon. The two police officers succeed in wresting the button from the protagonist. One of them smiles at the protagonist as the wheel comes to a rest at the double zero (the number it needs to land on in order for the protagonist to win the jackpot).


Weak once more.

As soon as the curtain comes down on the stage, the protagonist is struck on the head. The protagonist is now back to a position of weakness, right where he started. Almost like a spinning circle.

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