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.
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.
King of the Bingo Game, 1999
This short film (26 minutes!) was first featured on PBS.
Trailer for the 1999 short film.
A photograph of the author.
A Conversation with Ralph Ellison
Check out this interview with the author to gain a better sense of Ellison's thoughts on race in America.
New York Times Review of Flying Home and Other Stories
"King of the Bingo Game" was later published as part of a short story collection by Ellison entitled Flying Home and Other Stories. Go here if you want to see what The New York Times thought of it and how "King of the Bingo Game" fits into Ellison's broader work.
Ralph Ellison on PBS
This PBS website features a biographical essay, career timeline, and other useful information about the author.
Jerry Jazz Musician: Interviews
This website features interviews with those close to Ellison, helping us paint a better portrait of the author and the influences on his work.
Further Ellison Work
A good resource if you're hoping to do further work on Ralph Ellison.