Study Guide

King of the Bingo Game Quotes

  • Fate and Free Will

    "Yessir, ladies and gentlemen, he's one of the chosen people!" (26)

    This line from the bingo caller helps reinforce the notion that the bingo game is deterministic. It controls people's fate. At the same time, however, the line carries a subtle undertone – the protagonist is, in fact, chosen and marked by his race.

    He felt vaguely that his whole life was determined by the bingo wheel; not only that which would happen now that he was at last before it, but all that had gone before, since his birth and his mother's birth and the birth of his father. (32)

    The protagonist suddenly blames the bingo wheel for all the oppression he has experienced in his life (and that his ancestors have experienced). This fits in with the bingo wheel as the wheel of fortune (see "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory").

    I better get down from here before I make a fool of myself, he thought. (32)

    Does this represent a moment where the protagonist might have exercised his free will?

    He steeled himself; the fear had left, and he felt a profound sense of promise, as though he were about to be repaid for all the things he'd suffered all his life. Trembling, he pressed the button. (42)

    This moment represents the protagonist's attempted mastery over his fortune and fate.

    "Didn't they know that although he controlled the wheel, it also controlled him, and unless he pressed the button forever and forever and ever it would stop, leaving him high and dry, dry and high on this hard high slippery hill and Laura dead?" (65)

    If the wheel is a stand-in for fate (see "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory"), what might it mean that the wheel (fate) controls him? We might think about how a man is subject to his own fate, like it or not, and how the protagonist's control of the wheel suggests an element of free will.

  • Isolation

    Then, as though he had come down from a high hill into a valley of people, he heard the audience yelling. (43)

    The protagonist has retreated so far into his own head and his own thoughts that he has completely dissociated himself from his surroundings.

    The last voice was not unfriendly, and he turned and smiled dreamily into the yelling mouths. Then he turned his back squarely on them. (47)

    This marks the protagonist's deliberate rejection of the crowd.

    Those folks did not understand what had happened to him. They had been playing the bingo game day in and night out for years, trying to win rent money or hamburger change. But not one of those wise guys had discovered this wonderful thing. (49)

    Only the protagonist has made the cognitive leap to understanding the wheel as a matter of life or death – and that it can be controlled.

    Those fools, he thought. I'm here trying to tell them the most wonderful secret in the world, and they're yelling like they gone crazy. (50)

    The protagonist is trying to share with the audience – perhaps his earlier rejection of the crowd did not reflect his true feelings.

    Didn't they know that although he controlled the wheel, it also controlled him, and unless he pressed the button forever and forever and ever it would stop, leaving him high and dry, dry and high on this hard high slippery hill and Laura dead? (65)

    Notice the language here – the protagonist imagines himself as being elevated above the rest, but also alone. What might "high and dry" be alluding to?

  • Madness

    Ask somebody for something, and they'd think you were crazy. (1)

    Here the protagonist is referring to the different cultural norms of the North. Someone from outside of the culture would be perceived as crazy. This contributes to his overall feeling of isolation.

    Well, I ain't crazy. I'm just broke, 'cause I got no birth certificate to get a job, and Laura 'bout to die 'cause we got no money for a doctor. But I ain't crazy. (1)

    Can we take the protagonist at face value here? At what point might we begin to classify him as insane?

    Then someone was laughing inside him and he realized that somehow he had forgotten his own name. It was a sad, lost feeling to lose your name, and a crazy thing to do. (66)

    The protagonist's self-awareness suggests that he knows he is descending into madness, and actually accepting it.

    He felt that the whole audience had somehow entered him and was stamping its feet in his stomach and he was unable to throw them out. They wanted the prize, that was it. They wanted the prize for themselves. (74)

    The protagonist seems to be insane at this point. These lines appear to be the ramblings of a deluded man.

    The last voice was not unfriendly, and he turned and smiled dreamily into the yelling mouths. Then he turned his back squarely on them. (47)

    This marks the protagonist's deliberate rejection of the crowd. But is this a sane or insane act?

  • Rules and Order

    The guy at the door wouldn't like it if he knew about his having five cards. (18)

    The protagonist is deliberately ignoring the rules, but this is simply a reflection of his desperate need to win the game.

    He and only he could determine whether or not it was to be his. Not even the man with the microphone could do anything about it now. (44)

    The protagonist has suddenly made up his own rules and his own world within the bingo hall, a world consisting of only him and the spinning wheel.

    "Anybody can win the jackpot as long as they get the lucky number, right?"

    "That's the rule, but after all…" (61-62)

    In a way, the protagonist is actually staying within the rules. Here the bingo caller wants to gently suggest that it is against the rules to hang on to the button, but it seems as though he can't.

    His spine tingled. He felt a certain power. (65)

    The protagonist feels empowered now because he controls the rules of the game.

    And seeing the man bow his head to someone he could not see, he felt very, very happy; he would receive what all the winners received. (86)

    Unfortunately, this is false. What might this suggest about the bingo game? On a symbolic level, we suggest that this is representative of the black condition in America – even seemingly victorious situations may not be all they appear.

  • Race

    "Anybody can win the jackpot as long as they get the lucky number, right?"

    "That's the rule, but after all…" (61-62)

    This exchange carries some interesting racial undertones. Anybody can win the jackpot, implying that it is open to all. At the same time, however, the bingo caller's reply contains clear hesitation, setting up the protagonist's ultimate defeat later when, despite technically winning the jackpot, he is deprived of his rightful prize.

    And because he understood, he smiled again to let the man know that he held nothing against him for being white and impatient. (65)

    This indicates that the protagonist has mentally transcended racial boundaries.

    All the Negroes down there were just ashamed because he was black like them. He smiled inwardly, knowing how it was. Most of the time he was ashamed of what Negroes did himself. (65)

    The protagonist empathizes with the other African-Americans for experiencing the same self-loathing that he does for being ashamed of being black. This line demonstrates the protagonist as having transcended thoughts about race, however. There is a detachment to the passage – the protagonist knows "how it was," but is now in a new mindset.

    It was a sad, lost feeling to lose your name, and a crazy thing to do. That name had been given him by the white man who had owned this grandfather a long lost time ago down South. (66)

    This represents the protagonist's rejection of his old identity, the identity constructed by dominant white society.

    They didn't know either, he thought sadly. They didn't even know their own names, they were all poor nameless bastards. (69)

    By calling the audience "nameless bastards," the protagonist is really pointing out that they too do not have their true names, but rather names (and identities) constructed by white society. The protagonist, in contrast, has been reborn.