Study Guide

King of the Bingo Game Summary

By Ralph Ellison

King of the Bingo Game Summary

A nameless protagonist sits impatiently in a movie theatre, waiting for a bingo game to begin. This is roughly in the late 1930s or early 1940s, and this sort of entertainment was popular. We that learn our protagonist is originally from the South (he now lives somewhere in the North) and has been unable to get a job because he lacks a birth certificate. He is playing the bingo game in the hopes of winning enough money to pay for a doctor to save a woman named Laura, whom we assume is his wife.

The bingo game finally begins; the protagonist has an edge over the competition because he is playing with five cards. Eventually, he achieves bingo and is called up on stage to try his hand at winning the jackpot.

In order to win the jackpot, our hero must press a button connected to a spinning wheel. If, after he releases the button, the wheel stops at the double zero, he wins the jackpot. Although he knows that a short and quick press is the best strategy, the protagonist finds that he is unable to release the button. As he stands on the stage forcing the wheel to continue spinning, he feels empowered to control his own destiny. He feels that Laura is safe as long as he continues allowing the wheel to spin. He forgets his own name and believes himself to be the King of the Bingo Game.

The audience and the bingo caller get increasingly angry. Eventually, two policemen manage to wrest button from the protagonist. The wheel lands on the double zero as the curtain comes down on stage and our protagonist is hit in the head.

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