Bingo in Literature: King of the Bingo Game by Ralph Ellison

Have you read Ralph Ellison's "King of the bingo Game" which was first published in the literary journal Tomorrow in November, 1944? The author also wrote Invisible Man, which regularly appears in surveys as one of the 100 top fiction books. The King of the Bingo Hall was made into a film in 1999.

In ''King of the Bingo Game," Ellison examines the specific alienation felt by blacks in the United States. The protagonist of the story, the Bingo King, is alone in the world and his isolation is further highlighted by the illness of his wife, Laura.

I don’t want to give the whole plot away in case (like me) you decide to read the book. The story provides an interesting examination of a segment of the American population often ignored at that time, the working-class blacks of the day who were new to urban life. Through the Bingo King the book examines a theme of how man has an irrepressible desire to overcome the helplessness that seems to confront him before the hand of fate and ill-luck.

The novel begins with the Bingo King watching a movie in a theatre, broke and hungry. He falls asleep and dreams before waking just as a Bingo game is about to start. He has bought five Bingo cards to try to change his luck and get money to support his ailing wife. It involves a Bingo Caller, and a chance at winning a jackpot by spinning a Bingo wheel and having it land on just one number. 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. I won’t give away any more, but I found it an interesting read, and an insight into post-depression America.

All of which as a long way away from online Bingo, but we shouldn’t neglect our heritage, and if you have never played live land-based Bingo, I urge you to give it a try. But be warned- there’s no auto-dauber- you’ve got to do all the marking off and the yelling “Bingo” yourself! Good luck!

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