"King of the Bingo Game" by Ralph Ellison (1944)

Ralph Ellison’s “King of the Bingo Game” is, as is most of his work, an interesting study of Black identity. I found this story particularly interesting because of my current contact with immigrants. The director of the center where I work constantly reminds me and the other VISTA that our clients lives are based entirely on chance.

In “King of the Bingo Game” the main character’s life also seems to depend solely on luck — he plays bingo every night hoping to win a little money to pay for his sick wife’s medical bills. When he does have a bingo and is able to spin the wheel to win the cash prize, he finally feels in control of his fate, his wife’s fate, and his reality. He controls the wheel that, until that moment, has been uncontrollable, a fickle creature that decides whether his wife’s health will or will not improve. He keeps the wheel spinning as a way to suspend her fate — he cannot know the outcome of the spin, whether he will or, more importantly, will not win the money to pay for her treatment. By controlling the wheel, he removes the element of chance from his life and finally takes control.

I guess that’s all that I have to say about this story since I do not have a copy of it with me at the moment. I enjoyed it. Ellison very adeptly builds tension in this story and I liked the surrealism.