What does it mean to be the “King of the Bingo Game”? The main character [He] of Ralph Ellison’s story by the same name desperately wanted to find that out. Even though He did win bingo, He was far from winning the jackpot or even becoming “king.” In the surreal flow, the main character experienced several realizations while He held down the button. He became aware of what the bingo wheel meant to Him and through this, the reader understands the symbolism of the bingo wheel. Through this symbolism one then understands the bigger message Ellison is trying to convey to us about segregation between blacks and whites.
When He ran up on the stage for bingo He did not have any intentions of holding the button down as long as He did. His original plan was, “He would give the wheel a short quick twirl. Just a touch of the button” (73).
Standing in front of the wheel an intense power came over Him and he felt as though this moment was the determining factor and somewhat of a payback for all the suffering He had experienced throughout His life. He felt by controlling the wheel He was controlling His fate and he became crazy with power while holding the button. Even when the police came and fought Him down to the ground he continued to press the button because He felt it was his life. Like a desperate man he screamed ‘“I can’t give it up,”’ and again in a more subdued tone He said, ‘“Boys, I really can’t give it up”’ (76).
Not until the police crushed His wrist did He let go of the button and not to His surprise did the wheel gracefully fall upon the double zero. While holding the button He felt like He was for once in control of His fate and He would have money to save Laura.
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The bingo wheel may have been just a game to other people, but to Him it was salvation. The wheel symbolized hope and He felt that He would have a chance of controlling His fate and he measured His success by that wheel. It was not a game to Him anymore, it was a quest and it quickly took over His thinking and reasoning process. Affected by hunger and a crazed drive to beat the system, the wheel became the wheel of life and He was given another chance at life. All of this was for Laura, from the beginning He had to have faith for Laura and till the end winning was for Laura. Becoming the King of the Bingo Game was another chance at life, a better life for Laura and Him and He wanted that so badly.
The bingo wheel may have stood for hope for the main character but Ellison had a whole other meaning for the wheel in terms of the white man. From the beginning of the story, Ellison touches all the senses with his detailed imagery especially when describing the darkness and lightness of a scene and situation. When the main character notices what was described as the “white beam” that projects the picture, He thinks, “…strange how the beam always landed right on the screen and didn’t mess up and fall somewhere else. But they had it all fixed. Everything was fixed” (70).
Throughout the story there was a play on the light and how at times He wished the light were not so bright and when stepping into the light on stage He felt that He was stepping into some “strange power”(72).
Beyond the imagery, it is clear through the announcer’s actions that the main character is treated less than desirable. By calling Him boy and talking down to Him the announcer sets up the mood for how the story will end and who is the real king of the bingo game. Even at the end when the police had Him down on the ground, with the double zero in his eye sight He bitterly said, ‘“You see,”’ to which they responded, ‘“Sure, boy, sure, it’s O.K.”'(76).
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The real king of the bingo game is the white man who was controlling the game in the first place. He was holding onto the false power and was never really in control. Ellison’s point is most greatly understood in the last scene where the main character’s “luck” had run out on the stage while receiving beatings from the white police.
From the beginning, the main character told of visions where trains were heading toward Him and he could not seem to escape them and “…all the white people are laughing as he ran screaming”(71).
It is this torture that He experienced from white people that makes the story so hauntingly real. Throughout the story one is just waiting for His inevitable fate because he is black and everyone else on the hierarchy is white, one must assume that the white man will be on top. This is the point that Ellison is trying to get across to the reader; the harsh realities of racial inequality. Throughout the story the power shifts from one to another and ends with the white man beating the black man. The real king of the bingo game is the one in control and at this point in history, the white man took that role.