Analysis of “King of the Bingo Game”
Ideas of slavery, identity, and what is acceptable behavior differ greatly in the past-Civil War North and South. Ralph Ellison’s “King of the Bingo Game” depicts how traditional southern slave mentalities are in conflict even after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of the slaves, leading many, like the nameless main character to try and find a new identity and giving him a taste of power to control his life and the lives of others.
From the beginning of the story, we are shown racial inequalities. Ellison introduces us to our character who is a broke and hungry African American economically struggling to save his lady friend’s, Laura’s, life. The protagonist “got no birth certificate to get a job” (Ellison 584). With no proof of such a document, he can’t sustain a job and has no proof of his origin and/or identity. He is unable to prove who he is, which does not allow him to exist as a normal citizen in American society. His never deliberately receiving a name throughout the story shows the protagonist as representing a massive population of the poverty-stricken and destitute, colored African Americans. Ellison mentions the protagonist’s name “had been given to him by the white man who had owned his grandfather a long time ago” (588), so he and the generations beforehand have been named by the dominant white male, setting the stage for a character who is lost and can’t seem to find himself because of the rules society has established for him.
Ellison is trying to show the conflicted nature of “freedom” after the Civil War and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. The bill itself proclaimed all those enslaved in Confederate territory to be forever free. The Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. While slaves were being freed by their masters, they had nothing to go to, no money to live off...
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